Melody Wright said she was working as a prostitute in a Nashville, Tenn., massage parlor when the city shut down 21 of the businesses in one day.
“It saved my life,” said Wright, now a Lizella grocery-store worker, who was one of about 40 people asking Bibb County commissioners Tuesday to regulate the county’s illicit massage parlors out of existence.
All five county commissioners indicated their support for a tough licensing procedure, similar to what dozens of other Georgia communities already have enacted. The County Commission plans a March 2 vote.
The nearby cities of Warner Robins, Byron and Centerville regulate massage parlors, and Macon is considering a similar code. Commissioners appeared convinced by a presentation that said some local establishments were “full service,” with both masturbation-for-hire and all sex acts available.
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Bibb County’s regulation alone could have little effect. Officials said there is only one massage parlor in the unincorporated parts of Bibb County, but about 20 are within the Macon city limits. Macon’s mayor and some of its council members want to enact a similar ordinance, which was drafted by the Middle Georgia Alliance to End Regional Trafficking.
Under the proposed regulation, the owners of massage businesses and any employees without a state massage license would be subject to fingerprinting, criminal background checks and a personal history.
Andrew Silver, a Mercer University professor who is chairman of the group, said Bibb County effectively has rolled out a welcome mat to illicit businesses.
Macon and Bibb County are the only remaining metropolitan areas in Georgia without massage parlor regulations, he said.
Silver cited a Web site for Soft Hands Massage & Spa, which says “demand (is) driven mainly by career oriented men who do not have the time for relationships but have the money for a great Asian massage and bath!”
A woman who answered the phone at the Soft Hands massage parlor Tuesday said there was no one at the business who could offer a response.
That business was targeted in 2008 raids, when Macon police made 28 arrests at 11 massage parlors in a few months. The Telegraph could not obtain Tuesday the status of the criminal charges from Soft Hands.
Silver said the proposed regulations would deter illicit massage parlors and is easier to implement than police raids, which can still be done.
“This costs obviously very little money, and you stop the infestation problem that you have,” Silver said.
David Corr, chairman of the local Libertarian Party, said acts by consenting adults behind closed doors are none of the government’s business. He scorned the county’s draft proposal, which would prohibit massages between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and prohibit employees from wearing swimsuits or lingerie.
“What kind of fascist Christian Taliban would think of something like that? This belongs in Afghanistan,” Corr told commissioners. He declined to say whether he thought prostitution was occurring in local businesses, though he said it should be legal anyway. He was the only person to speak against the proposal Tuesday.
About 40 people held up signs saying “No more,” which were distributed by local radio talk show host and disc jockey Chris Krok.
Wright said she’d been locked in a cycle of drugs and prostitution while working in Nashville and Las Vegas massage parlors.
“Someone has to step in and raise a hand to help,” she said. The damage goes far.
“I took their rent money. I took their child support. I took their kids’ clothes-for-school money, and I had to come to grips with that,” she said.
County commissioners worried aloud Tuesday that they would need to implement their regulations before Macon could enact its own. If Macon implemented its first, it potentially could shift crime to the unincorporated areas.
“You don’t solve a problem by displacing it,” Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said.
In a Tuesday morning work session, four of the five county commissioners spoke publicly in favor of regulations for the industry. The fifth commissioner, Elmo Richardson, said he didn’t want to waste time repeating how the ordinance is needed.
“It’s a no-brainer,” he said later.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.