STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly has passed legislation (2016-H 7007 Sub A/ 2016-S 2699 ) that enables and explicitly authorizes municipalities to regulate unlicensed massage parlors and services within its borders in response to illegal sex trafficking operations disguised as massage parlors or bodyworks establishments. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Carlos E. Tobon and Sen. James E. Doyle II, has addressed the concerns of several local legitimate businesses who are concerned that the legislation would have adversely affected their legal and licensed massage practices.
“Pawtucket cannot be a safe haven for businesses involved in sex-trafficking,” said Representative Tobon (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket). “This legislation will protect the children and families of Pawtucket, it will protect the victims of sex-trafficking trapped in these businesses and it will allow the city to ensure that illegal storefront brothels do not exist in Pawtucket any longer. Since the bill was voted out of committee, I have heard from hundreds of massage therapists who want a clearer distinction between their legitimate massage businesses and the bodyworks and massage parlors who have brought ill-repute to the industry,” said Representative Tobon. “We worked collaboratively with these folks, and the leadership, to tighten up the legislation so that we get it right. We are trying to crack down on the exploitation of women and sex trafficking, but we didn’t want legitimate small business owners hurt in the process. I am confident that this legislation will end the question of whether or not cities and towns can regulate unlicensed massage parlors and services in an effort to protect the community and end the exploitation of women.”
“The days of illicit storefront brothels residing on the streets of Pawtucket, or any other community in Rhode Island, are finally over,” said Senator Doyle (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket). “This was a complicated piece of legislation, but with all the stakeholders involved, we came up with legislation that will protect the reputation of genuine businesses while also ending the scourge of sex trafficking that once masqueraded in our communities as legitimate businesses. This act is good for the community, it’s good for small businesses, and most importantly, it will protect the victims of sex trafficking from further exploitation.”
The legislation is a response to the City of Pawtucket’s on-going battle against unregulated massage parlors or “body-works” establishments that authorities believe are deceptive fronts for sex-trafficking and prostitution. The City of Pawtucket had passed a municipal ordinance calling for the proper licensing and public-health regulation of such establishments but a Superior Court judge earlier in the month ruled that the city did not have the legal authority to uphold such an ordinance and that enabling legislation from the General Assembly was necessary. Representative Tobon and Senator Doyle have been diligently working with the Pawtucket City Council in order to give the city legal authority to regulate unlicensed massage services in the city with the intent of weeding out businesses who engage in illegal sex-work and human trafficking.
The legislation now heads to Governor Raimondo’s desk for action.