Hillsborough County joins Tampa movement to crackdown on illicit massage spas

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hillsborough County joined a growing movement to eradicate human trafficking from illicit massage parlors on Thursday. Commissioner Sandy Murman asked the Hillsborough County Attorney to draft an ordinance similar to the bathhouse ordinance just passed by the Tampa City Council.

“We have to be on the same page, otherwise we’re going to be the recipient of terrible activity that really promotes human trafficking,” Murman said.

Last April, our 8 On Your Side Storefronts for Sex investigation pulled back the curtain on dozens of Asian massage parlors in Tampa staffed by women in lingerie that operate Asian spa businesses in plain view, but are notorious for offering sex for money behind locked doors and advertising on sexually oriented websites.

Tampa has just passed new restrictions specifically banning sexual services and limiting hours of operation. Tampa’s new rules also require city inspections and make landlords, owners, staff and customers register with the city. Enforcement of those new rules hasn’t yet started.

Murman and other Hillsborough County Commissioners worry that Tampa’s crackdown will prompt illicit massage parlors to migrate outside of the city limits and create a nuisance in the county.

“I know that we can tighten up and do the same things that they’re doing, give more tools to our code enforcement and law enforcement to try and get these places shutdown and stop the human trafficking,” Murman said.

Murman drew some of inspiration from a recent national report on human trafficking in illicit massage businesses published by the Polaris organization.

That report named Tampa as a major hub for such activity and encouraged local governments to become proactive instead of just talking about the problem.

Joe Manson founded the Clean Up Kennedy group in response to our Storefronts for Sex investigation that exposed the pervasiveness of the sex trade on Kennedy Boulevard.  Manson recently shared the Polaris report with Murman and is thrilled to see her call for a countywide ordinance modeled after Tampa’s initiative.

“I am excited,” Manson said. “We didn’t know how this was going to turn out at the beginning but we’re really happy the City of Tampa taking leadership and then other people following along after that.”

Murman expects the county attorney to return with a draft ordinance later this month or early in March. Her motion to pursue the legislation passed unanimously at Wednesday’s board meeting.

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