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Arlington May Deregulate Local Massage Businesses

by ARLnow.com September 16, 2011 at 11:19 am 9,774 61 Comments

Arlington may be getting out of the business of licensing massage practitioners in the county.

The County Board is expected to vote in October on a request to advertise an ordinance change that would no longer require massage therapists to obtain a permit from the county’s health department. Instead, local massage therapists will only have to be certified by the state.

Arlington County’s massage regulation started decades ago, in response to a proliferation of prostitution operations masquerading as massage parlors. County officials say those days are largely past, and its time to look at massage therapists in a new light.

“The whole field of massage has evolved and changed incredibly in the past couple of decades, such that there are a lot of very legitimate medical practitioners out there using massage for all kinds of health reasons,” Deputy County Manager Marsha Allgeier told ARLnow.com. “In a way, it’s kind of an archaic law that we’re getting rid of… the old way of looking at massage therapists really does have to change.”

Allgeier said that the Arlington County Police department, not the health department, will be responsible for making sure that massage businesses — like the recently-opened Arlington Physical Center on Columbia Pike — are on the up and up.

“If there are illegal activities going on — that is, prostitution — that it needs to be treated as a police matter,” Allgeier said. “That’s the way to deal with the illegal activity that’s going on, not by requiring all massage professionals to go through an unnecessary… bureaucratic licensure process.”

Current regulations require massage practitioners to apply for a county Massage Therapist Permit by submitting a form, a $50 fee, a massage school diploma or certificate, two passport size photos, a Virginia massage therapist certificate and an FBI record check including fingerprints.

  • Wilbur

    Ah, if you know anything about Arlington (Rosslyn) history, isnt that not so much “changing times” but a return to “olden times”? Just saying.

  • JB

    I love a story with a happy ending.

    • drax

      That’s worth a LOL.

  • Lou

    The massage parlor laws are archaic but the prostitution laws are not? Mkay.

    • Tabby


    • hmmm

      Good point, Lou.

  • Pingback: Arlington May End Onerous Licensing Requirement for Massage Therapists - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine()

  • EndExploitation

    It isn’t a problem in Arlington because of the regulations we have. Many parts of Fairfax (ntm DC or MD) have no shortage of the other kind of “massage” parlor. And I’m sure many of those “therapists” got here through human trafficking.

    Whatever we can do to discourage explotation is worth it. If the County is concerned about a “bureaucratic licensure process”, they just need to make it less bureaucratic. But still require proof of massage training, and a background check for the therapists and the owners.

    • Novanglus

      I wonder if the real reason for this is that the FBI background checks now include immigration status.

    • hmmm

      Wishy-washy term “exploitation” aside, how does the state certification and existing criminal laws need any further layer of regulation?

      • EndExploitation

        These places bring girls in from Asia and Latin America to be sex slaves. There’s nothing wishy-washy about calling that exploitation. It’s the people who are tolerating it that are wishy-washy.

        If the state certification were enough, sex parlors wouldn’t be so prevalent all over Fairfax County.

        • hmmm

          Not all prostitution is exploitation or slavery.

          How about you use “sex slavery” instead of “exploitation” as your term of art? That’s more explicit. That’s my point. Some people think of any prostitution as “exploitation” even when the prostitute is of age and gives consent, etc. That’s why I called it wishy-washy.

          • EndExploitation

            You think women sell their bodies because they like the work? Maybe some do, and they need serious therapy. But generally the ones who do it consentually are desparate for money, and sex-crazed men (desperate losers who can’t get their fix any other way) are exploiting that.

          • hmmm

            I think women should have the right to have sex with anyone they want for any reason, without you or me judging them, telling them they can’t handle it, or saying they need therapy. Adult women do not need your or my protection from the choices that we think are bad for them. It’s funny how people who oppose homosexuality, etc. use the same argument you’re using, btw.

            I don’t think “desperate for money” is a good enough reason to tell someone they shouldn’t do something. Lots of people do things for that reason. You wan to ban other demeaning jobs like holding signs on street corners wearing costumes for the same reason?

            Women and girls who need protection from slavery, etc. should get it. That’s a different issue though.

          • EndGeneralization

            I agree with hmmm. And I find your gross generalizations deplorable.

          • Richard Cranium

            Wow – you make it sound like they work at Walmart or something!

          • hmmm

            Now that you mention it, I think people who work at Walmart need therapy, especially if they enjoy their work.

