San Juan Capistrano, California, is adding further restrictions to massage parlors in an attempt to discourage illicit businesses from prostituting human trafficking victims at the establishments.
The city council unanimously advanced amendments to a massage parlor ordinance June 1 and adopted a resolution proclaiming the city’s commitment to fighting human trafficking.
“[Human trafficking] is a problem all throughout Southern California, and Orange County has an especially notorious reputation for it,” Councilman Howard Hart, who directed the ordinance, told The Epoch Times on June 8.
Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry that involves using force, fraud, and coercion to obtain sex and labor, with many cases involving minors.
Hart said the “illicit massage parlors” in San Juan Capistrano are “heavily involved in human trafficking.”
“In total, we have about 12 massage parlors, and not all of them are illicit. I would say more than half of them are illicit,” Hart said. “Of those, you can almost assume that each one of them is involved with human trafficking to some extent.”
Hart said that due to Orange County being a destination for vacationers, “there’s a demand for the sex industry, and so much of the sex industry now is human trafficking.”
The ordinance’s “enforcement provisions” would “reduce illicit massage parlor presence in San Juan Capistrano,” he said.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, because enforcement doesn’t happen overnight,” Hart said. “But without taking that first step of drafting aggressive ordinances, enforcement can’t happen.”
One provision prohibits a property owner from renting space to a massage parlor for five years if a previous massage parlor was closed on one of their properties. Another is that massage parlor owners that are shut down due to code violations are not allowed to open another massage parlor in the city for five years.
Massage ordinance violations would be upgraded to misdemeanors, punishable by fines and imprisonment.
City staff worked with the i-5 Freedom Network, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to ending human trafficking, to revise the ordinance and create the resolution.
“We’re here to encourage and commend the city of San Juan Capistrano on their courageous and committed efforts to address this issue,” Brenda Wells, founder and executive director of the i-5 Freedom Network, said during the June 1 council meeting.
“Human trafficking in the massage establishment is the number one reported location for this activity. … The goal is really to disrupt the problem without creating any undue burden or unintended consequences on other community members or massage establishment owners.”
Other provisions for the amended ordinance require each massage parlor to post in their lobby, break room, and every massage room the national human trafficking hotline for their employees.
The ordinance also requires fingerprinting and background checks for all employees.
It requires massage establishments to have a single entrance and exit in a visible, well-lit location for customers. There is also a prohibition against locking the doors of massage rooms.
There’s a requirement that customers be informed—by means of a sign on the counter—that a record is kept of each customer’s name and address, with verification required via a state-issued ID.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department would also conduct a robust annual review of massage parlor license renewals, which will be paid for by the business owner. The cost will be $362 for the initial review, and $218 for a review each year thereafter.
The parlor owner must provide all names, aliases, and fictitious names provided by the licensee over the last 10 years.
A second reading and adoption of the ordinance will occur pending council approval on June 15.
Hart said it’s up to the council to help stop human trafficking in the South Orange County community.
“It’s everywhere,” Hart said. “In almost every town, you see these storefront massage parlors, and it’s not a victimless crime. The lives of young people, men and women, are being ruined—some of them forever. And it’s up to us. If good people don’t act, then evil flourishes.”