MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Cities are tweaking their massage regulations to cut down on the problem of human sex trafficking – and St. Cloud is the latest to take those steps.
With the help of the Central Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, the city overhauled their entire massage ordinance, adding a number of licensing and inspection criteria.
“The city’s ordinance had not been looked at, should I say amended, for over 10 years. It was quite outdated,” said city attorney Renee Courtney.
And there was a sense of urgency to get something done. In June, in neighboring Waite Park, a couple was arrested and charged after a worker says they forced her to perform sex acts on customers. Oriental Massage is no longer in business. It was the third such bust in Waite Park in the past year.
“Trying to connect those dots, put them together and finding activity is spreading around the state from massage establishment to massage establishment,” Courtney said.
Realizing there wasn’t enough criteria in place, the St. Cloud City Council is making major changes, expanding background checks for both massage businesses and therapists. In the past, only the business was required to get a license. Now therapists will also need one.
“We look to see if they are related to someone who has a license that’s been denied, suspended or revoked,” Courtney said.
Inspections at massage establishments will also happen more frequently, as will the monitoring of websites that promote prostitution.
“Now we are finding other websites with that same info is happening, discussing massages they are receiving at places and discussing sexual activity that’s going on,” Courtney said.
Licensing fees for massage businesses will also go up, from $76 to $150 the first year, and then $300 every year after that. With all the changes being made, the city’s ordinance went from five pages to 11. And they are hoping the changes help reputable massage businesses as well.
“Together we came down with modifications we want to make on our own,” said Waite Park Police Chief Dave Bentrud.
He says his city will likely tweak their massage ordinance to be more consistent with St. Cloud’s. As part of the Central Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, they’re trying to protect people close to home and across the state.
“Massage therapy has a legitimate purpose, but as we’ve seen it’s unfortunately been exploited, too,” Bentrud said.
As part of the new ordinance, St. Cloud will also look to see if someone applying for a massage license has violated the city ordinance or state statute in the past.
St. Cloud modeled their new ordinance after talking with a number of different cities across the state.