Review of Massage Parlor Laws and Sex Crimes
There are many different types of arrests being made by law enforcement that are related to massage parlors in California.
Often, the target are the people who are working there, or the visiting customers, who police have a reason to believe that are engaging in sexual related illegal activity.
In most cases, the illegal activity is related to solicitation of prostitution which is defined under California Penal Code 647(b) PC, which as everyone knows, is the exchange of money for sexual favors.
Most people are probably aware of the incident where the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, was arrested for alleged sexual activity occurring inside a massage parlor.
Law enforcement authorities are aggressively investigating massage parlors under the umbrella of sex trafficking of minors, but many innocent and valid customers are getting caught up in wide net.
Everyone knows it's illegal in California to operate a brothel or other place with the intent to allow prostitution, but there are still some businesses that have continued to allow it.
Frequently, these businesses advertise their services as massage parlors or spas, but are just a scheme to commit acts of prostitution.
As noted, California law enforcement officers now target massage parlors for illegal prostitution.
There have been a significant number of arrest and many massage parlors were shut down for operating large illegal underground prostitution rings.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a closer look at the massage parlor laws and related crimes below.
Massage Without a Permit
California and many of its counties and municipalities connect the operation of illicit massage parlors with increases in prostitution, trafficking, drug distribution, and related crimes.
Massage therapists, parlor owners, and out-call massage services will find a patchwork of state and local laws closely regulating massage services.
Those laws typically include permit requirements for massage therapists and massage parlors and services.
Violation of massage ordinances and related state laws can result in misdemeanor convictions, fines, incarceration, administrative sanctions, and civil remedies.
California State Regulation
California Business and Professions Code 4600-4620 regulates massage parlors in California only until January 1, 2022.
After that date, Business and Professions Code 4621 repeals those state laws, leaving regulation to county and city ordinances.
Before repeal, Business and Professions Code 4600-4620 authorized the California Massage Therapy Council to issue certificates to qualified massage therapists.
After repeal, certification depends on local ordinance. Until repeal, Business and Professions Code 4609 prohibits massage therapists from engaging in any of these acts:
- sexually suggestive advertising;
- any form of sexual activity;
- massage of the genitals or anal region;
- dressing in swim attire;
- exposing the therapist's undergarments, breasts, buttocks, or genitals;
- committing any sex crime.
County and City Ordinances
After the January 1, 2022 repeal of Business and Professions Code 4600-4620, California law largely leaves to counties and local municipalities the permitting and regulation of massage parlors and certification of massage therapists.
California municipalities have accepted and aggressively pursued that opportunity to regulate massage services.
For a prime and typical example, the City of Los Angeles adopted its Code Sections 103.205 and 103.205.1 requiring police permits for all massage parlors and therapists. In 2015, the state legislature began its repeal of massage laws.
Los Angeles Code Section 103.205 imposes these other requirements on massage parlors, therapists, and out-call services:
- “No Massage Practitioner, Massage Therapist or employee shall expose his or her genitals, buttocks or, in the case of a female, her breast or make intentional contact with the genitals or anus of another person.”
- No massage parlor or out-call service may operate between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
- No massage parlor or service may engage in any unfair business practice misrepresenting the services or therapist qualifications.
- The city may hold public hearings on the operation of any massage business when receiving public complaints or protests.
- Each massage business must maintain personnel lists closely identifying all participants offering massage services.
- No person may enter a massage business while possessing or consuming alcohol or drugs.
- No massage business may store or sell sexually-oriented material.
Punishments for Illegal Massage Services
Punishment of massage services without required permits or in violation of other provisions depends on the local ordinance.
Under the representative City of Los Angeles massage ordinance Code Section 103.205, operating a massage parlor or out-call service without a permit is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Other violations of City of Los Angeles Code Section 103.205 subject the violator to administrative sanctions and civil remedies.
California law enforcement authorities commonly charge these other crimes related to operating an illicit massage service:
- prostitution or soliciting prostitution under Penal Code 647(b) PC;
- pimping under Penal Code 266h PC;
- pandering under Penal Code 266i PC;
- supervising or aiding prostitution under Penal Code 653.23 PC.
Authorities may also charge illicit massage services with business crimes, including tax evasion, money laundering, and labor code violations.
Persons Subject to Charges
Authorities may charge the massage business owner or the working massage therapists with permit crimes.
Massage therapists providing illicit sex services may also face prostitution charges, while owners of illicit massage businesses may face pimping or pandering charges.
Authorities may also charge customers with sex crimes, including soliciting prostitution and loitering.
Best Defenses to Massage-Related Crimes
If you have been somehow caught up in a sting or other law enforcement activity related to a massage location in California, we need to review whether the police have the evidence to prosecute you, or if they violated any of your constitutional rights.
There are defenses to massage parlor related arrest, but clearly they're going to center around the facts and circumstances of the case. In cases where guilt is not in doubt, there are some strategies we can use to minimize the impact on your life.
If you don't have a criminal record, then you are in a stronger position to resolve the case favorably. If you have prior related convictions, then clearly it will be more difficult to end up with a positive outcome, but not impossible.
If you were arrested related to massage parlor illegal activity in the state of California, such as solicitation of prostitution or even prostitution, then call us for an initial consultation.
We have represented clients who work inside massage parlors that are caught for massaging without a license or some other crime that is related to the business.
Defendants charged with operating a massage service without a permit may maintain that the services did not involve massage or that the consensual activities were not for compensation as a business.
Defenses to charges that the massage included sexual activity may include that the only services performed were therapeutic rather than sexual.
Defenses to related sex crimes such as prostitution and soliciting prostitution may include absence of any exchange of monetary value for consensual adult activities.
Police are getting highly involved in sex-related activities in massage parlors, especially in Los Angeles County and Orange County, where they believe sex trafficking is occurring.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County and you can contact our firm for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570.