Storefronts for Sex: Tampa devising massage parlor crackdown after 8 On Your Side investigation

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – In April, 8 On Your Side exposed nearly a dozen massage parlors acting as prostitution fronts along Kennedy Boulevard., and told you about a community activist group that’s outrage over the city’s lack of response.

“It breaks my heart to see what’s going on in these places,” group leader Joseph Manson told the Tampa City Council Thursday.

Manson and his growing group of community activists known as Cleanup Kennedy turned out in force at Tampa City Council session on Thursday, expecting the city to explain what’s going on inside these businesses and what authorities are doing to curb prostitution inside these so-called health spas.

But, the council has decided to postpone this discussion until July 27, after Tampa City Attorney Salvator Territo asked for extra time to research how to “best regulate massage parlors.” That decision was met with disappointment by some members of Clean Up Kennedy.

“I just don’t think enough is being done about this,” said Jessica Benge. “I don’t think there’s enough urgency in this.”

A dozen members of Clean Up Kennedy attended the meeting, wearing blue shirts with the group’s name written across their chests, hoping to drive home the point.

Two group members spoke passionately about the need to rid Kennedy Boulevard of the rampant prostitution they believe takes place inside some of the businesses that populate strip malls along the boulevard.

“As a community, we cannot put up with this,” said mother of four, Loretta Kinser. “We don’t want our children and our grandchildren exposed to this.”

Manson also expressed his concern.

“I would like to raise my family in a city where this type of thing is not accepted, it is not celebrated and is not tolerated on our streets, especially so blatantly,” Manson said. “We do understand these things take time, but I do want to add a bit of urgency if I could, because every day that these places exist and these establishments remain, women are being exploited in the worst ways imaginable.”

Two city council members, Guido Maniscalco and Mike Suarez, are leading the city effort to address the prostitution problem. In interviews with 8 On Your Side, both men urged patience in order to come up with meaningful strategies for going after the sex trade in spas on Kennedy, Dale Mabry and other major arteries in Tampa.

“It’s not kicking the can down the road. We still have to deal with the legal ramifications as to what we’re going to do next,” Suarez said. “We may have one or two or maybe even three options going forward.”

One Clean Up Tampa member thinks she knows exactly how to attack the problem.

“We really need to put the focus on the business owners that have these businesses and the violations that are already occurring,” said Sarah Manson. She also faults the Florida Department of Heath, which licenses the massage spas as well as the women who work inside them.

“They’re enabling and they’re turning a blind eye to what’s really going on and they just obviously need to be doing something other than what they are,” Manson said.

Maniscalco says people stop him on the street since our 8 on Your Side massage parlor investigation aired in April and ask what he plans to do about the daily prostitution going on inside many of the so-called health spas.

“I do want answers by the end of July,” Maniscalco said. “We can’t postpone it any longer.”

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