CHRISTIANSBURG — The town is looking to make changes in an effort to combat the issue of massage and spa businesses that could secretly operate as prostitution rings.
The Town Council has scheduled two Aug. 13 public hearings for ordinances on massage establishments and prostitution.
The proposed ordinances are being driven “by a growing issue across the country with the regulation of massage therapists and establishments and ensuring those individuals and businesses abide by ethical professional standards,” according to town documentation. “The two proposed ordinances are intended to help prevent the possibility of those problems occurring locally and provide an avenue to address and enforce issues if necessary.”
The issue of massage parlors acting as fronts for prostitution rings recently — and perhaps most famously — came to light following the February charging of billioniare New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on counts of soliciting sex.
The charges against Kraft were made in Jupiter, Florida, following a major police investigation into prostitution. The investigation, according to news reports, relied on video surveillance of South Florida day spas and massage parlors.
Other reports following Kraft’s charging revealed that many illegal massage businesses across the country are part of a multibillion-dollar industry that significantly depends on foreign — and often undocumented — women and that has ties to organized crime.
Christiansburg police have not broken up any massage establishments or issued charges against an establishment, Chief Mark Sisson said. Town authorities, however, have noticed a nationwide trend of massage establishments involved in illegal sex operations and human trafficking.
The objective is to ensure that each establishment in Christiansburg is a reputable massage business that employes only massage therapists that have been licensed to perform this service, Sisson wrote in an email.
A draft of the ordinance on massage establishments includes a requirement that any massage therapist looking to work in Christiansburg obtain a town-issued permit. Additionally, the draft states that the town shall not issue a permit to anyone not certified by the state.
The draft ordinance also requires separate permits for massage establishments, which wouldn’t be allowed to operate without a town-issued permit.
Part of the application process for massage establishment permits would require applicants to provide information such as their full names, previously used names, place and date of birth, current residential and business addresses and phone numbers.
If the applicant files as a company, information on the officer and director would be required.
The town is also considering a change to its “miscellaneous offenses” code with another draft ordinance that adds prostitution.
Mayor Mike Barber said he “certainly” backs the town’s efforts.
“It’s needed just to set the standards,” he said. “I don’t think we have any language that could address the possibilities of this … I’ll support it without question.”
Councilman Brad Stipes echoed Barber’s comments.
“I think it goes back to us constantly reviewing and updating our ordinance to keep pace with current trends and needs,” Stipes said. “This change was recommended by our law enforcement … to aid our law enforcement agency.
“I’ve not been made aware of anything that’s going on, but I do know, just like we discussed, there are concerns.”
Victoria Stone, owner of the Newport-based Massage Therapy Associates of the New River Valley, said her field is very stringently regulated via the Virginia Department of Health Professions’ licensing process.
Stone, who has also taught massage therapy, said it’s not helpful to her profession to see non-licensed individuals who claim to be massage therapists freely operating.
One of the major giveaways of an illegal business is the establishment not openly displaying its state-issued license, Stone said.
“If they don’t have that, somebody should just walk right back out,” she said.