Bipartisan bill combats human trafficking linked to massage therapy

DENVER (June 8, 2016) -- Gov. John W. Hickenlooper signed a bill today that strengthens the regulation of massage therapy to combat human trafficking and prostitution. The Division of Professions and Occupations at the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) put forward House Bill 16-1320, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Reps. Foote (D-Lafayette) and Carver (R-Colorado Springs), and Sen. Cooke (R-Weld), which closes loopholes in state massage licensing laws that are exploited by criminals.

Colorado has seen an increase in the number of prostitution and human trafficking offenses linked to massage therapy as evidenced by cases in DORA’s Division of Professions and Occupations (DPO), which is responsible for licensing and enforcing standards for massage therapists. DPO Director, Lauren Larson, reports there have been dozens of recent cases statewide where the owners of businesses suspected of human trafficking have a number of unlicensed individuals forced to provide massage services to customers. Statutory loopholes allowed these traffickers to aid and abet such unlicensed practice without penalty, and cast aspersion on law-abiding massage therapy professionals.

"It is unacceptable and a crime to use a state-issued license as a guise for human trafficking," said DORA Executive Director Joe Neguse. "The state’s massage therapy laws were put in place to protect the public. House Bill 1320 closes gaps that will protect the consumer, the victims of trafficking, and the profession by specifically targeting criminal behavior."

The bill shifts the prosecutorial focus away from victims and onto the perpetrators by making the aiding or abetting of unlicensed practice a criminal violation. The bill also clarifies the ability of local governments to inspect massage businesses upon complaint of illegal activity to ensure that massage is being performed by a state-licensed individual. The bill was a collaboration among DORA, the Office of the Attorney General, law enforcement, professional associations, and other key agencies and stakeholders.

“Local law enforcement was brought to the table very early on by DORA to discuss the challenges we were seeing with human trafficking and prostitution with certain licensed massage therapy businesses,” said Daniel Brennan with the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. “Strong regulations for massage therapy businesses will help give us the tools we need to effectively address illegal activities involving individuals and businesses that are operating criminally. House Bill 1320 provides elements of local control, as well as enhances opportunities for state and local law enforcement agencies to combat human trafficking and prostitution. We salute the Governor, his executive departments and the bill sponsors for taking a proactive role on this issue. We look forward to continuing the conversation about how to eradicate the scourge of human trafficking from our society.”

“The need for this bill is clear,” said Kathryn Stewart with the American Massage Therapy Association - CO. “Massage professionals adhere to rigorous ethical standards, and the practice of massage therapy should never be exploited by criminals. This bill is a collaboration among the massage industry, regulatory officials, law enforcement, and the communities in which massage professionals work to eradicate suspected human trafficking in massage therapy.”

To file a complaint regarding unlawful practice by a licensee, visit dora.colorado.gov or call 303-894-7800.

###

About DORA
The Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the marketplace and is committed to promoting a fair and competitive business environment in Colorado. Consumer protection is our mission. Visit www.dora.colorado.gov for more information or call 303-894-7855 / toll free 1-800-886-7675
 

Media Contacts:
 
Rebecca Laurie
Department of Regulatory Agencies
p: 303-894-2338 | c: 720-724-0612