San Diego

San Diego Lawmakers Endorse New Restrictions on Massage Parlors

Council committee members say mandatory licensing, clothing requirement and prohibiting locks on doors should reduce illegal sex acts and reduce sex trafficking

A San Diego city council committee Wendesday endorsed new laws designed to eliminate illegal sexual activities and sex trafficking at massage parlors.

The new regulations were proposed by the police department and include the mandatory licensing of massage parlors and restrictions on a parlor owner’s ability to reopen their business after being cited for lewd conduct.

“The idea is to try and close this revolving door that occurs when we close a massage parlor, and a few weeks later the same business opens up under a new name, at the same location, so the same customers come back,” City Councilman Chris Cate told NBC 7 Investigates.

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Massage parlors featured on "RubMaps" as selling sex are across San Diego County.

The council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee also approved a ban on door locks that delay police inspections. “This ploy (of locking doors) is often used to prevent law enforcement from entering the premises and discovering underlying criminal activity,” a police staff report explains.

Cate said the new regulations, which also include a clothing requirement for massage therapists, will help police reduce illegal sex acts at massage parlors and help rescue women who are victims of sex trafficking and who are forced to work in the parlors.

“This is a huge illegal industry in San Diego, and we want to be able to close those businesses that are perpetuating this vicious cycle for women and for victims who are trafficked against their will,” Cate said.

Yalin Shao, a sex trafficking victim, spoke with the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition about her experience.

The proposed regulations, which will be debated and voted upon by the full City Council, were prompted in part by an NBC 7 Investigates report on the flourishing sex trade at some massage parlors.

Our investigation focused on a controversial website that promotes those illegal activities, and our data mapped more than 170 massage parlors that allegedly offer sex for sale.

Some of them are near schools and churches.

Anti-sex trafficking advocates endorsed the proposed regulations, but several theraputic and sports massage therapists complained about the proposed annual cost of a massage establishment license ($720), and the prohibition on locking doors, which they said provide safety for massage technicians by keep out strangers.

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