The Oak Park Board of Trustees has approved an ordinance aimed at preventing prostitution businesses posing as legitimate massage establishments from opening shop in the village.
The ordinance, which was approved unanimously at the Jan. 16 board meeting, comes after Oak Park police busted three massage businesses in August that were operating without licenses and performing sex acts.
The village heard the proposal first in October, but Trustee Simone Boutet worked with the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) and Working America, a division of the AFL-CIO, to strengthen the ordinance.
Boutet read a statement from CAASE policy director Megan Rosenfeld, who called massage businesses a common front for prostitution and sex trafficking.
"Victims are forced, coerced and tricked into working for these establishments," Rosenfeld wrote. "Research shows that there are more than 9,000 establishments in the U.S. that advertise massage services but are, in fact, being used for commercial sex."
She added that the National Human Trafficking Hotline analyzed more than 32,000 incidents of human trafficking, and the second highest volume of calls was connected to massage businesses.
The ordinance requires a criminal background check and fingerprinting of applicants or those renewing a license. Businesses also must maintain a record of massages performed, by whom, and how much was charged.
The village also can reject a massage establishment applicant for having a criminal record or a misdemeanor related to the massage therapy profession or having run a massage business that engaged in prostitution.
The ordinance also requires:
- Businesses must maintain a clear glass entrance that allows a view from the outside of the front of the establishment where customers are greeted. They also must post a notice somewhere in the workplace, such as a back office or break room, with contact information for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
- Businesses are forbidden from placing ads suggesting they provide services that would constitute a felony.
- Massage businesses are subject to inspection twice a year by the village and can receive fines of up to $750 a day for being in violation of the ordinance.
- Operating hours must be between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
- Those who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs are not allowed to receive services or remain in the establishment.
- Customers are provided written notice that state law prohibits solicitation of a sexual act and that it is a Class 4 felony.
- Massage therapists must hold a license from the state.
Eric Davis, a representative of The North Avenue District (T-NAD), a nonprofit organization that advocates for the development of North Avenue, said that if the ordinance had been in place, it might have prevented the three illicit massage parlors ordered closed in August from opening in Oak Park.
He thanked the board for incorporating into the ordinance the provision suggested by T-NAD that "a business can be denied a license based on civil or criminal wrongdoing [non-massage parlor related], but such convictions are not an automatic bar to a massage parlor establishment business license."
One of the businesses shut down in the August police sting was King Spa, 6441 W. North Ave. Owner Tina King was charged with prostitution as was an employee of Angel Spa, 1102 Chicago Ave. Two others were arrested at a different Angel Spa at 6340 Roosevelt Road for performing massages without a license.
Boutet said in a telephone interview that the ordinance could be a roadmap for legislation in other communities. "If other communities adopt this as a model ordinance, [illicit massage businesses] won't be able to go anywhere," Boutet said.
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