Thursday, September 19, 2002

Covington wary of influx of massage-parlor sex

By Jim Hannah,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — City officials want to take a tough stand on unlicensed massage parlors for fear the community is attracting patrons of the sex trade fleeing crackdowns elsewhere.

        “There are a heck of a lot of 'johns' coming across the river and using our city as a crash pad,” said Covington Commissioner Alex Edmondson. “That isn't acceptable. This is not what we need as we continue to clean up the image of our city.”

        Mr. Edmondson said there are legitimate, licensed professional massage therapists who would not be targeted but that he is concerned about unlicensed parlors that may be acting as fronts for prostitution.

        Ever since a local television station aired home video this summer of prostitutes on the hoods of cars in upscale Mount Adams, Cincinnati Police officers in several districts have focused on arresting prostitutes and the men who solicit them.

        “I have a real hard time with people coming to massage parlors with Ohio license plates,” Mr. Edmondson said. “If it's truly therapeutic massage, why can't they do it in Ohio?”

        Covington City Solicitor Jay Fossett and other Covington officials couldn't immediately say how many massage therapists were licensed in the city. They also couldn't say how many were operating without a license.

        “They (unlicensed massage parlors) open and close all the time,” Mr. Edmondson said. “You never know where they will pop up. There is one near the courthouse. Others are on Madison Avenue.”

        Mr. Fossett said a regulation requiring all massage parlors to get a license and to have a medical doctor on staff is not widely enforced, but that enforcement will be stepped up.

        Mr. Edmondson proposed going a step further, requiring masseuses be certified by a national professional organization that licenses massage therapists. He also suggested anyone with a prior conviction for prostitution be denied a license from the city.

        “The good news is that we are able to regulate massage parlors, and we need to,” Mr. Edmondson said.

        “The massage parlor business has evolved from therapeutic massage to providing sexual gratification. People in and out of our city are using them for sexual exploits.”

        Mr. Fossett said massage parlors lack protection as free speech or expression given to adult businesses such as go-go bars that feature semi-nude dancing.

        Covington closely regulates its strip clubs, even requiring dancers to register with police.

        Lt. Teal Nally, spokesman for Covington Police, said licensed strip clubs have complained that they are forced to follow city regulations while owners of massage parlors are allowed to do as they please.

        “They (strip club owners) feel like it is a double standard,” he said.

        Mr. Edmondson said there is a network of massage parlors, perhaps dozens, that open and close one step ahead of the law. He said enforcing the city regulation, and possibly strengthening it, would be a new approach to regulating massage parlors.

        In the past, Covington Police have used undercover officers to bust prostitution in massage parlors.


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