Public Safety

Cedar Rapids panel delays crackdown on massage parlors

Some say it doesn't go far enough to deal with sex trafficking

CEDAR RAPIDS — Amid concerns over how to best address human trafficking and those who survive it, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted Monday to postpone for a month a proposed ordinance targeting illegal massage businesses.

The proposal would require massage businesses to be licensed by the city and would limit those businesses to hiring only state-licensed massage therapists.

Citing several unanswered questions with the measure, two of the committee’s three members — council members Ashley Vanorny and Dale Todd — voted to table the issue. They wanted to know more about the cost of enforcement and also about a lack of language addressing sex trafficking and those who are ensnared in it.

Several members of the public also voiced concerns.

Pastor Christian Schields, of Christian Life Church in Cedar Rapids, said that although he supports the city’s efforts to address sex trafficking, he felt the ordinance was “woefully insufficient” in that shutting down illegal massage parlors would not necessarily free people from being trafficked.

Others voiced concern for what would happen to the forced sex workers once an illegal business was shuttered. Would there be services to help? Would they be deported if here illegally?

Others questioned why the ordinance focuses only on massage businesses when human trafficking is an issue afflicting other industries.

Several massage therapists also voiced concerns as to how the ordinance would affect their livelihoods. Many wanted to know what the licensing fees would cost and how often they’d have to be renewed.

SAFE-CR Program Manager Amanda Greider, who presented the ordinance Monday, estimated the licensing fee would cost between $50 and $150 and said massage business owners would have a one-year grace period. If passed, the ordinance is slated to go into effect in January.

“It’s a good start,” Vanorny said, “but I have lots of reservations the current language.”

Todd, who also voiced reservations, said his main concern was moving an ordinance out of committee that offered no sense of what it could cost the city or the legitimate business owners.

Council member Susie Weinacht was the only member ready to move forward. Though she said she shared similar concerns, she also insisted human trafficking is not something to wait on.

“My concern with not moving forward is that we’re doing nothing at this point to address the problem,” she said.

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