Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Covington toughens massage law

Businesses violating rulescould be fined, shut down

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Massage parlors that operate late into the night or “provide massage services for immoral purposes” risk being shut down under a tough new city law.

On Tuesday night, Covington city commissioners gave initial approval to an ordinance regulating businesses that offer massages, including some that they suspect are engaging in illegal activities. If city officials give final approval to the measure on Oct. 29, as expected, massage parlors would have until the end of the year to comply with the tough new restrictions.

Since Covington officials started talking about cracking down on illegal massage parlors last month, four of the 12 that city officials were aware of have already closed, said City Solicitor Jay Fossett. He added that some massage parlors failed to get the proper paperwork from Covington. “What they often do when they come into the city is ask for a license for a beauty or nail salon or a sun tanning place,” Mr. Fossett said. “They don't tell us that they're going to do massages.”

Covington Commissioner Alex Edmondson, who lobbied for the tougher regulations, said that many “johns” are crossing the Ohio River and using Covington as “a crash pad.“Ultimately, this will let the johns of Ohio and Kentucky know that (Covington) is no longer a playpen for erotic behavior,” Mr. Edmondson said.

He added that the new law is not aimed at the legitimate, licensed professional massage therapists who operate in Covington.

Commissioner Jerry Bamberger said the ordinance will give police “the tools they need” to crack down on illegal massage parlors.

“This will ensure these businesses are run in a legal and safe manner,” Commissioner J.T. Spence said.

Ever since a television station aired home video this summer of prostitutes on car hoods in Mount Adams, Cincinnati police have focused on arresting prostitutes and the men who solicit them.

A new Cincinnati ordinance adopted last week allows the city to permanently seize the cars of those convicted of soliciting prostitutes. That law takes effect next month.

“We have the ability any time we make a physical arrest. We can impound the car for safekeeping,” said Lt. John Gallespie. “We'll keep up the pressure."

Some say that pressure is pushing customers across the river to Covington massage parlors. “Covington police have told us that a number of cars frequenting these facilities have Ohio license plates,” Mr. Fossett said.

Although Covington has a law dating back to the 1960s that requires all massage parlors to get an occupational license and to have a medical doctor on staff, the proposed law makes it easier to charge offenders, Mr. Fossett said.

Covington's new massage parlor law would require:

• Anyone who owns, operates or works in a massage establishment must pay a $30 registration fee to police and be fingerprinted and photographed, just as operators and employees of local strip clubs are.

• Each massage business must undergo periodic health and safety inspections.

• Massage parlors will not be permitted to operate between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily.

• No one under 18 can patronize a massage establishment unless they're accompanied by, or have written permission from, a parent or guardian; or unless they have a written recommendation from a doctor indicating their need for massage services.

• Any masseur or masseuse will be prohibited from touching certain parts of the male and female anatomy, unless required as part of a medical treatment.

• No masseur or masseuse can perform services while nude or semi-nude as defined under city law.

• Employees “shall not provide massage services for immoral purposes, or in a manner intended to arouse, appeal to, or gratify lust, passions, or sexual desires."

• Occupational licenses will be denied to massage parlors that employ anyone under 18, fail to cooperate with any required safety or health inspections, falsify information on their application, or employ anyone who's been convicted of any felony or prostitution or a prostitution-related offense within the past five years.

Besides having their occupational license revoked, violators of the proposed law risk being charged with a Class B misdemeanor, subject to a fine and/or jail time.

Enquirer reporter Jane Prendergast contributed.


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