OLYMPIA—This morning Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that imposes new criminal penalties on massage and reflexology business owners who knowingly allow unlicensed practice in their businesses. This bill is intended to solve the problem of massage practice businesses that are a cover for the sex trade industry.
“We have this new law thanks to neighbors and city leaders in my community pulling together and speaking up about a problem that the city of Vancouver did not have the ability to solve. I was glad we could get the bill through,” said Rep. Sharon Wylie, the measure’s prime sponsor, whose district has seen an overflow of these illegal businesses. “The fact that sometimes these businesses are a cover for sex trafficking makes it even more important that there is a means to tackle this issue.”
Wylie explained that Oregon passed a similar bill, which has caused many of those businesses to move north into Washington, and that it’s not only cities like Vancouver that are being affected, but also further north, where these types of activities have been reported in Olympia and Tacoma, as well as in other parts of the state.
House Bill 1252 makes it a misdemeanor offense for a business owner to allow the unlicensed practice of massage therapy or reflexology, and makes subsequent convictions gross misdemeanor offenses.
So far it has been difficult to catch and prosecute offenders due to the fact that these cover-up businesses can close and move to another location quickly, and also because, while the Department of Health has authority over massage therapists and practitioners, it can’t do much about the business owners.
The new law, which goes into effect on July 26, will protect agencies, consumers, therapists and legitimate businesses, while providing law enforcement with the tools needed to go after illegal activities in “foot spas” and massage practice businesses to effectively crack down on human trafficking and prostitution.