New Bathhouse Ordinance: What is it and Why is it Being Contested?

New Bathhouse Ordinance: What is it and Why is it Being Contested?
By: Carrie Pinkard

On Thursday, December 21st the Tampa City Council met to vote on a revised version of the “Bathhouse ordinance.”

The “Bathhouse Ordinance” was number 71 on the agenda and didn’t come up until over three hours into the meeting.  Members of the public on both the pro-ordinance and anti-ordinance side stirred in their seats as they awaited their opportunity to speak.

As someone who has been a member of Clean Up Kennedy since it’s onset, I am biased in my full support of this updated bathhouse ordinance. I was surprised to see the number of people who showed up in opposition to the ordinance and was eager to hear their side of this story.

This article will address the public comments made against this new ordinance at the December 21st meeting, as well as give a break down of what the ordinance actually says.

“Rich White People Don’t Want Immigrants in Neighborhood”

This movement is in no way a ploy to stop immigrants from running successful businesses. Nor is it a way to “keep South Tampa white.” This movement is about finding ways to make human trafficking more difficult. It is about reasonably regulating businesses where human trafficking is mostly likely to take place. Finally, it is about creating community awareness and training people to look out for signs of trafficking.

Joe Manson, Clean Up Kennedy’s founder has said before this fight will not end after the illicit massage businesses have fled Kennedy Boulevard. He hopes to bring awareness of this issue to the greater Tampa Bay area, into Florida, and eventually the United States as a whole.

“Clean Up Kennedy” is a name used mostly for it’s alliteration. It is catchy, which is what we want as we bring attention to this issue and recruit more people into this fight. Cleaning up Kennedy is not the final destination, but rather a small part of a bigger picture.  

“City Council Is Rushing This Through Without Proper Consideration.”

In reality, this ordinance has been in the works for six months.

Representatives from national human trafficking organizations such as Polaris and the US Institute Against Human Trafficking have been in attendance at city council meetings over the past six months and have expressed their agreement that something must change at these spas along Kennedy Boulevard.

This new ordinance has been carefully crafted and worded with the intention of eradicating existing human trafficking or preventing new cases of human trafficking from occurring. It is not an attempt to target current legitimate massage businesses. Nothing in these new guidelines should restrict legitimate businesses from running successful and thriving bathhouses.

“No Concern for Arrests of Victims”

Clean Up Kennedy believes that victims of human trafficking are just that, victims. We have no desire to arrest and jail human trafficking victims.

We aren’t here to round up trafficking victims with no visas and send them back to their native countries.

We are actively seeking out organizations that help human trafficking victims rehabilitate themselves and help them to recover from the trauma they’ve been through. One of these organizations is Selah Freedom, who is “upheld as the model for how to effectively bring solutions to survivors of sex trafficking & exploitation.”

“No Evidence of Human Trafficking in These Businesses”

The Polaris Project lists many sings of human trafficking on their “Recognize the Signs” page. Many of these warning signs have been observed at several of the suspected illicit massage businesses on Kennedy Blvd.

A Google search of ‘human trafficking’ and ‘massage parlors’ will show you a local and national pattern of prostitution and human trafficking linked to the illicit massage business model. 

“The New Ordinance Doesn’t Say Anything About Stopping Human Trafficking”

Preventing or ending human trafficking is mentioned 23 times in new ordinance.

“No Attempts Have Been Made to Contact Massage Therapists”

A massage therapist, Glenn Kemp spoke at the meeting saying that “sex and massage doesn’t mix.”

He spoke in favor of the ordinance and regulating the massage industry. “These places are horrible and deplorable and should never be a part of our landscape. We need our rules enforced”

Repeatedly over the last several months licensed massage therapists have reached out to Clean Up Kennedy showing their support. They’ve told us horror stories of clients insisting they perform sex acts on them. The new ordinance has a provision that requires bathhouses to keep a log of their patrons. This will hopefully help hold patron accountable for their actions and keep licensed massage therapists safe.

So What Does this New Ordinance Say?

At this point I would like to outline what the new ordinance entails. You can find a full version here, but I will be highlighting the key changes.

Consider this the Sparknotes of legal jargon:

1) Bathhouse technicians must be at least 18 years old.
2) Bathhouse owners and technicians must apply for a permit before opening or working in a bathhouse. 
3) In order to obtain a permit, bathhouse technicians must not have any felony charges. 
4) In order to obtain a permit, bathhouse technicians must have a valid photographic identity card.
5) After applying for a permit, applicants must go through a human trafficking awareness course. Components of this course include; “safety and health concerns of human trafficking and prostitution” and “how to contact and obtain community and law enforcement resources for anyone who may be a victim of human trafficking.”
6) Bathhouses must not be open before 6am or after 10pm.
7) Bathhouses must keep logs of every patron who receives a bath. Including the time the person enters and leaves the building.
8) Bathhouse technicians and managers may not sleep in bathhouse or use bathhouse as permanent residence. 
9) Bathhouses should only have one entrance for patrons. This entrance should be well lit and easily viewable from the street. 
10) Patrons should always have their genitals covered during baths. 

It is evident in the language of the ordinance that its’ main goal is to prevent human trafficking from happening in Tampa’s bathhouses.

The ordinance requires all bathhouse technicians to obtain a background check and get a permit. This process happens through the Tampa Police Department. This will give TPD a chance to look over each applicant and search for signs of human trafficking. Permits will be obtained within 30 days of applications being received, which shouldn’t prevent legitimate workers from practicing their craft for too long.

Furthermore, before any applicant is given a permit they must go through a course educating them on human trafficking. This could give potential victims a chance to speak out or even become aware of their situation. Many human trafficking victims are lured here under the false impression that they will lead a better life and have gainful employment. Instead, they end up trapped in these massage parlors and bath houses performing sexual acts, believing that they are paying off a debt to their traffickers.

According to the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “human trafficking thrives on exploiting the vulnerability of immigrant workers.” If this new ordinance is able to regulate who can obtain permits, and have records of current bathhouse workers, it could help cut down on the exploitation that occurs under the table and behind closed doors in these businesses. 

Finally, keeping a log of patrons will hold them accountable for any of their actions while they’re in the bathhouse. Patrons will not be able to get away with sexually abusing or harassing bathhouse workers as their information will be stored in the logs.

This updated ordinance’s goal is to bring to light any possible illegal activities happening inside Tampa’s bathhouses. It is a sensible and non invasive ordinance that encourages an open door, covered genitalia policy.

Sounds Good, But What’s Next?

Glad you asked. This ordinance will be put before the city council for a final vote on January, 11th 2018.

Passing this ordinance is just one small piece in the bigger fight that is eradicating human trafficking. This ordinance makes it possible to regulate how and who can work in bathhouses in Tampa. It keeps an eye on businesses that are or could potentially be hubs for trafficking.

In order to move forward, the community of Tampa must continue working together. We must address this issue with logic and compassion, always making the well being of the women involved our main priority.

In the coming months, Clean Up Kennedy plans to continue raising awareness of this issue. We plan to keep holding demonstrations, attending City Council meetings, and discovering new methods that work in fighting human trafficking in Tampa Bay.

First Reading of 'Bathhouse Ordinance' Agenda Item 71 December 21

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