Morgan Hill is considering stricter regulations on massage parlors to address human trafficking

The Morgan Hill City Council is implementing stricter regulations on massage parlors to crack down on potential illegal activities, such as human trafficking and prostitution. This decision follows concerns that some massage businesses might be operating as fronts for criminal activities.

Matthew Mahood, the city’s Economic Development Director, explained that the goal is to distinguish reputable establishments from problematic ones. This move comes after the Morgan Hill Police Department received reports of assaults by massage therapists and observed a rise in the number of massage parlors in the city, from 12 in 2009 to 21 in 2024. Additionally, some of these parlors had ratings on websites known for advertising erotic services.

In response, the police department conducted several undercover operations, primarily uncovering victims of human trafficking rather than the individuals orchestrating these crimes. Often, closed businesses would reopen under a new “straw owner” to conceal the true owner’s identity, or victims would be moved to other illegal parlors.

As a result, the police department has shifted its focus to providing support for trafficking victims and exploring preventative measures to combat human trafficking.

Morgan Hill Police Chief Shane Palsgrove emphasized the seriousness of the issue, stating that the focus should be on shutting down organized crime locations rather than prosecuting trafficked women. The new ordinance, inspired by a similar one in Sunnyvale, aims to prevent illicit massage parlors from establishing themselves by imposing stricter permitting requirements.

Under the new regulations, all massage therapists must be certified by the California Massage Therapy Council. Additionally, massage establishments are prohibited from obscuring front windows or installing locks on massage room doors to deter human trafficking and prostitution. If a permit is revoked, the owner is barred from opening another massage establishment in the city for five years, and the storefront cannot be used as a massage parlor during that period.

While some city council members expressed concerns that the new permitting process might penalize law-abiding businesses, city officials assured that legitimate operations are likely already in compliance. The City Council voted 4-0 to repeal the previous ordinance and replace it with the new permitting process, with final approval expected on May 15. If approved, the ordinance could take effect by July 1, 2024.

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