Authorities: Consumers should be aware of illegal activity at ma - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Authorities: Consumers should be aware of illegal activity at massage parlors

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Consumers who are concerned about illegal prostitution and unlicensed business activities at various massage establishments have several ways to address their concerns. 

Officials with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) recommend that if you suspect illegal activities, that you contact police. If you suspect a business is an unlicensed massage establishment, you can search for answers on the DCCA website, search for business complaints at the Regulated Industries Complaint Office (RICO) and reach out to Board of Massage Therapy that has the power to revoke a massage license and/or that of its therapists due to misconduct.
 
According to DCCA spokeswoman Christine Hirasa, in instances where criminal activities occur in a massage establishment that holds a massage establishment license, “The Board of Massage Therapy has authority to take disciplinary action against the licensed establishment as well as any individual licensed massage therapist that may be involved.”  
 
Hirasa said in an email, “Sanctions include revocation of license as well as administrative fines." However, she added that, “The vast majority of licensed massage therapists and licensed massage establishments operate legally and engage in legitimate therapeutic massage activity. Reports of criminal prostitution usually relate to conduct by individuals and businesses that do not hold appropriate licenses.  In these situations, DCCA, through the Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO), works collaboratively with criminal law enforcement authorities to investigate and, where appropriate, issue citations for unlicensed massage therapy or massage establishment activity.“ 
 
Honolulu police say consumers beware. They say there are some standard signs to look for that a business may be promoting or hiding illegal activity such as prostitution, sex trafficking and even gambling.
 
Here's what police and consumer protection officials suggest you can do to protect yourself and to make sure you are going to a “legally licensed” massage parlor that won't put you at risk: Visit businesses that are clearly “consumer friendly with nothing to hide” and are not associated with adult erotic massage business.
 
Law enforcement sources say legitimate massage service businesses have “open door policies” for customers who can enter freely with operations that “don't hide their facilities” behind darkened windows or curtains and are willing to show you around their property and answer your questions about services they provide.

Most massage parlors usually operate during regular “9 to 5 business hours,” not “24 hour, 7 days a week,” say law enforcement. And you aren't under surveillance when you enter a legitimate massage business, officers say, versus some establishments that are locked down and armed with a full spectrum of security cameras which law enforcement officials say are used to “warn” the parlor when police are coming.

Additionally, business advocates most massage establishments don't want to be “negatively associated" with any kind of association or promotion by third-party websites or by bloggers that would reference them as an “adult / erotic massage parlor.”
 
“RICO accepts complaints and tips from members of the public,” said Hirasa, “such as concerned licensees or adjacent property owners who may suspect unlicensed activity." She said that,  “The law requires massage establishments to conspicuously display the establishment's license and the licenses and permits of anyone employed at the establishment.”  

Hirasa says consumers can:

  • Search the business name for a valid massage license
  • If none pops up, you can make a complaint to the Board of Massage Therapy and DCCA or RICO branch
  • You can search for complaint histories on the similar sites
For information about filing a complaint or to report unlicensed activity, call RICO's Consumer Resource Center at (808) 587-4272 or go to cca.hawaii.gov/rico.  

Consumers can also check to see if a business or individual is licensed, by calling (808) 587-4272 or using the license check tools available online at:  businesscheck.hawaii.gov.
 
Hirasa provided the following information on active licenses and the popularity of massage in general.

  •  Massage establishments with active licenses in Hawaii:  743
  •  Massage establishments with active licenses on Oahu:  410
  •  Massage therapists with active licenses in Hawaii:  6,886
  •  Massage therapists with active licenses on Oahu:  3,354
Hirasa said, “Again, it is important to distinguish the therapeutic massage profession from unlicensed individuals that engage in prostitution. From the Department's standpoint, it appears that there is a growing recognition of the role of the massage therapist working in conjunction with other health care professionals to provide treatment.”  
 
Finally, Hirasa stressed that the vast majority of licensees engaged in massage therapy are “skilled and trained professionals." Criminal activity by unlicensed individuals who operate under the guise of providing massage services have led to regulation of this industry, for example, in the area of advertising and in the participation in “out call” services.  

Hawaii News Now's Ramsay Wharton visited Roses -- located at 1344 Young Street -- for a special report on Sunrise. She wrote:
 
Lights were on and the neon sign glowed “OPEN” in the front, but after I identified myself, I was not allowed inside the locked door covered by a pick sheer fabric, nor was able to receive any information about massage services that they offer. An older woman told me they were not open to customers at the time, but clearly they were. 

She said they didn't have any materials for me to take on the services they offered, and because I didn't get in, I couldn't see if they even had a massage license. But I did a search, and none was discovered. 

According to Honolulu police, the establishment was recently involved in an alleged police prostitution sting in late April.  The front door was
manned with two security cameras and the entrance of the building from the street had even more.
 
Across the street, a sign was on for Hula Girl with only a phone number attached to it, just like the signage for Roses, a simple phone number. But when I searched for both establishment online, they were associated with dozens of “erotic massage” businesses and Hula Girl was associated with an online “escort service.”

Hula Girl's entrance was also similar to Roses, with numerous security cameras and a closed screen door that was not visible through. 

A woman who came outside while we were reporting said she worked for Hula Girl, and when I asked her what type of business it was, she said a “bar.” But the security guard roaming the larger complex told me it was a “massage parlor.” 
 
Consumer protection advocates say there's enough information and resources out there to protect people from doing business with establishment that may get caught up doing business with a place that could come under scrutiny for illegal activities, so a little research goes a long way.
 
Look for continuing coverage on what's being done to address public complaints about alleged illegal activity at suspected “unlicensed” massage parlors in future reports.

Related story:

HPD arrests more than a dozen women in massage parlor prostitution sting

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly