Davenport's recent ordinance addressing illicit massage businesses in the Quad-Cities seems to be working, Davenport police said this week.
It’s become a “non-issue here in the city,” Lt. Jason Smith said. “It’s pretty status quo. I think that (the ordinance) was effective. It was good for the community.”
The ordinance, passed in March, requires massage therapists to be licensed by the state of Iowa and for reflexologists — people who massage feet, ears, hands — to be licensed by the city. It also limits hours of operations.
Moline and Bettendorf have passed similar ordinances.
Under Iowa law, massage therapy requires practitioners to be licensed by the state and overseen by the Iowa Board of Massage Therapy. Reflexology is not regulated, leaving municipalities to create their own enforcement provisions.
City officials and victims' rights groups say massage parlors are a common front for illegal activities like human trafficking and illegal sex work. Legitimate businesses also called for regulation, saying illegal sites contribute to a negative stereotype that subjects legitimate massage therapists to harassment.
On April 16, about 75 people with Davenport police and fire, Neighborhood Services Department, Scott County Sheriff’s Office, Quad-City Metropolitan Enforcement Group, Scott Emergency Communications Center (SECC), Family Resources Braking Traffik, the Iowa Department of Public Safety and interpreters fanned out to six massage businesses across Davenport.
The goals were to ensure code compliance, make sure no illegal activity was happening inside the businesses and determine if sex trafficking was occurring.
Six businesses were shut down that day: Pearl Massage, 1910 Washington St.; Asian Garden Massage, 3119 Brady St.; Spa Magic, 730 W. 3rd St.; Sunset Massage, 307 E. Locust St.; Asian Massage, 1114 Mound St.; and Tuina Studio, 7211 Hancock Court.
They all appeared closed when the Quad-City Times visited Tuesday and were listed as “closed” on rubmaps.com, which allows paid subscribers to leave reviews of illicit massage businesses across the U.S.
A “for rent” sign hung in some of the windows.
“We’ve been doing spot checks to make sure that the places aren’t just opening up without us knowing,” Smith said.
Two more businesses, Yu Spa Massage, 2005 Hickory Grove Road, and Lily Massage, 2164 W. Kimberly Road, were later closed for violating the ordinance. They have corrected the violations and re-opened, Smith said Tuesday. Police have re-checked the businesses to make sure they remain in compliance.
Smith said there are no immediate plans to check other massage businesses in the city, but that depends on complaints received.
There have been no complaints regarding illegal activity in a massage business since the operation in April, he said, and no arrests were made. Police said prostitution arrests were not the ultimate goal.
Smith said two complaints were filed with the Iowa Department of Public Health, but he declined to discuss them, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.
Bettendorf Police Chief Keith Kimball said because reflexology businesses are not licensed by the state, they present more of an opportunity for illicit activities, but that doesn't mean all of those businesses are illegitimate.
Davenport's ordinance requires reflexologists to pay $100 annually for a city license. Bettendorf requires a $100 annual fee; Moline's is a $50 annual fee.
Smith said four reflexology licenses have been issued in Davenport as of Tuesday.
Kimball said no massage businesses have been shut down since the city’s ordinance went into effect.
“We are continuing to look at all the businesses that we have within our city limits and making sure that they are in compliance with the updated city ordinance,” he said.
As of Tuesday, five Bettendorf massage businesses were listed on Rubmaps.com, and two were listed as closed.
Kimball said the other three appear to be compliant with the ordinance.