Howard would ban some paid massages Prostitution at parlors targeted under proposal

September 30, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County police, renewing their assault on prostitution at massage parlors, are pushing for a new law that would prohibit women from giving "recreational" massages to men for money.

The bill proposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker is the first move against Howard County massage parlors since the ill-fated stings of 1995, when charges of unnecessary sexual acts by investigating police overshadowed charges against parlor owners and operators.

The council, which rarely deals with issues of morality, faces an October agenda dominated by them. In addition to massage parlors, the council plans to discuss proposed zoning rules that would force local adult video and book shops to move far from schools or residential areas.

Crackdowns against massage parlors are becoming common throughout the region. Anne Arundel County prohibited "cross-gender" massages in 1991. Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties all have similar laws.

The laws exempt licensed massage therapists, doctors, sports trainers and others considered qualified to give massages for therapeutic reasons -- a burgeoning respected industry.

Those facilities that aren't exempt are considered massage parlors and heavily regulated.

The key is the prohibition against cross-gender massages.

The Howard County Council considered -- but narrowly rejected -- such a rule in February 1994, when it passed the county's current massage parlor regulations. Police hope the council will reconsider the ban now.

"If they can't do cross-sex massages, it's probably going to cut out a large percentage of their business," said Capt. Jeff Spaulding, commander of Howard's Northern District.

The 1994 rules required sanitary practices and background information on masseuses. But it exempts any facility that has a single staff member who is qualified to give therapeutic massages -- a provision police say allows many massage parlors to escape regulation.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a West Friendship Republican, says the council's patience has worn thin with massage parlors.

"Business has a right to operate legitimately," he said, "but massage parlors have proven that they can't operate legitimately."

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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