Iowa City ordinance related to massage businesses working to eliminate human trafficking

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Police in Iowa City say a new ordinance related to massage parlors is working to help prevent human trafficking. Law enforcement says the ordinance is only one tool in reducing illegal businesses that front as spas.

According to the Iowa City City Attorney's office, five massage or spa businesses failed to comply with a "Business Information Form," but have recently resolved those issues. (Aaron Scheinblum, KCRG)

The relatively new regulations use a checks-and-balances system to make sure businesses are complying; if they fail to meet the requirements, the city would have the ability to potentially shut down the business.

Iowa City has a handful of massage businesses, but as of September 2018, the standards for those businesses became much more strict.

"It's an ordinance that just allows us to verify the already existing state license of practicing massage therapists," said Sgt. Jorey Bailey with the Iowa City Police Department. Sgt. Bailey works as the Sergeant of Investigations for the police department.

Ordinance 18-4766 in Iowa City says a City staff member may require one of these businesses in the massage or spa industry to fill out and complete a "Business Information Form." The goal of the form is to ensure the "Business Manager" is local (lives in the state of Iowa) and all of the massage therapists on staff are licensed with the state.

"If we have a business that can't provide us with the names and license numbers of the people who are working there, then what we need to do with that business is placard it and prevent people from going in," said Eleanor Dilkes, the City Attorney for Iowa City.

Just last month, the city attorney's office said five spas or massage businesses have had formal complaints for not properly completing the form. One of the businesses owned two locations that did not comply with the Business Information Form.

Since then, all five have resolved those complaints.

"To date we've gotten the information that we've requested- we're not finding that there's someone working in these places that doesn't have the license," Dilkes said.

As far as addressing human trafficking, seeing businesses comply with the ordinance is a key element for law enforcement.

"And it's one of many," Sgt. Bailey said. "But it's one thing, one proactive step that we can take to keep people safe, and again, rescue victims."

Sgt. Bailey admits human trafficking is only one element of potential violations- but it is an important "piece of the puzzle" in determining how to approach those issues.

"The last thing we want to do is to have any enforcement action against victims of human trafficking," Sgt. Bailey said. "We want to get them the assistance they need with our community partners and really just shut that business down, if possible."