Raids on Illicit Businesses in Florida

Recent news reports about raids on illicit businesses masquerading as massage establishments in Florida are disturbing, particularly to ABMP and its more than 80,000 members who are dedicated to upholding the highest standards of conduct and ethics in the profession. Images of one of the storefronts clearly show the words massage therapy painted on the window—an example of the highjacking of the phrase for nefarious purposes.

Many major news organizations’ coverage of these incidents rightly frames the discussion and explains how these types of businesses are fronts for prostitution and staffed with individuals who are victims of human trafficking. A feature in the New York Times explained the situation thoroughly and respectfully, including detailing how well local law enforcement officers handled the situation. All too often, senior public officials haven’t made these illicit businesses a priority, so law enforcement personnel haven’t had the direction and resources needed to shut them down. In these raids, the alleged high-profile clients were arrested and charged, not the human trafficking victims.

This discussion is all too familiar to ABMP’s Government Relations Director Laura Embleton. “I fight this on the front lines daily,” Embleton says. She travels across the country representing ABMP members and addressing their legislative and regulatory concerns. She explains that legitimate massage legislation outlaws sex between therapist and client. There is no grey area. “We support state boards’ efforts to regulate licensed massage therapy, but don’t feel the massage board is the appropriate legal authority to fight prostitution and human trafficking. Such work belongs to law enforcement and the judicial system.”

Of course, all too many practitioners are faced with these discussions as well. In the United States, there are an estimated 330,000 practicing massage therapists dedicated to providing therapeutic massage. It’s crucial that they have an opportunity to practice safely and successfully. In addition, ABMP members pledge to uphold the ABMP Code of Ethics.

It is unforgiveable that illicit businesses attempt to hide their illegal behavior by masquerading as massage practices. ABMP believes that by shining the light on a topic as ugly as human trafficking we can make a difference. In 2013, we published an award-winning issue of Massage & Bodywork magazine on human trafficking and the massage profession. The information still rings true today. If there’s been any progress since then, it is that there is no confusion that the businesses in question today did not intend to provide therapeutic massage to their clients.

ABMP continually monitors news stories, television programs, social media posts, etc., that shed unfavorable light on the massage profession. These discussions only further ABMP’s resolve to continue to educate consumers about the benefits of therapeutic massage and to underscore the importance of professionalism and continuing education to massage therapists. From professional staffers handling legislative issues across the country, to specific content in Massage & Bodywork magazine, to select webinars and continuing education courses dissecting this topic, ABMP is dedicating significant resources to this challenge on behalf of its members and the profession.

ABMP works with the Polaris Project in Washington, D.C.—a national support center for victims and survivors of human trafficking and a national center for information about the business of human trafficking. Massage therapy is one of many professions illicit business owners prey upon. For more information or to report an illicit business in your area, contact Polarisproject.org or call its National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. You can also sign a Polaris pledge to help curb human trafficking worldwide at Polarisproject.org/action.

If you have comments or questions about this information, please contact ABMP Vice President of Communication Leslie A. Young at leslie@abmp.com.

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