Storefronts for Sex: Tampa takes action to battle massage spa prostitution

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s time to start worrying if you’re in the Asian massage spa business in Tampa. 

“This is our opportunity moving forward where we can actually do something meaningful and clean up Kennedy,” said Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco.

Back in April, 8 on Your Side investigated ongoing prostitution in some of the dozen spas that line Kennedy Blvd.

We found “massage therapists” wearing lingerie and reviewed five years of police reports on prostitution activity—all happening in plain sight along one of Tampa’s busiest boulevards.

“It is all over this city and we need to make sure we’re vigilant in trying to fight this sort of illicit activity,” said Tampa Council member Mike Suarez.

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

Now, the city council has tasked the Tampa City Attorney with revising Tampa’s bathhouse ordinance to include massage spas. For starters, tougher regulations could mean forcing spa patrons to register when they purchase services and making the massage workers wear uniforms instead of lingerie.

Council member Charlie Miranda also wants to hold landlords accountable for what goes on inside the spas.

“I think if you sent a letter to the landowner to explain and ask them what they think is going on there and how prepared they are to answer and go to court, I think you’d find a very positive response,” Miranda said.

Some council members expressed concern about human trafficking inside the Asian spas that employ women, who in some cases, can barely speak English.

“A lot of the people working inside these establishments may be victims of some sort of immigration extortion,” Cohen said.

A citizens group that calls itself Clean Up Kennedy sprouted up after our investigation in April and now demonstrates in front of the Seven Star Spa on Kennedy almost every Friday.

“Their ‘open’ sign hasn’t been on for weeks,” said the group’s leader, Joe Manson. “We don’t see cars in the parking lot anymore and we’ve also heard reports that they’ve just shut their doors.”

The city council plans to hold a workshop on September 28 to revise the bathhouse ordinance.

“There is that urgency, but we do understand these things take time, so we’ll be here to keep everyone accountable,” Manson said.

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