Activists make late push against Tampa’s massage parlor crackdown


Tampa’s City Council is poised to approve an ordinance Thursday that attempts to curb illicit activity at massage parlors.

But critics maintain the move is a misdirected effort that will only hurt the people it’s intended to help.

Aimed at combating human sex trafficking, the ordinance came to the council’s attention last year via members of the activist group “Clean Up Kennedy,” who made frequent visits to the Council meetings. They advocated that the city do something about commercial sexual exploitation and possible human trafficking going on Kennedy Blvd and across Tampa.

That led the city’s legal department to address the issue by reviving a law initially crafted in the late 1980s to address sexual practices that spread HIV during the AIDS crisis. It calls for requiring bathhouses and bath technicians to undergo inspections, permitting and regulations (that) “will help ferret out illegal activities and prevent, detect or deter human trafficking.”

On Dec. 21, the measure passed 5-0 (Council members Yolie Capin and Frank Reddick weren’t at the meeting).

More than a dozen activists gathered in front of City Hall Saturday afternoon to call on Council members to rethink their vote before it comes back for a second reading Thursday.

To a person, the activists who spoke at the news conference said that they abhor human trafficking and want it stopped. They just don’t think the ordinance that the city’s legal department has crafted will do that.

“Reviving this bathhouse ordinance is harmful to the working class community because it excuses the real criminals who are human traffickers — it places blame on the actual victims of human trafficking,” said Cara Leigh with National Nurses United, and Democratic Socialists of America.

Citing statistics that show that less than half the women who are sexually assaulted ever report such incidents, Sydney Eastman with the Sex Workers Solidarity Network says the only solution to the problem that the council is attempting to address is to give such sex workers legal immunity.

“We want to see this solution because we know it’s the only lifeline we can throw on a city level that’s going to truly empower victims to come forward,” Eastman said. “An anonymous tip line, and immunity for people who want to report violence against them. This will shift the model that allows human traffickers to prey on our streets with impunity.”

Some activists who came before the Council last month to discuss the ordinance say they’re troubled by what they perceived to be the council’s lack of interest in their message.

“It is obvious that they see us as nothing more than rabble rousers with nothing of interest to say,” said Julie Solace, co-founder and organizer with the Sex Workers Solidarity Network.

“The fact of the matter is that regardless of what happens Thursday at City Hall, we aren’t going to stop until human trafficking is properly addressed through sensible legislation that does not further oppress and harass already marginalized groups, and we will not rest until safety, justice and equality is achieved for all members of the working class, including sex workers.”

Saturday’s news conference ended with the sixteen people present calling and leaving voicemail messages to the members of the City Council in advance of Thursday’s vote, asking them to reconsider their support for the ordinance.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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