An anonymous letter sent to religious congregations across the Santa Clarita Valley is prompting concerns over wild accusations about massage parlors in our area. The letter included a list of 61 massage parlors in our City, and claimed that some of them are "simple fronts for horrid activity, such as forced sex slavery of young women from foreign countries, illegal drug sales and worse."
While several instances of prostitution have been investigated and halted by Sheriff's officials, the exact level of horror this letter depicts has yet to be proven, even despite ongoing operations conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, City and State officials.
"The Sheriff's department has been conducting multi-jurisdictional inspections of the massage business here in Santa Clarita since the beginning of 2008," said Lt. Brenda Cambra with the Santa Clarita station. "There is no evidence to support this anonymous letter's claim that these businesses are in any way involved in forced sex slavery or illegal drug sales."
Those multi-jurisdictional operations were in addition to 15 stings conducted by the Sheriff's Vice Unit, after which 11 arrests for prostitution were made.
The letter also claims that the massage parlors are utilizing a loophole in City code that allows them to condone sexual acts. Included were references to chapter 11.70 of the City code which classifies massage parlors as an "Adult Business" and states:
"'Massage parlor' shall mean any place where, for any form of consideration or gratuity, massage, alcohol rub, administration of fomentations, electric or magnetic treatments, or any other treatment manipulation of the human body which occurs as a part of or in connection with 'specified sexual activities,' or where any person providing such treatment, manipulation, or service related thereto, exposes 'specified anatomical areas.'"
What the letter fails to include is that none of the massage parlors in the Santa Clarita Valley are licensed under that section of City code. Instead, the City adopted code from Los Angeles County, making them the agency which licenses all massage parlors inside and outside City limits. LA County's licensing process requires all massage therapists to be licensed individually and calls for background checks for applicants. Read the full story on this by clicking here .
City Communications Manager Gail Ortiz told KHTS last week that City staff is currently working on possible revisions to the older City ordinance, and that they have asked for assistance from the LA County business license commission.
There is another challenge on the horizon; the California State Legislature has passed SB 731, which establishes a new set of regulations regarding massage practitioners throughout the state. The law has already become effective, and it created a non-profit agency charged with licensing these businesses. This means that any local ordinance will be superceded by the State, including specific zoning, operation and land use regulations. Local governments will only have the power to change how they deal with those businesses that do not get certified through the State's agency.
So, how many massage parlors are really here? Accompanying the anonymous letter was a list of 61 massage parlors allegedly located in the Santa Clarita Valley. The list contains 35 duplicate addresses and other discrepancies, which likely brings the total number of massage facilities closer to 40.
While there is little doubt that the number of massage parlors offering illegal services has increased in the SCV, this letter depicts a scenario where the sex slaves are held against their will in seedy prostitution parlors, the government remains unresponsive, and local law makes it all 100 percent legal. The facts, at least at this point in the investigation, seem to describe a much more manageable situation.
Cambra stresses that if anyone, including the anonymous author of the letter, has any information about crimes that have been committed, they have several ways to report it directly to the Sheriff's department.
"If anyone had information of these or any types of crimes being committed, the proper way to give that information to the authorities would be to either contact the Santa Clarita sheriff's station by phone [255-1121], or the website at scvsheriff.com ," she said.
Lt. Cambra also said that anonymous tips can be reported to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or on their website at www.lacrimestoppers.org .