Massage Parlor Ordinance Proposed

FEDERAL WAY - An ordinance that will crack down on massage businesses operating as prostitution fronts is coming closer to reality, but not without protest from legitimate massage therapists.

The proposed ordinance outlines standards of therapist conduct and how facilities must be operated. It also would allow police to inspect facilities on demand and require them to check all practitioners' backgrounds. Therapists could not have any prior convictions for theft or prostitution-connected offenses.

"I have mixed feelings about it," therapist Shelley Mehner said. "Something, obviously, does need to be done, but I don't appreciate being treated guilty until proven innocent."

Another therapist, attending a recent meeting of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, expressed fear that the ordinance would result in police harassment.

Several years ago, the council bent to pressure from the massage community and decided to rely solely on a state law loosely regulating the massage industry. The law, however, didn't give cities the ability to do on-site inspections and background checks, which police say are effective means of separating legitimate therapists from those associated with prostitution.

As a result, the city has the highest number of prostitution-connected massage facilities in the county.

At least nine out of the 30 Federal Way massage facilities have had association with prostitution, according to King County vice detectives.

According to Major Bob Evans of the Federal Way precinct of King County Police, the proposed ordinance should make the city less attractive to those connected with prostitution. He said he thinks professional therapists will accept the ordinance.

City Attorney Londi Lindell is seeking input from therapists.