Many states are talking about what should be done with the many sex workers and people buying sex. Decriminalizing sex work is different than legalizing it. It means that consenting adults who buy or sell sex are not committing a crime. Decriminalization is thought to lead to lower rates of sexual violence, less sexually transmitted diseases and less violence against sex workers.
Legalization removes criminal penalties for certain incidents of buying and selling of sexual acts, i.e. prostitution, provided the participants comply with relevant regulations.
Reason.com stated that six states introduced bills in 2023 regarding sex work. Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, Tennessee while Maine just passed LD 1435 that partially decriminalizes prostitution. California and New York recently repealed bans on loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution. Some are working to decriminalize prostitution while others are trying to make stronger penalties for prostitution. (CBS Fact Check Team: Could prostitution be partially decriminalized in your state?)
What effect would it have on the massage profession?
We really do not know what the effect would be even though other countries have legalized sex work. We can only start thinking about what it is like now—would decriminalizing make the situations worse or better for licensed massage therapists. We are already faced with sexual harassment with many people confusing massage therapists with sex workers.
Decriminalizing prostitution can potentially have an impact on the massage therapy profession, but the extent and nature of the effects would depend on various factors, including the specific regulations and policies implemented. It’s important to note that laws and regulations surrounding prostitution and massage therapy can vary significantly between countries and jurisdictions, so the consequences might differ based on the specific context.
- Legal issues around use of the words Massage/Massage therapy. Decriminalizing sex work would NOT make sex workers STOP using the words massage/massage therapy as part of their disguise. We do have many states that have laws that say only licensed massage therapists can use these terms but these laws are not being enforced now. Hands OFF Our Name.
- Perception of massage therapists as sex workers. Massage therapists are already often confused for sex workers as seen in the number of requests for sexual work by massage therapists and the words being used in the media, legislation and the language that is being used. (We need data on how much this is actually happening. AMTA and the Federation of Massage State Boards has done surveys but we have not seen the results.)
Decriminalizing prostitution may increase the perception of massage therapists as sex workers. This perception could further undermine the professionalism and credibility of legitimate massage therapists who adhere to ethical standards and provide legitimate therapeutic services. It may also create MORE confusion among the general public about the nature of the massage profession. The decriminalization of prostitution may inadvertently lead to the perception of all massage therapists as sex workers. The misunderstanding of their profession could result in negative stereotypes and assumptions about their motives.
- Increase in demand for sexual services within the massage industry. Because of the confusion and entanglement of massage with sex workers, there could be an increase in requests for sexual services and an increase in sexual assault of massage therapists by the hobbyists seeking sexual services.
- Decrease in demand for massage therapy services. This could potentially decrease the demand for legitimate therapeutic massage services due to the overshadowing presence of sexual services in the industry. Clients may become hesitant to seek therapy, fearing that they may be perceived negatively or exposed to illicit activities.
- Potential stigma and negative perception of the massage profession: The association between prostitution and massage may lead to a stigma being attached to the massage profession. This, in turn, may dissuade individuals from pursuing a career as a massage therapist, affecting the overall reputation of the industry. The industry is not keeping up with the demand for massage therapists as there is a nationwide shortage of massage therapists.
- Regulation and Safety Concerns for Massage Therapists: The decriminalization of prostitution may lead to an increase in sexually oriented businesses (SOBs) operating under the guise of providing legitimate services. This can pose safety risks to both clients and massage therapists, as there may be no oversight or regulations in place.
- Challenges in ensuring the safety and well-being of massage therapists: With an increase in sexually oriented businesses, it becomes more challenging to ensure the safety and well-being of massage therapists. Lack of regulations might expose them to potential exploitation, mistreatment, or unsafe working conditions. It could create more confusion and would require that our associations step it up in promoting the massage profession to the public and work to create better laws to protect us and the name of massage therapy.
- Increase in Ethical dilemmas for massage therapists : Massage therapists, who primarily aim to provide therapeutic services, may face ethical dilemmas when operating in an industry intertwined with the sex trade. It becomes crucial for them to navigate boundaries and uphold their professional integrity amid changing dynamics.
- Enhanced regulation of sex industry: Decriminalization of prostitution may lead to increased regulation and oversight of the sex industry. This could involve implementing licensing requirements, health and safety standards, and mandatory regular health screenings for sex workers. Similarly, massage therapists might face stricter regulations to differentiate their profession from the sex trade, ensuring clarity and professionalism.
- Increased demand for sex services: If prostitution is decriminalized, there could potentially be an increase in demand for sex work services. This may indirectly affect the massage therapy profession as some individuals seeking sexual services might choose massage professionals as a venue for such activities. This could lead to an influx of individuals seeking sexual gratification rather than legitimate therapeutic massages. Massage therapists may need to be vigilant and ensure they establish clear boundaries and follow professional ethics to prevent any confusion or misconduct. The massage profession would need to step up their game in changing the narrative around the use of the words that are being used to keep us entangled with sex work such as Illicit Massage Business and Massage Parlor. Stricter laws and ordinances will need to be made and the laws will need to be enforced by local law enforcement.
- Change in public perception about sex work: The decriminalization of prostitution might lead to a shift in societal attitudes towards sex work. As it becomes more accepted, the stigma surrounding prostitution could diminish over time. This could indirectly impact the massage therapy profession, potentially influencing how the public views the work of legitimate massage therapists. It may require efforts from massage therapists and professional organizations to assert the distinctions between therapeutic massage and sex work to maintain their reputation.
- Collaboration with healthcare professionals and sex workers: Decriminalization might also foster collaboration between sex workers and healthcare professionals. This could include providing sex workers with access to healthcare services, including regular screenings, counseling, and support. Such collaborations might also extend to massage therapists, as they could be involved in providing therapeutic services to sex workers, focusing on addressing their physical well-being.
- Legal clarity and safety concerns of both sex workers and massage therapists: Sex workers may feel more empowered to report any instances of abuse or exploitation without fearing legal repercussions. On the other hand, massage therapists may need to be more cautious to ensure that their services are strictly within the boundaries of therapeutic massage, avoiding any involvement in illegal activities.
It’s important to emphasize that the effects of decriminalizing prostitution on the massage therapy profession would depend on the specific regulations, policies, and societal attitudes established in the aftermath of decriminalization. The impact can vary significantly across different regions and legal frameworks.