Massage businesses can expect random inspections from the Department of Health starting this summer, a function the department has until now only been able to do after a customer complaint.
The King County-based nonprofit Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking pushed for the change after an increase in massage businesses as fronts for prostitution, human trafficking or other illegal activities, says Mar Smith, the executive director of the group.
"The only time the Department of Health could go in was if there was a customer complaint, but of course any human trafficking or prostitution customer is never going to put in a complaint," Smith says. "This creates more boots on the ground."
Last summer's "Operation Red Light" resulted in the raids of eight Spokane spas allegedly acting as fronts for prostitution. This spring, West Side police arrested six people for allegedly trafficking women and advertising them for "massage services" on backpage.com.
In Washington, 13,677 massage practitioners are licensed, and the department expects to conduct about 150 random inspections of massage businesses each year. DOH will not hire any new inspectors, but assign massage business to those who already oversee acupuncturists, chiropractors, dentists and others. The change, passed by the state Legislature last year and effective at the start of this month, also requires reflexologists who practice foot and hand massage to be licensed, which they previously weren't.