City council to address sex trafficking, massage parlors


Kennedy DeRaedt/Iowa State Daily

Ames City Council meets Jan. 15 in City Hall to discuss the 2019-2024 Capital Improvements Plan. Staff members gave a presentation on their recommendations for the next five years.

Katie Ingle

Ames City Council will meet Tuesday to discuss illicit massage therapists and sex trafficking in the area.

According to the city of Ames, the topic of the city council’s Tuesday workshop is about the potential regulation of massage establishments in an effort to address illicit massage businesses and human trafficking.

Over the past several years, the Ames Police Department has investigated two massage service incidents with potential trafficking aspects. In one case, victims were working with a federal agency. In the second case, no trafficking connections were made.

“City staff believes the best strategy to address human trafficking would be to enhance the existing state licensing requirements,” according to a memo from Assistant City Manager Brian Phillips. “However, if the City Council chose to pursue local regulations regarding massage businesses, staff would recommend an approach similar to that used by Des Moines. That approach appears to be the least costly alternative for the city to enforce and for businesses to comply with, while still addressing concerns about illicit massages and human trafficking.”

The ordinance for Des Moines requires massage therapists to obtain an Iowa massage therapy license and have it available at all times. Failure to comply to these terms gives the Police Department empowerment to put a placard in the front of the business declaring the business to be unsafe until a license is obtained.

The issue was brought to the council’s attention in August 2017, when city staff presented the council with a report on the regulations revolving massage establishments. Since then, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have all passed regulations for locally-owned massage parlors in the late months of 2018. Sioux City attempted passing an ordinance, but the proposal did not pass due to subsequent readings.

Iowa City’s ordinance, similar to Des Moines’s, also requires the business to provide information on employees on the demand of the city. Cedar Rapids takes a more aggressive approach, where a separate city massage license needs to be obtained. There is a biannual fee of $60 for the license, which demands completion of criminal background checks for massage therapists.

The workshop of Tuesday’s meeting will be to address the discussion of what steps the city of Ames will take in order to potentially create ordinances to regulate massage businesses to prevent illicit massage businesses and human trafficking.