When is a massage not a massage? Same-sex ban: State law might stop flight of parlors operating under false pretenses.


PEOPLE MOVED out to the suburbs, then shopping malls followed, then warehouse stores. It was only a matter of time before the suburbs got houses of prostitution fronting as massage parlors. Businesses follow people, so it should be no surprise that suburban communities have had to grapple with the sex trade. Alas, that hasn't made the trend easier to accept.

Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties have passed laws designed to drive away those unsavory businesses. To eliminate the illegal sex play, they made it a crime for anyone other than certified massage therapists to rub down members of the opposite sex.

The impact of the measures, passed in recent years, was instant. Suspect parlors shut down and moved away. In Anne Arundel County, police say complaints of massage parlor prostitution have vanished since the law took effect a few years ago.

But that's not the end of the story. The establishments simply hopped to other rapidly growing jurisdictions, including Howard and Charles counties. Howard County's attempt to drive out these businesses with a weak law and questionable enforcement backfired when police conducted a seven-month investigation that proved more embarrassing for the force than for the masseuses they charged with performing illegal sex acts.

So Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker has decided to follow the example of his neighboring counties by proposing a similar ban on opposite-sex massages by non-professionals. It should work in Howard, as it has elsewhere.

It is important that these laws exempt physicians, chiropractors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists and massage therapists. One suspects massage parlors that have provided more than back rubs will look for a new haven elsewhere if Mr. Ecker pushes through his opposite-sex massage ban.

The measure would give the county an enforcement tool and would complement a Maryland law requiring massage therapists to obtain state certification beginning Jan. 1. Together, the measures should decrease the number of sleazy businesses that have been a sore spot for many communities.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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