Kent Police on Friday posted notices at 18 illegal massage parlors that the businesses are being shut down for violating city and state licensing requirements and reportedly serving as fronts for prostitution activity.
In addition to shutting the businesses down, the city has charged or is considering filing criminal charges against massage parlor owners and employees for crimes relating to licensing violations as well as prostitution, according to a Kent Police media release.
Nine of the massage parlors are in the Valley, six on the East Hill and three on the West Hill, said Kent Police Cmdr. Rob Scholl in an email. Scholl said several cases are still active so a list with specific names and locations would not be released until next week.
The city also will charge any customers who patronize these businesses and engage in acts of prostitution with the crime of patronizing a prostitute. The Kent Police Department is considering operating a sting to encourage patrons to stay away from these businesses.
During a several-months investigation, it was discovered that while many of these businesses advertise for massages, their real purpose is to engage in prostitution. In addition, these businesses utilize employees who are not licensed by the state, fail to follow regulations to protect the health and privacy of patrons and fail to properly post licenses, according to police.
Scholl said there has been an increase in the massage parlors in south King County in recent months.
“It is no secret to individuals willing to pay for sex that unlicensed massage parlors are a place they can go for this activity,” Scholl said in the media release.
Scholl emphasized that not all massage businesses are illegal.
“There are a number of properly licensed and operated massage businesses that provide a great service to the community,” he said. “The illegal businesses that we are targeting give legitimate massage businesses a bad name.”
Scholl said a legitimate massage business is required to post its state license in a visible location, and all persons engaging in the business of providing massages must be licensed by the state. They are trained to provide massages in a safe manner, and follow health and privacy guidelines.
He added that legitimate businesses often have web pages, provide medical quality massages, or are associated with other services, like spa services. Additionally, they are open during more regular business hours.