          • hmmm

            EE, if you respect the right of women to refuse to have sex without consent (slavery) then you really ought to respect the right of women who DO consent to have sex for any reason they choose, as long as they are choosing it.

          • EndExploitation

            Like I said, I don’t care if it’s made legal, and people have the right to do what’s legal. I’m still entitled to my opinions on their mental health, though.

          • hmmm

            I wonder if you get mad when people say gays are nuts and need therapy to be “cured” too.

          • Hung

            What about men who sell their bodies? There are male prosititutes as well. Are they also being exploited? If no, why not?

    • steve

      If you really want to reduce exploitation, you’d lobby to make prostitution legal. When threatened/enslaved why don’t those girls turn to duly constituted authority? Because you’ve made their business illegal. You are forcing them underground.

      • EndExploitation

        Prostitution laws don’t drive it underground, fear of the wife, boss, constituents, and/or congregation finding out does. The lack of American women willing to “supply the market” drives the illegal trafficking from afar, and there’s certainly no plan to issue guest worker visas for that purpose. The women aren’t afraid of the authorities because of prostitution laws, they don’t have the local awareness or langauge skills to find out who the authorities are, and they’re afraid of their pimps killing them (or their families back home).

        • hmmm

          You are describing slavery, not prostitution.

          Steve has a point – if prostitution were legal, it would be much easier to regulate, and put alot of illegal joints out of business because people would have a safer alternative. It could still be discrete for those who don’t want to be seen – lots of legal things are.

          • EndExploitation

            I’m describing prostitution. As I said, the domestic supply isn’t big enough to satisfy the market. That directly results in imported slavery.

            I don’t care if prostitution is legal or illegal. I care whether our government has the regualtory tools it needs to discover and shut down slavery.

          • hmmm

            No you’re not, you’re describing a subset of prostitution. Sex slavery is horrible and should be stopped, but it’s not the same thing.

            If you don’t care if prostitution is legal or illegal, why are you arguing with me about it?

          • EndExploitation

            I was aruging whether it’s exploitation. You’re the only one talking about its legality.

          • hmmm

            Yes, back to your use of an incredibly vague, and therefore wishy-washy, term.

            If you are only concerned with slavery, say so. It’s in your interest not to turn people off by wondering if they can trust you to have the same definition of “exploitation” which is a word people use to mean anything they don’t happen to approve of.

          • EndExploitation

            I take that back. Steve brought it up. I mentioned the laws only to say they were irrelveant.

          • EndExploitation

            I think it’s a very clearly defined term. Using someone’s desperate situation to get something out of them wouldn’t otherwise provide.

          • hmmm

            Exploitation is not a clearly-defined term. It’s incredibly vague.

  • TuesdaysChild

    So the law worked, and now they want to get rid of a law that works. This makes no sense.

    • hmmm

      It’s not the law that worked, it’s the county that changed. It’s a place for fixies and flipflops and froyo now, not flophoues and floozies and final endings (hey, I had to be a little creative).

  • John B

    All you naysayers make sure you show up at the board meeting and/or contact the board members and express your concerns.

  • TheInterWebs

    Why don’t the police just use the internet to locate shut down the “other” massage parlors? It’s not hard to find these places using a quick google search

    • EndExploitation

      Good question. I’m all for taxpayer-funded massages for undercover cops.

    • Truth

      Well they have certainlyhad no luck with the Arlington Physical Center no have they? WE have documented evidence of the johns ratingand describing there ea hem experince there and the PD hasn’t shut them down.

      If this were Boston, civic minded people in “stolen police uniforms” wearing ski masks would just go on in there and bust the joint up and be done with it. Problem solved.

      • hmmm

        Have the police even tried? If they haven’t, that’s the solution, isn’t it?

    • Karl

      There’s a whole Craigslist section for it, no need for the extra Google step!

  • JimPB

    One more needless regulation going.

    Focus regulations on public health and safety.

    RE: prostitution (and sexual interactions with multiple partners generally). The state has a legitimate concern about public health, viz., the spread of venereal diseases (VD). It’s not just HIV/AIDS. Strains of syphilis and gonorrhea have become highly resistant to even the most potent antibiotics, so treatment can require hospitalization for intravenously administering an antibiotic(s) in extraordinarily high doses. Then there’s the chronic VDs like herpes. A real drag.
    What policies would prevent VDs most effectively and efficiently?

