COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Bipartisan legislators are combatting human trafficking in Ohio through a new bill targeting one of the top venues for trafficking across the nation: illicit massage and spa businesses.
House Bill 255 has been introduced in the Ohio House to establish a registration process for individuals who perform non-therapeutic massage therapy, techniques practiced for reasons other than the treatment of disorders. Rep. Kevin Miller (R-Newark) and Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg) are proposing the bill, citing a lack of oversight given businesses that provide these services are often unlicensed.
“Many of these establishments are fronts for criminal activity, including, but not limited to, drug trafficking, prostitution, human and sex trafficking, and lewd behavior,” Miller said. “By implementing this registry, we aim to tackle the issue of bad actors operating outside the bounds of legal regulations.”
Ghanbari’s and Miller’s legislation, with the support of cosponsors Rep. Sean Brennan (D-Parma) and Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton), comes after investigators served multiple search warrants inside a central Ohio massage parlor. Authorities suspected the business of being an illegal front for sex trafficking, prostitution and money laundering after an eight-month investigation.
Massage and spa businesses are the second top venues in the U.S. for sex trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The hotline has identified 3,102 cases of human trafficking in Ohio since 2007 with 6,013 victims. In 2021, the hotline uncovered 12 massage businesses in Ohio operating as a front for trafficking.
“As our state continues to grow, we must proactively address issues that may compromise the safety and well-being of Ohioans,” Ghanbari said. “Rep. Miller and I firmly believe that this legislation will play a pivotal role in safeguarding our communities from the negative impacts associated with unlicensed massage establishments.”
Ghanbari and Miller said the proposed “Nontherapeutic Message Registry” would serve as a resource for law enforcement agencies to identify legitimate establishments, monitor their activities and take appropriate action against those involved in illegal activity.
Practicing businesses and individuals would be required to file with the Ohio Department of Public Safety through an application process. To be eligible for registration, applicants must provide the following:
- Name, date of birth, home address, phone number and e-mail.
- Address and phone number of the place of business where the applicant will provide nontherapeutic massage therapy.
- An indication of any occupational license, certificate, or registration to provide massage services issued by another jurisdiction that the individual currently holds.
- An indication of whether the individual has ever had an occupational license, certificate, or registration to provide massage services suspended, revoked, or denied by another jurisdiction.
Registrations will be denied if the department finds the applicant held a previous license or certificate that was revoked or if the individual has engaged in other conduct that “specifies as cause for denial or revocation.”
H.B. 255 has yet to be assigned to an Ohio House committee, where it will receive hearings open for public testimony. View the entirety of the bill below.