Wisconsin Public Radio

Bill Targets Illicit Massage Parlors

Helps municipalities close them down. Another bill imposes fine for soliciting prostitutes.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Mar 18th, 2019 09:59 am
Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, plans to reintroduce a bill in the next two weeks that will give local municipalities greater ability to close massage parlors they believe are breaking the law.

The move comes after the owner of a New Berlin massage parlor was charged with keeping a place of prostitution in February. New Berlin Police investigated Jing Zhang, 56, of Chicago, for three years, before having enough evidence to charge her.

Zhang’s massage parlor, Asian Massage and Reflexology, continued to operate during the investigation.

Massage therapists are licensed by the state, which means the state is also the enforcement agency on massage parlors.

“With the state process, this takes sometimes over a year,” Sanfelippo said of closing massage parlors. “Owners take advantage of the fact that most of these women are in a situation where they are in this country illegally. So basically, they are exploiting and enslaving them.”

During the 2017-18 legislative session, Sanfelippo introduced a bill that would have given local municipalities the ability to pass an ordinance to allow their police departments to issue citations against massage parlors breaking the law.

The bill gained support in the Assembly but did not make its way to the Senate before the session ended.

“This bill is identical to what we put out last session,” Sanfelippo said. “It was an issue before and even more so now, as I see the incidences growing in the state and of course with the most recent news story of one of our NFL team owners getting involved and putting a national spin on it.”

Last month, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution after allegedly seeing him visit the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida. Police were surveilling the spa after suspecting human trafficking.

Illicit massage businesses fronting for commercial sex operations have been part of the American landscape for decades, with an estimated 9,000 operating, according to a report by Polaris, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, non-governmental organization that works to prevent human trafficking,

“The frequent wink, wink, nudge, nudge references to ‘happy endings,’ in popular culture is just one manifestation of perception that while commercial sex is illegal, in this context, it is essentially harmless. That perception is wrong,” the report states. “There may be women who choose to sell sex either along with or under the guise of massage therapy, but evidence suggests that many of the thousands of women commercial sex massage parlors are victims of human trafficking.”

Sanfelippo said his bill has bipartisan support and believes it will easily be adopted.

There is a second bill being circulated for sponsorship that would impose a new fine on anyone convicted of soliciting prostitutes.The bill would impose a $5,000 fine on anyone convicted of patronizing, pandering or soliciting prostitutes or keeping a place of prostitution.

The money would cover treatment and services for sex-trafficking victims as well as investigations of internet crimes against children. The bill was introduced last session but did not get a vote.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Sanfelippo Plans To Reintroduce Bill Closing Illicit Massage Parlors was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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