Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Fairfield gets tough on massage parlors

License rule aims to stop fronts for prostitution

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FAIRFIELD - As this Butler County city tries to build a new downtown and revitalize its image, City Council wants to prohibit unlicensed massage parlors.

Fairfield is taking action now after a pair of vice cases last year involving parlors that were fronts for prostitution.

"We have had a couple establishments open in the last year that sent up a red flag that we needed to have an ordinance," City Councilman Mark Scharringhausen said. "It doesn't have as much to do with all the investments and redevelopment we are making as much as this is just a good community standard to have in place."

Under a new ordinance titled "Illegal Massages by the Opposite Gender," which had a first reading before City Council on Monday evening, massage parlors must be licensed by the state of Ohio or they cannot operate in city limits with therapists performing massages on someone of the opposite sex.

The gender stipulation should be dropped, Councilman Jeffrey Holtegel suggested. "This being the new millennium and all, maybe we need to include both genders," he said.

The new law is not aimed at legitimate, licensed professional massage therapists who operate in Fairfield, city officials say. Doctors and hospitals, besides relatives, also are exempt.

Fairfield officials say they do not know of any unlicensed massage parlors operating in the city.

A review of the Yellow Pages Monday also did not turn up any listings in the city for massage parlors.

Therapeutic massages are performed at Mercy Hospital Fairfield's wellness center.

Therapists at licensed massage parlors in neighboring areas applauded Fairfield's new regulation.

More communities should take similar action, they said, to get across the message that massage is not synonymous with prostitution.

"I think they should crack down on it. It makes it harder for people like us who are in it for the right reasons," said Brenda Philon, a therapist since 1999 at Serenity 2 in Springdale.

"A lot of guys prefer to go to unlicensed therapists who perform sexual favors," she said. "We have gotten calls and guys have asked if we do certain things and when we tell them no, we don't hear from them anymore. Or they may come once and then when they find out we don't do that, leave."

Fairfield's new ordinance is similar to ones being adopted throughout the state and was crafted after one in the city of Elyria near Cleveland that has withstood legal challenges, said John Clemmons, Fairfield law director

The measure is expected to overwhelmingly pass at council's first meeting in February.

Violators will be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor, spend a maximum of 60 days in jail and face fines up to $500, the same penalty as for prostitution..

Last spring and fall, Fairfield police arrested employees at two unlicensed businesses, Palm Tree Asian Spa and Phoenix Health Spa, in the same location on Ohio 4.

Police shut down both businesses and some of the employees were convicted of prostitution.

It is not illegal to run an unlicensed massage parlor, but most legitimate ones are licensed, Mr. Clemmons said.

Leaders in Covington passed a similar ordinance last year and police have conducted raids on illegally operated massage parlors there and in Newport, Middletown and Cincinnati.

In Butler County's West Chester Township, officials are working on ways to make it tougher to open and operate a sexually oriented business and are reviewing their licensing and zoning codes. Other Tristate communities have taken similar measures in recent years.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com

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