Our neighborhoods are filled with Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOB’) disguised as massage businesses. For over 128 years, the massage therapy profession has been entangled with these SOB’s and has been struggling to separate itself from these SOBs that hide under the disguise of massage therapy. Many attempts have been made to try to end the confusion. We have tried creating associations starting back in 1894 and then over the years, we created state licensing and then something called a National Certification (which was not national).
The latest trend is that many states are moving to require something called establishment licenses that are supposed to make it easier to investigate and prosecute the SOB’s/Human Traffickers, allowing authorities to enter massage businesses for inspections yet there has been no evidence or research on these licenses that show that it is doing the job of untangling massage from the SOB’s. These laws make it so massage therapists who have gone through massage school and the massage licensing process have to once again prove that they are law abiding massage therapists.
One of the most devastating things that has happened to the profession is that many now refer to these brothels as “illicit massage businesses” or “massage parlors” when in fact they have nothing to do with MASSAGE or MASSAGE THERAPY. In 2017, the Polaris Project created a report on human trafficking and coined the words “illicit massage business” making it so the massage profession bears the brunt of these Brothels disguised as massage businesses in every community. The Federation of Massage State Boards also has a task force working on the issue and in 2017, they also wrote a report. (You can read more about the details of all that in my other article The Massage Profession and Human Trafficking.)
The massage therapy profession has been forced to adapt and change how they work because of the continued misuse of language that further confuses massage with sex work. Everyday massage therapists around the world are sexually harrassed when they are asked for ‘happy endings’ and have to deal with the creeps that do things like demanding sex, leaving their ‘mark’ on massage tables, sexually assaulting massage therapists, sending their sexually explicit photos and all of the ways we change our businesses so we are not confused with SOB’s. Laws have been made that say we can’t touch private parts or work past certain hours into the night. We take classes in self defense and how to deal with offending clients.
The thing we need to remember though and focus on is :
Massage therapists in the US, attend an approved massage school, pass an exam and pass background checks. They are often required by law to post their license on the office wall and include the number in advertisements. Massage therapists work to reduce stress and relieve pain. They work with various health conditions such as anxiety/depression, muscle pain and dysfunction, headaches, fibromyalgia, strains/sprains and many other conditions. They help people going through cancer treatments and joint replacement surgeries. Massage therapy is covered by insurance when there is a need for it due to a car accident or injury at work. Many health insurance companies are paying for massage therapy for medically necessary situations.
We have specific language in laws that say that only licensed massage therapists can say they are providing massage therapy services. These laws are civil laws, making it nearly impossible to investigate and prosecute the SOB’s disguised as massage businesses.
The Language We Use
Lately more news and media outlets have been using the word Massage Parlor to indicate that it is a business providing sexual services under the disguise of massage. Many state laws massage laws still have the words Massage Parlor included. The words Massage Parlor need to be defined and cleared up in the media, legislation and everywhere. Everyone needs to start calling it what it is— Brothels disguised as massage businesses. What wil the local communites think once they hear that?
The words Massage Parlor has already been removed from the NCAIS codes.
“North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is a system for classifying establishments (individual business locations) by type of economic activity in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Its purposes are: (1) to facilitate the collection, tabulation, presentation, and analysis of data relating to establishments, and (2) to promote uniformity and comparability in the presentation and analysis of statistical data describing the North American economy. NAICS is used by Federal statistical agencies that collect or publish data by industry. It is also widely used by State and local agencies, trade associations, private businesses, and other organizations.”
Businesses that provide massage therapy services are under NAICS 621399, Offices of All Other Miscellaneous Health Practitioners. Massage Parlor was previously under NAICS 81299 and has been removed from the codes. The NY State Society of Medical Massage Therapists were instrumental in creating these changes.
Illicit Massage Business
As I already mentioned, the Polaris Project coined the term “Illicit Massage Business”. The problem is that these are NOT massage anything.
The Laws We Make
Massage Establishment Licensing.
Many states have moved to creating massage establishment licensing laws that require massage therapists who open a business to have a specific establishment license. This makes it so massage therapists are now more involved in stopping a problem created by the Sexually Oriented Businesses. AMTA and ABMP have said that they do not approve of it, yet many states are moving forward with it based on the idea that they think it will help end the problem. See their response to the reports created by the FSTMB and the Polaris project reports on human trafficking back in 2017/2018. Here is more information on the reports and the issues of human trafficking in the massage profession.
The massage therapy profession is NOT infested with human trafficking issues —we have a brothel’s disguised as massage businesses issue. Establishment licensing implies that the massage profession is responsible for this problem and makes it so we must solve it. The issues around prostitution and sex trafficking are social issues which must be addressed in each state and in each community.
There is no research or evidence that shows that massage establishment licensing works to help untangle massage from sex work. This needs to be researched if it is to be continued or added to massage licensing laws. The Federation of Massage State Boards apparently does have a human trafficking task force so we might want to start there.
The other part of this is that it is often said that human trafficking is involved in these SOB operations making it even more complicated. There have been a few reports on massage and human trafficking that have been created that are inconclusive on how much human trafficking is actually involved in these operations. More research is needed in this area to help create a plan of action.
The main thing we can do right now is work on showing that Massage is Therapy and we need to work Hands Off Our Name which really would take care of most of the issues of the massage profession being entangled and confused with sex work/prostitution.