Bibb County and Macon leaders said Thursday they have enough support to regulate the worst illicit massage parlors out of business.
Police raids on some of the massage parlors arrested workers as young as 17 on sex-related charges in recent years, but political support was sparse. The new measures, drafted by a group called the Middle Georgia Alliance to End Trafficking, would bring background checks and other scrutiny to the owners and employees of massage parlors.
“It’s prostitution and masturbation and all that stuff. It’s illegal, and I don’t think it should be allowed,” said Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen, who plans to discuss the idea this morning with state legislators and Tuesday with his colleagues on the Bibb County Commission.
Andrew Silver, chairman of the anti-trafficking alliance and an assistant professor of English at Mercer University, said 55 governments in Georgia — including Warner Robins, Centerville and Byron — regulate massage parlors to cut down on human trafficking, prostitution and other crimes. Macon is the only urban area of its size in Georgia without such regulations, and that makes it inviting to illicit businesses, he said.
“This is not radical. It’s radical not to have this,” he said.
The proposals would require business founders to provide photos, be fingerprinted and list criminal convictions, character references and previous addresses.
Government officials would be authorized to verify the information, such as by running criminal background checks.
Each masseuse would either have to be state licensed or submit information similar to the proposed requirements for owners.
Macon Councilman Erick Erickson said business regulation would reduce the need for police investigations. Not every massage parlor is bad, he said, “but odds are, some of them are. I suspect the ones that aren’t won’t have any trouble with an additional spotlight, and the ones that are will just go away.”
Allen and Erickson said they have enough support to get the Bibb County and Macon governments to pass the regulations.
Erickson said the city’s proposal is stuck before the city attorney, and it could take the mayor and the City Council working together to move it along, he said.
Mayor Robert Reichert’s office could not say Thursday whether he would pull the proposal from the city attorney’s office, though Reichert does support the proposal.
Erickson said the city attorney’s office doesn’t believe the city has the power to enact the regulations.
Statewide regulations being pushed by local legislators including state Sens. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, and Robert Brown, D-Macon, would clarify that cities do have the power, Erickson said.
The legislation drafted by Staton would make a third violation of state massage laws a felony.
Staton last week called for more business regulation of massage parlors to eliminate disguised masturbation sex shops.
Silver said a 17-year-old’s arrest at a massage parlor in Macon by definition proves there is human sex trafficking in Macon. City police have not levied any trafficking charges.
“Right now, there’s nothing keeping this problem from getting worse, and it’s already bad,” Silver said. “It’s bad. It’s bad for the city as a whole, it’s bad for tourism, but it’s especially bad for the women who are being sold for sex inside of these places.”
Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.