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Report Links San Jose Massage Parlors to Vice

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - The city of San Jose has approximately 300 massage parlors, a number of which act as havens for prostitution and human trafficking, according to a San Jose Police Department report.

The department presented the report to the San Jose City Council on Tuesday.

Mike Sullivan, a lieutenant with the San Jose Police Department, said a recent law passed by the city council that took effect in January requiring massage parlors to get permits to remain open has been crucial in ramping up enforcement.

"We triage every complaint we get," Sullivan said. "It takes time, but our priorities are juveniles and human trafficking. Those are like 911 calls to our office."

Sullivan and Todd Trayer, with the department's vice unit, said there is a high concentration of massage parlors in San Jose. They're often in "hotspots" - busy corridors accessible to customers.

"The vice unit's initial analysis of the mapped data shows the businesses have formed clusters and corridor-like masses ranging from five to well over 15 businesses in certain areas," the report says, the findings of which were unanimously accepted by the council. "These high-density/high-traffic areas lead to an increase in demand and patrons begin to associate specific areas of our city with these types of establishments."

The officers told the council that not all 300 of the massage-oriented establishments are fronts for brothels, but said that a permitting process is necessary to properly distinguish between legitimate and illicit enterprises.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city should explore enacting ordinances that create 1,000-foot buffers between massage parlors, similar to an ordinance in San Francisco, to cut down on the density of the establishments.

"Since the concentration may be correlated with street prostitution or prostitution in the facilities, does it make sense to impose a minimal and simple restriction on proximity?" Liccardo asked during the meeting.

Trayer and Sullivan supported the view, but asked for time to begin implementing the enforcement phase of the new ordinance before passing additional laws.

The police department has begun reaching out to various massage businesses in an effort to bring them into compliance with the newly minted law, Trayer said.

San Jose passed the law after state lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 1147, the Massage Therapy Act of 2015, which restored local municipalities' rights to regulate massage parlors. California had taken control from cities in 2009 and vested it with the California Massage Therapy Council.

However, in the wake of a 2012 report released by the state Attorney General's office titled "The State of Human Trafficking in California," lawmakers wanted to give cities the ability to crack down on massage parlors that the report said are active locations for sex trafficking.

The report found that human trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year global industry and that California is particularly susceptible to the practice.

"California - a populous border state with a significant immigrant population and the world's ninth-largest economy - is one of the nation's top four destination states for trafficking human beings," the report said.

Congress took a step to combat sex trafficking, particularly as it relates to juvenile victims, by passing the Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law this past May.

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