Aurora wants to use licensing to crackdown on illicit massage therapy businesses

Ordinance adds mandatory sex assault reporting

AURORA, Colo. -- Aurora city leaders are taking action to protect victims of sexual assault at massage spas after Denver7 uncovered owners aren't required to report alleged misconduct to police, under current state law.

Back in December of last year, a Thornton mother shared her story of alleged misconduct involving her daughter after she said Massage Envy staff and corporate did nothing to investigate or prevent it from happening again.  

"[There were] concerns of recent news reports of national chains where perhaps there was more of a desire in some franchises to deal with it at the franchise level, rather than making sure to report that to law enforcement," Aurora's manager of tax and licensing, Trevor Vaughn said.

The city's new ordinance would make it mandatory for massage therapy business to report any alleged sexual assaults to police, while also cracking down on prostitution and human trafficking through required licensing.

"In Aurora, we estimate that we may have 12 to 20 [massage parlors] that are engaging in illicit activities," Aurora's manager of tax and licensing," Vaughn said.

"I didn't realize it was so prevalent in our community," Aurora city councilwoman at-large Angela Lawson told Denver7.

Lawson pushed the city to take action after she became aware of an illegal spa close to where she gets her hair done.

"It would always be closed, but there were people in there. Men always hanging around on the floor, and to me it was a public safety issue," she said.

The change would require massage spas to go through an application process similar to getting a liquor license. The added layer of regulation would also let the city go after business owners instead of individual therapists who may be victims.

Under current regulations, only therapists -- and not individual business -- have to be licensed with the state, which Vaughn said can make enforcement more challenging.

"The way it is now, isn't working," he said.

City council still has to vote and approve on the ordinance, which Vaughn said could happen in the next few months.

Lawson said she hopes the increased regulation will help tackle this growing problem, and other cities will take notice.

"[I] hope Aurora will be a pioneer for other jurisdictions and I think this ordinance will set the precedent for that," she said.

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