Government

Cedar Rapids council gives first OK to massage service ordinance intended to cut down on illegal activity

Law requires local license, criminal background checks

Amanda Grieder, SAFE CR program manager, answers a question in March 2015. She was the point person on the city’s development — and rewriting — or an ordinance to license and monitor massage parlors. The measure unanimously passed its first reading Tuesday night and will come back for final readings in November. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Amanda Grieder, SAFE CR program manager, answers a question in March 2015. She was the point person on the city’s development — and rewriting — or an ordinance to license and monitor massage parlors. The measure unanimously passed its first reading Tuesday night and will come back for final readings in November. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The City Council on Tuesday gave unanimous approval to an ordinance intended to crack down on illegal massage businesses and help women who may be caught up in the business because of human trafficking.

The ordinance — which goes through a second and third reading Nov. 13 before becoming law — would require any person or business that offers massage services to also be licensed through the city as well as the state. It gives the city the right to placard any massage businesses engaging in illegal activity or operating without the required licensing.

Those applying for a license 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.”

Additionally, the applicant — and those who work for 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 $60 licensing fee would include three background checks, with additional background checks costing $10 each.

The ordinance bars anyone charged or convicted of a sex crime or who is a registered sex offender from obtaining a license.

If approved, the ordinance is expected to go into effect in January.

A previous draft of the ordinance was presented in July to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, which tabled the issue for further research.

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Among the concerns was the first draft’s lack of language addressing human trafficking, which is often 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, saying, “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.”

The ordinance notes such crimes could be subject to criminal prosecution.

SAFE-CR Program Manager Amanda Grieder, who has been the point person in drafting the ordinance, said Tuesday night that earlier concerns about the ordinance had been taken to heart.

She said the city partnered with Chains Interrupted and Friends of the Family, two victim advocacy organizations, to learn how to better address human trafficking and help its victims.

Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Robert Collins said he met with victims of human trafficking and talked to them “about how law enforcement failed them.”

He said he wanted to learn “how law enforcement officers can better communicate with victims of human trafficking and what we can do better to help them.”

“I challenge anybody to do that,” he told City Council members on Tuesday. “To sit across a table, face to face from somebody who had been marginalized and victimized in such a way — someone who was bought and sold like property on a store shelf. And if you don’t come away with the drive to do something better to try to stop that type of badness, then I don’t know what to say.”

Without such an ordinance, Collins said, law enforcement can only do so much, adding investigations and undercover operations often end with the women — who are possibly victims themselves — getting arrested but rarely get to the root of the problem.

A number of people at the council meeting thanked the city for its effort to tackle the issue.

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Rachel Brown, a local licensed massage therapist, expressed concern the added regulation in Cedar Rapids and other Iowa cities would make the state inhospitable to massage businesses. However, she also thanked the city for consulting with local massage businesses in writing the ordinance.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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