    There’s also a legitimate concern that sex is a free choice activity (although there could be a charge) and not coerced directly (as in sexual assault) or indirectly (by a pimp).
    What policies would address this concern effectively and efficiently, especially for those subject to coercion?

    • hmmm

      So if regulating sexual relations to prevent STDs is a legitimate concern, could the state put people in jail for sex outside marriage? It’s still illegal, by the way, just not enforced.

      Coercion for sex happens outside of prostitution, yet we don’t regulate all sex. We stop the coercion.

  • A Long

    The laws are redundant and add a layer of paperwork that makes it more difficult to recruit massage therapists. FBI background checks are not required in surrounding Maryland counties or in D.C. and these take at least three months to process. New therapists are hamstrung waiting on paperwork after already receiving their national certification (which requires extensive testing and proof of graduation from an accredited massage school) and having already received their Virginia license from the Board of Nursing, which also requires extensive proof of professional qualifications. The costs for the both the county and the therapists are restrictive.
    Illegal parlors are going to go the trouble of getting a license anyway, so all this does is frustrate us professionals who are.
    Way to be progressive Arlington.
    Now, when exactly is this vote?

    • EndExploitation

      They could streamline the process, eliminate the paperwork, and allow the therapist to begin work while the background check runs (with a revocation if there’s a problem).

      Maryland and DC are rife with fake parlors — we shouldn’t consider emulating what they do. At one point Montgomery County banned opposite sex massages — that was a ridiculous over-reach.

      • hmmm

        “They could streamline the process, eliminate the paperwork, and allow the therapist to begin work while the background check runs (with a revocation if there’s a problem). ”

        Yes – just like they could do with legal prostitution.

  • A Long

    Oops, meant to say “illegal parlors are NOT going to the trouble of getting a license …” Got a little fired up and my mind moved faster than my fingers.

    • Novanglus

      I think you were right the first time. The Arlington Physical Center did go through the county’s process, opened, and is still in business.

      If the regulatory process didn’t stop them, it’s time to end it. Send undercover cops in there to establish probable cause, and then raid the place and shut it down.

      • Richard Cranium

        I would like to volunteer for the undercover assignment. Might take me a few trips to get the information I need, however.

        • Novanglus

          LOL. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ACPD has already made a few trips.

  • Fantastic. Imagine the business start up possibilities…..

  • KalashniKEV

    Legalize it.

    • Liberace

      KEV needs a job.

      • TheInterWebs

        KEV needs a girlfriend.

        • drax

          KEV needs a life.

    • Skeptical

      I am actually with KEV on this one. If there were a legal status for sex workers, then sex workers would not have to pretend to be massage therapists and create all this nonsensical superfluous effort that doesn’t seem to solve many problems. And people being abused in sex jobs might actually have some legal recourse and couldn’t be frightened away from going to the police by their exploiters if they are hurt or coerced. What a concept.

      BTW I can tell from the predominant tone of the commentary that there are a lot of people out there who have never had a real, non sex oriented massage by a trained person. And yet you can get a cupcake, a pizza and a beer on every street corner in this town. Sigh.

      • Garden City

        As my father used to say, it’s just our misfortune that this country was settled by Puritans.

  • steve85

    This is a touchy topic.

  • tom

    it would be very easy to resolve this issue by following in the footsteps of Nevada.

  • John

    Based on the allegations against the Physical Center an the lack of action it seems like the staff can’t be bothered to enforce the regulations we put in place to stop these business ring used as fronts for brothels. Instead of getting rind of our regulations the county board investigate what is going on here and why our regulations are not enforced.

  • Allthatglimmersisnotgold

    The PD is not an effective way to shut these places down. I would assume it would take many hours and multiple officers just to get a few misdameanor charges of prostitution that would eventually get tied up in court for months. Even then police would have to go through whatever office of the county to pull the license. Alot of work to bust a few girls while the ringleader is probably sitting in whatever place they came from waiting.
    All the health dept has to say is they are violating whatever code and pull the licenses and shut it down. No warrants or months in criminal court.

  • Burger

    This is actually a pretty interesting take on the part of the CB. Most of these type of licensing programs are pure support of the existing businesses and act like barriers to entry of new businesses.

    You can argue the massage business, given its rather seedy past, might not be the best business to deregulate but it is a start.


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