Curbing massage parlors Suburban porn: Targeting customers may be easier than crafting legislation.

June 15, 1998

IT SEEMS as though Howard County is never going to get rid of sleazy massage parlors. The problem goes back at least a decade. There were raids twice in 1992 to shut down massage parlors and spas that were fronts for prostitution rings.

By 1994, the County Council was ready to pass what it thought was a tough law regulating massage parlors. But three years later, it said the law wasn't tough enough and enacted a stronger one.

Two massage parlor operators have filed suit in federal court against the law, alleging its prohibition against most massages by members of the opposite sex is unconstitutional. Some legal experts say they may be right.

The law allows opposite-sex massages only if the masseuse is certified with 500 hours of training. There have been reports, however, of "trained" masseuses giving topless massages in Baltimore County. So certification alone may not be enough to determine who should give whom a massage.

It also appears that the Howard County law would be a poor obstacle to sexual massages that are performed by a masseuse of the same gender. Could it be labeled discriminatory as a result?

County officials are trying to make the legal criteria for operating a massage parlor so onerous that establishments peddling sexual gratification will move away.

Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties passed stringent laws several years ago to chase away massage parlors, which may be one reason neighboring Howard has the problem it does now.

Perhaps a better way to send massage parlors packing is to target their clientele.

Howard police were criticized in 1994 for giving informants money to pay for sex at massage parlors and again in 1995 for letting undercover officers handle that chore.

The police may have had greater success and fewer complaints of misspent public funds had they sent a strong message to the patrons of massage parlors that they, too, will suffer consequences for participation in prostitution.

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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