Obvious sex massage ads in local classifieds
Legitimate massage therapists suffer from association with parlors
Published: Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Updated: Saturday, January 15, 2011 14:01
If you flip over to the classifieds section in the Ventura County Star, you will find more than just "help wanted" ads and quaint calls for antiques.
More than seven columns are dedicated to suggestive massage ads in the Nov. 21 edition of the Star. While the ads in the paper merely hint at the other services provided, they are not too discreet.
Little hearts and stars adorn selling points such as "new girls," "private rooms," "full touch massage," and "classy blonde." Pain relief and experienced practitioners are hardly mentioned.
I called the "classy blonde" to see if her services were really what they implied. Within two minutes, I was invited to her residence where she promised to wear "sensual lingerie" and treat me to her "silky touch."
Opting for a less personal approach, I consulted other resources.
An online guide called "Naughty Reviews," which, among other things, promises to help find "hot local escorts or a happy ending Asian massage parlor" listed over 70 percent of the massage places in the VC Star classifieds—and 16 of the 36 in the paper had detailed user reviews of sexual services received.
Who knew that finding a sexual massage would be as easy as picking up the Sunday morning paper in your driveway?
While sex massage parlors are not a new problem in California, allowing them to continue to operate so openly has serious consequences.
First, massage is a bona fide therapeutic and medical treatment with real health benefits. In addition to reducing stress, therapeutic massage has been proven to reduce chronic pain. Advanced techniques like lymphatic drainage and oncology massage are now considered medical practices.
Sloan-Kettering, the world-renowned cancer center, recently created an oncology massage program and many of the world's leading hospitals have massage therapists on staff.
The numerous seedy sex massage parlors operating in our county degrade the legitimate work of these professionals.
"We find it appalling that there are places like this. It tarnishes our image and makes us have to work harder," said Karen Bruning, president of the Los Angeles/South Bay chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association. "AMTA has worked hard for years to educate the public and to promote ethical massage."
In other states, licensed massage therapists, or LMTs, are required to graduate from certified schools and log up to 1000 hours of education before they can legally practice. Nationally certified therapists must pass a board exam and are bound by a strict code of ethics and boundaries.
In California, however, a lack of both understanding by government officials and coherent regulation has made massage the easiest point of entry for prostitution into the business community, allowing sex workers to pose as minimally-trained masseuses.
One hotspot is right on Ventura's Main Street.
"They are fairly bold, advertising in the main press," said Sgt. Tom Higgins of the Ventura Police Department. Explaining the problem of prostitution in many of the Asian-operated, stand-alone ‘massage' establishments, Higgins said, "It's just an easier business to do it in. You're not going to find it in a yogurt shop."
The problem, according to Higgins, isn't proving that these establishments are offering sexual services. "It's not hard to prosecute it. We just don't have the resources."
He added that a LAPD investigation proved there are links between sex massage and human trafficking in Ventura County. This is another side of the issue to consider for those who would trivialize the matter.
While groups like AMTA are working to slowly reform the state's laws to accommodate therapeutic massage, we have to do more to protect well-educated, ethical massage therapists.
"I have a sister-in-law that works in massage," Higgins explained. "We want to protect those legitimate businesses too."
News organization advertising departments should hold themselves accountable for doing some reasonable screening. The classifieds should be a resource for legal businesses, not a page-long index of likely prostitution parlors.
Nate Rodriguez, Director of Multimedia Advertising at the VC Star, maintains that the VC Star has a rigorous system to decide which ads are run. He says the paper regularly runs some ads that the public may find controversial. "We do take escort ads as well," Rodriguez said.
Granted, the Student Voice ran an ad for a marijuana dispensary in the past without checking its legitimacy, and perhaps we also should have checked the legality of the vendor. But massage of this ilk is an industry plagued by sex slavery. Continuing to print ads for exploitative establishments could encourage trafficking in addition to doing serious damage to actual therapists.
Removing such ads won't solve the larger problem, but double-checking before the county's largest news organization accepts tainted money is the responsible thing to do.