Sending a message to Warren massage parlors that go too far

A website that keeps track of such things as massage parlors that traffic in sex says Ohio has 23 such establishments. Ten of them are in Warren.

That explains why a number of community groups in the city and the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative are pushing legislation that would regulate massage parlors in Warren.

The MVOC refers to the massage parlors as “brothels,” but proving that contention would require local police departments or the office of the Ohio attorney general to launch undercover operations. And while prostitution is illegal in the state of Ohio, it has not, at least in recent tradition, been a high priority for enforcement.

That is not to say, however, that there isn’t enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that the city has an interest in codifying reasonable regulations for massage parlors.

What the MVOC and others are suggesting is a requirement of 100 hours of certified education for massage parlor employees. That’s far less training than is required of practitioners of medical massage, or, for that matter, what is required for the man or woman who cuts your hair.

The proposed legislation would also limit operations to something less than 24 hours a day, and would require insurance, inspections and certification that employees have valid immigration papers.

Immigration issue

That last part has less to do with any anti-immigration fever and more to do with a contention that many women who are working in massage parlors are actually victims of human trafficking. That is, they are brought to this country — legally or illegally — and are coerced into working in massage parlors to repay the cost of getting them here.

The campaign against massage parlors is being pursued by people who believe that rampant prostitution has a deleterious effect on an area’s stability and economy. And by an ecumenical coalition that finds it morally reprehensible. But indentured servitude is decidedly un-American, and if it is being practiced in the sex business, it would offend even those of a libertarian bent.

The MVOC and the Mahoning Valley Rescue and Restore Coalition are sponsoring a film festival during Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The first was Saturday at Living Lord Lutheran Church in Howland. The others are: Jan. 15, Blessed Sacrament Church in Warren; Jan. 21, Niles First United Methodist Church, and Jan. 28, at Kilcawley Center on the Youngstown State University campus.

MVOC is sponsoring a rally to gather support for a proposed Warren ordinance at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the YWCA on North Park Avenue. City Council is expected to take up the legislation at its Jan. 25 meeting.

Niles attempted to legislate massage parlors out of business two decades ago, but it overreached, and its law was overturned in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. Warren has the authority to enact reasonable regulations to protect public health and safety and to enforce laws prohibiting prostitution. But it can’t — and shouldn’t — pursue draconian measures that would be overturned in court.

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