How We Work for You

By Laura Embleton
[ABMP Government Relations]

What is ABMP’s role in government relations? ABMP’s Government Relations department advocates on behalf of our members for reasonable regulation of the massage therapy profession in all 50 states. We work with our members, massage therapy boards, state legislatures, and massage therapy coalitions nationwide to ensure the regulation of the profession stays focused on public protection and does not overly burden massage professionals with high licensing costs or bureaucratic red tape. We travel the country or meet online with massage professionals, licensees, and regulators to learn about issues facing professionals locally and help craft solutions.

From 1996 to 2016, our energies were directed to states initially adopting statewide regulation of massage therapists. We worked for regulation fairly balanced between public protection and equitable treatment of massage therapists, including grandfathering provisions to help long-established practitioners obtain a license. During that period, the number of states regulating massage grew from 20 to 46. More recently, ABMP staff has spent the majority of its time working with states to implement regulations, advocating for methods to address human trafficking in a reasonable manner that does not penalize massage therapists, and working to let our members know what is happening in their states and how they can have an impact on what affects them. It’s a dynamic, evolving universe. ABMP never loses sight of fair, reasonable rules for massage practitioners.


What is ABMP’s stance on human trafficking legislation? While ABMP acknowledges that human trafficking intersects on the fringes of massage therapy, we believe licensed massage therapists alone should not shoulder the financial burden of countering these illicit businesses. Massage therapists and massage therapy regulators should not be responsible for solving the issue of human trafficking or illegal sex businesses.

Massage therapists and massage boards should work with local law enforcement, educating them about what massage therapy is and what it is not. We believe the best way to stop the illicit businesses is to revise criminal codes with jailable misdemeanors and substantial fines for owners and managers who hire nonlicensed individuals to perform “massage.”


What does ABMP think are some effective ways to counteract the issues of illicit businesses operating under the guise of massage therapy? ABMP believes in going after the owners and managers of these establishments with substantial fines—over $5,000 per infraction—if they have people who are not licensed massage therapists providing massage in the location.

In the human trafficking context, these workers are victims. They should not be charged with prostitution, unless it can be proven that they are engaged in the activity willingly. District attorneys must be willing to prosecute these cases, and police must build the cases.


What does ABMP say to media outlets who use the term massage parlors?

The term massage parlor is not used by the massage therapy profession. Places that use that term are not legitimate massage therapy offices. They are almost always referring to illicit businesses that provide sex under the guise of offering massage; the overwhelming majority of licensed massage therapists are not engaged in illegal activity involving sex.


What does ABMP recommend to states who use the term massage parlors in legislation? We recently wrote to urge the state of New Jersey to stop referring to massage establishments as massage parlors. None of our members work in massage parlors. Accepted terms used by the massage community are massage therapy “businesses,” “services,” “practices,” or “establishments.” The use of massage parlor, in today’s vernacular, refers to illicit sex businesses.


What does ABMP say to a state trying to fight prostitution through massage regulation? ABMP works with state boards and a number of local governments across the country to draft laws and ordinances that provide state and local governments with the tools to deal with illicit businesses. We encourage using the criminal code to pursue owners and managers who allow illicit activities to exist in their “businesses.” In addition, sole practitioners should be exempt from such requirements as they are not engaged in the activity these ordinances seek to curb.

ABMP works with cities to craft ordinances that go after illicit businesses, rather than overcharging massage and bodywork therapists.


What can massage therapists and bodyworkers do to get involved? ABMP’s involvement in state and local government affairs has typically been prompted by engaged members. The best resource we have is massage therapists who let us know what regulation-related issues are present. We always want and need to know what therapists are hearing regarding massage legislation and regulation—past, present, or future. Let us know if we can help advocate on your behalf.

Look up your state’s massage therapy board, find out when the next board meeting is, and attend! Learn what your state’s board is thinking about and planning for, especially with regard to rules and legislation. Submit public comments to let the board know your opinions. Apply for a board seat, attend meetings of massage coalitions, and get to know other massage professionals in your area.

We encourage you to use this legislative advocacy email template link courtesy of ABMP to voice your opinions to your local legislators: