Cedar Rapids massage ordinance to take effect Jan. 1 - The Gazette: Eastern Iowa Breaking...

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    In an effort to eliminate the operation of illicit massage businesses in Cedar Rapids, the City Council passed its long-discussed massage ordinance last week, which will go into effect at the start of next year.

    The ordinance calls for local businesses that offer massage services to be licensed through the city in addition to the required state license. The ordinance also gives the city the right to placard, or place a notice on, any business engaging in illegal activity or operating without a license.

    “This is actually going to streamline the enforcement process for us,” said Cedar Rapids Police Sgt. Robert Collins. “Without the ordinance, we would have to go in and do individual investigations at each suspect massage business, which requires an undercover operation that can be difficult and time consuming, and the results of which a lot of times fall short of what we hope to accomplish.”

    Once the ordinance is in effect, Collins said, “If someone is providing massages and they don’t have a license to do so, right there is a violation. We don’t have to get into all the details of trying to catch someone offering illegal services.”

    Starting Jan. 1, businesses offering massage services in Cedar Rapids will have until Feb. 28 to complete the city licensing process before facing enforcement.

    Those applying would be required to provide their name, address of the business and “documentation establishing the applicant’s control of the premises on which the business will be located,” the ordinance states.

    Additionally, the applicant — and other employees of the business — would be required to undergo a criminal-background check and show proof they are licensed by the state’s Massage Therapy Board.


    The city’s $60 business licensing fee will include three background checks for employees, with additional background checks costing $10 each, and the license would need to be renewed every two years. Fees will be waived for licenses obtained from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28.

    Since its inception the city’s massage ordinance has been met with concern from local massage therapists and victim advocacy groups that deal with human trafficking.

    Among concerns was the first draft’s lack of language addressing human trafficking, which is sometimes associated with illegal massage businesses, as well as its lack of cost analysis when it came to enforcement. Also, several local massage therapists were uneasy about having to get a local license, in addition to the state one, and pay more fees.

    The new ordinance incorporates human trafficking language, stating, “If the city has probable cause that prostitution … or human trafficking … has occurred at a property providing massage therapy, the police department may placard the property.” It also notes such crimes could be subject to criminal prosecution.

    Amanda Grieder, program manager for SAFE-CR — Secure and Friendly Environments in Cedar Rapids — who has been the city’s point person in drafting the ordinance said the community’s concerns were taken to heart.

    “We have really built a lot of inroads since that first meeting,” she said. “We’ve reached out to several victim advocacy organizations like Chains Interrupted and Friends of the Family, and we’ve learned a lot about the services they can offer and how they can help. And, from a law enforcement standpoint, we learned more about what human trafficking looks like and how we can better address those situations when we come across them.”

    Without such an ordinance, law enforcement can only do so much, Sgt. Collins said, adding that investigations and undercover operations at suspect businesses often end with women — who are possibly victims themselves — getting arrested and authorities not getting to the root of the problem.

    “We’ve already tried, numerous times, the investigation route and it hasn’t worked,” Collins said. “So this angle of attack would be to shut the place down completely so the place of business is no longer an available front for whatever illegal activity may be happening there.”


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    As an example, Collins said, giving the city the ability to shut down these illicit businesses is akin to cutting off access to illegal drugs when working to combat drug addiction.

    “Let’s say you’re trying to help people with drug addiction, and all we do is try to reach them with drug addiction programs, but we do nothing to try to stop the source of the drugs,” he said. “Why would we do that? That’s not going to help if we do nothing to try stop the source.

    “It’s the same type of situation with these massage businesses,” he continued. “The people who are running these businesses are the ones that are trapping these women in to this, and men are going to these businesses because they are available, and it just keeps going on. So, let’s stop that from even being plausible.”

    Cedar Rapids is one of a handful of cities that have passed such ordinances.

    Johnston passed an ordinance that requires practicing massage therapists to be licensed, and Coralville passed a similar ordinance in September. Marion and Urbandale passed ordinances allowing the cities to placard properties that engage in illegal activity, and Iowa City recently passed a similar ordinance. The Cedar Rapids ordinance combines aspects from both models.

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