This week the Huntington Beach City Council voted in support of putting the rub on rub downs.
Aimed at cracking down on massage parlors that offer happy endings, the proposed ordinance would require establishments to obtain certification from the city and would prohibit massage therapists from performing services in their own homes.
Huntington Beach Police Chief Kenneth Small, who urged council members to pass the ordinance, explained that of the more than 60 massage parlors in the city, most were of the illegitimate variety. The city witnessed a bump in such businesses after a state law governing massage therapists changed in 2009. The law created the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), which licenses individual massage therapists. Prior to the change in the law, the Chief noted, the city only had nine massage parlors.
Using slides to demonstrate the gravity of the situation facing the city, Chief Small beamed recent ads from Backpage-style websites advertising massage services within the city. Message boards featured comments on the types of "extras" offered as well as the price of the services (use your imagination).
Unintentionally providing some comic levity, the soft-spoken and avuncular Chief Small read some of the advertisements to the council.
"Relax, sexy lady wants to rub you down," he said in a monotone voice.
But what Small didn't give were specific numbers regarding arrests, calls for service and the types of crimes being committed (or if crime had even increased), leaving questions as to the depth of the problem. However, he expressed significant concern for the sex workers themselves.
"Overwhelmingly based on our investigations in Huntington Beach and throughout Orange County and Southern California, the women involved in most of these massage parlors are trafficked in," said the Chief, who explained that many were forced to work six days a week at the coercion of pimps and panderers.
A call to the Huntington Beach Police Department seeking statistics wasn't immediately returned.
Though Councilman Joe Carchio didn't have any specific numbers on trafficking or arrests for prostitution, he told the Weekly the city was interested in doing what it could to mitigate the problem, which he downplayed.
"I'm sure that trafficking isn't as large in Huntington Beach as it is in other cities, but trafficking is a problem throughout Orange County and the U.S. If we can do anything to curb it in any way I think that's a step in the right direction," he said.
In 2011 the Weekly reported on the issue of human trafficking, child sexual slavery and the difficulty in accurately reporting its numbers. While crusaders such as Ashton Kutcher were pegging the figure between 100,000 and 300,000 sex slaves in America, most researchers offered significantly smaller numbers. A report issued by California Secretary of State Kamala Harris in 2012 said that in the previous two years, nine regional task forces had identified 1,277 victims statewide.
Regardless of whether Surf City is brimming with enslaved sex workers, Councilman Carchio said the city isn't interested in targeting legal establishments.
"If you go to the Hilton or other legitimate establishments you're not finding girls in bikinis there, just regular massage therapists who earned a degree and are trying to earn a living," he said.
But Ahmos Netanel, CEO of the CAMTC, wasn't as sure. He expressed concern that the new ordinance would unfairly single out legitimate massage workers adding that his legal staff was pouring over the proposed amendment.
"State law specifies that cities and counties can impose any sort of laws they wish on massage professionals as long as they're uniformly applying the same requirements on other licensed professionals," said Netanel. "It looks from the initial review of this ordinance that they are targeting certified massage professionals."
Netanel also took exception to comments made by Chief Small during the city council meeting in which he referred to oversight by CAMTC as "inadequate and ineffective."
"State law does not give CAMTC any authority to license or regulate establishments." Netanel said. "It provides cities exclusive authority to license and inspect massage establishments."
The council will vote on a second reading of the amendment before it becomes law.