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Legitimate therapists worry about spa reputations
State moves to oversee massage parlors
Licensed massage therapists across Indiana have long voiced concerns about alleged sex parlors fronting as legitimate massage operations, according to the Indiana president of the American Massage Therapy Association.
Eaton, Ind., massage therapist Jennifer Irving says she received complaints from massage therapists across the state prior to the Apple Spa Studios and Sunshine Spa Asian Massage in Richmond being raided last month for suspected prostitution and human trafficking.
“I have had some (AMTA) members approach me, mainly Richmond-based therapists, complaining about the (illegal activity) that was going on,” says Irving, a 19-year massage professional. The AMTA’s Indiana Chapter had 834 active members as of March, according to an organization newsletter. Irving said she told area massage therapists to contact local law enforcement agencies after hearing the complaints.
The two spas were part of an alleged massage parlor ring that authorities believe served as brothels. Yong Williams, 50, admitted on May 20 to authorities that she drove 40,000 miles in seven months to deliver women to spas in Richmond and other locations in the two states.
In 2007, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a law creating the Indiana Board of Massage Therapy. The board issues certifications to massage therapists.
Irving says that the board is undergoing an application process to certify professionals.
Legislation on massage therapy was enacted because the practice had emerged as a highly regarded supportive therapy, she says.
Massage therapy has been used, for example, in cancer treatment centers as a method of stress relief. It also has been widely used for patients suffering from chronic pain syndrome, she says.
Organizations such as the AMTA require that a massage therapist complete 500 or more hours from a Commission On Massage Therapy Accreditation program or from an AMTA school.
It also requires certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork or a current AMTA licensed school.
Irving cites a South Bend incident, similar to that in Richmond, that hurt the massage therapy community but ultimately helped push along the creation of the 2007 legislation.
Those who are massage therapy professionals will be grandfathered in until July 1, 2009.
Something not right
Richmond resident and massage therapist Julie Jetmore says she suspected when the spas opened in Richmond about two years ago they were not legitimate businesses.
“What legitimate massage therapy business sets up in what was the former bus station? Who is going to go to a massage therapist who is located inside of a bus station?” she says.
While licensed therapists want the public to understand the difference between their businesses and the massage spas raided in Richmond, Jetmore says she has not seen a decline in the demand for massages since the raids occurred.Neither has Lisa Smith who owns and manages the Mona Lisa Salon and Day Spa .
Smith says business has continued to be steady, though a few of her clients have commented about the two raided spas.
“The amount of money that woman made,” says Smith, who referred to Yong Williams’ claim that she made $545,000 from the operation in 2005 and 2006. “That was what everyone was talking about.”
Sandra Marcum, who owns the Cosmotique Salon and Spa, says billboard advertising promoting late business hours for the Sunshine Spa led her to believe it likely was illegal.
“It was almost up immediately after they opened,” she said. “It sprung up on a billboard and that makes you question what type of business it is and the fact that no one seems to know who the owners were.”