Massage parlor rules delayed

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Postponement sought after supervisor pushes need for sex worker industry review

Proposed restrictions on massage parlors, which authorities say are often a front for prostitution, were delayed as one supervisor argued that a more comprehensive review of the sex worker industry in San Francisco was needed.

Supervisor Fiona Ma drafted legislation that would require all new massage parlors to undergo a public hearing in order to obtain a permit to open for business. She postponed the vote on the legislation until Oct. 24, after Supervisor Jake McGoldrick voiced opposition to it.

Afterward, Ma said she postponed the vote “to have a full complement of the board.” Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Ma’s legislation comes after federal raids on a number of San Francisco massage parlors for allegedly committing crimes of sex trafficking and sex slavery. Ma said the legislation would deter such activity.

McGoldrick asked the board to vote against the legislation. “What are the parts and pieces of the sex worker industry that some folks would like to see in some way regulated? If this is one attempt to do that then I think we should take a more comprehensive view of the sex worker industry in San Francisco,” McGoldrick said.

His comments followed an announcement earlier in the day that The City’s Department of Public Health officially launched an anonymous tip line for sex workers that was aimed at working conditions. After six months, the department will use information from the tip line to issue a report about the needs of sex workers. “We will then be able to make a much more informed decision,” McGoldrick said.

City Deputy Health Officer Jeffrey Klausner said the tip line is an opportunity to “hear about [sex workers’] issues, their complaints, their concerns over the next six months so we can set up a new effort to increase the safety and health of sex workers in San Francisco.” He estimated that there were thousands of sex workers in The City.

“Too many people get hurt in this industry. It is time to open our eyes and deal with a part of the community that has been abused,” McGoldrick said.

Ma emphasized that the legislation is not only about enforcement, but also about giving residents a chance to decide whether massage parlors are right for their neighborhoods. “Over the past two years we have seen a rash of massage establishments popping up in the neighborhoods,” Ma said.

Robyn Few, director of Sex Workers Outreach Project, criticized the legislation, saying it would only push the problem of illicit activity in massage parlors further underground.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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