16 Iowa cities join the fight against sex trafficking

Massage ordinances and sex trafficking

For nearly two years, the Iowa NAHT Board of Directors has been urging local anti-trafficking coalitions and regional groups to encourage, and local cities to pass, ordinances to crack down on human trafficking and prostitution in Iowa’s illicit massage parlors.

The Network has had an increasing concern that some spas and illicit massage therapy businesses that are being used as a front for prostitution and sex trafficking. These businesses are advertising online in hidden websites and this is how they attract their clients who become sexual abusers of victims. Internet listing ads have phrases such as, “new pretty girls coming soon”, “free table showers”, “new girl, new feeling” and “She care for you right from stressed out start to smiling finish.” Photos show women dressed in high heels, lingerie, and thongs.

In May 2017, a legislative bill, SF445, repealed the Iowa Code Section 152 C. This repeal gave Iowa cities the authority to require licenses and enforce restrictions and/or requirements on massage businesses and therapists. For example, cities can now require criminal background checks on massage business employees including management and owners. Cities can ask to see credentials of massage therapists and review previous license suspensions or denials. Local regulations and standards create a clear separation between therapeutic massage and shady businesses that use massage as a ruse for prostitution and trafficking.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline Program, Polaris, estimates that 9,000 illicit massage businesses are in operation nationwide.

Arrests for prostitution, trafficking, or for working without a massage license have been made the past few years in Ames, Johnston, Marion, Mason City, The Quad Cities, Sioux City, Urbandale, Dubuque, and West Des Moines. For example, two massage businesses in Ames were closed following three arrests. Genmu Chen was subsequently convicted of felony assault with intent to commit sex abuse and felony sex abuse after he inappropriately touched two massage clients. He did not have a massage license and the business, located in Ames’ North Grand Mall, was never inspected. He wasn’t subject to a criminal background check before being arrested. Two Asian women were also arrested: one for prostitution, the other for practicing without a license. The two women victims were actually sleeping and eating at the massage business.

At the time of the arrest, police were quoted as expecting charges related to sex trafficking, but none was filed due to lack of cooperation from the victims. Ames has yet to adopt an ordinance, however, the Ames city council is holding a human trafficking public forum on April 16 at 6pm. Hopefully, a massage ordinance will emerge following the public forum.

Governor Reynolds and the Iowa NAHT presented an award plaque to the Johnston City Council, Mayor Dierenfeld, and Chief of Police, Dennis McDaniel, as Johnston was the first Iowa city to pass a local ordinance.

Since then, a total of 16 Iowa cities have now passed ordinances We thank the following city councils for joining Iowa’s fight against human trafficking:

Altoona Davenport Ottumwa
Boone Des Moines    Pleasant Hill
Cedar Rapids    Iowa City Urbandale
Clinton Johnston West Des Moines   
Clive Marion
Coralville Newton

If you are aware of other Iowa cities that have adopted ordinances or are in the process, please let us know at administrator@iowanaht.org.

Massage Business Related News Clips

  1. The front page of the March 25th Des Moines Register had an article about one Urbandale man who took up a crusade to bust an illegal massage business. The article link is as follows; Care about human trafficking? This Urbandale man did something about it
  2. In case you missed it, Dr. George wrote the following article following a trip to China last fall “Human Trafficking in China and Ties to the US and Iowa.”
  3. Here is a KCCI March 19th report. Illegally parked car leads authorities to metro sex trafficking ring and nine recent trafficking convictions.
  4. Iowa City ordinance related to massage businesses working to eliminate human trafficking
  5. In a $3 billion-a-year industry, many women stay on as prostitutes in order to pay debts to smugglers, spa owners, and lawyers. Behind illicit massage parlors lie a vast crime network and modern indentured servitude.
  6. It’s not just the Florida spa investigation allegedly tied to Robert Kraft. Sex trafficking is rampant across US.