CHRISTIANSBURG — The town council on Tuesday unanimously passed a pair of new ordinances they say will aim to combat the issue of massage and spa businesses that secretly — and illegally — operate as part of prostitution rings.
“I think we’re being proactive, instead of reactive,” Councilman Brad Stipes said.
Both ordinances — one addressing massage establishments and the other addressing prostitution — passed on 6-0 votes.
The massage establishment ordinance introduces several town-imposed requirements for operating a massage therapy business.
For example, any massage therapist looking to work in Christiansburg must obtain a town-issued permit. The ordinance states that the town shall not issue a permit to anyone not also certified by the state.
Additionally, the massage ordinance also requires massage establishments to obtain a separate town-issued permit to operate.
The prostitution ordinance adds the illicit activity to the town’s “miscellaneous offenses” code.
The issue of massage parlors acting as fronts for prostitution rings recently came to light following the February charging of 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. 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 illegal massage businesses across the country are part of a multibillion-dollar industry that significantly depends on foreign women, many of whom lack official documentation, and that has ties to organized crime.
Stipes cited the national issue in his comments supporting the ordinances passed Tuesday. He said the new ordinances will aim to make it easier to the town’s police to address the problem.
“I think we’ve noticed our policies needed to be tightened up and clarified … to avoid situations we’ve been hearing about in our national media,” he said. “We’ve been told this is a good idea.”
Speakers who commented on the ordinances Tuesday echoed some of Stipes’ points.
Clare Ellen Mann, a licensed massage therapist who operates the Christiansburg-based Body Dynamic LLC, said ordinances such as the ones council passed help draw a clearer line between the legitimate and illegitimate operations.
She said the illegitimate ones can give legitimate massage therapy and spa businesses a poor reputation due to some potential customers not understanding the exact differences between the legal and illegal operations.
Mann said that issue can deter potential customers from seeking much-needed therapy.
“It’s in everybody’s, the public’s best interest,” she said. “You don’t want to deter people from seeking legitimate therapy. I think this aids law enforcement in telling the difference.”
Christiansburg police have not recently broken up any massage establishments or issued charges against an establishment, Chief Mark Sisson previously said.