SURVIVORS NOT CRIMINALS: OVERHAUL OF MASSAGE ESTABLISHMENT POLICIES ARE A MONUMENTAL TURNING POINT IN ANTI-SEX TRAFFICKING EFFORTS, ACCORDING TO FEMINIST ACTIVISTS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: AF3IRM LOS ANGELES [email protected]

Los Angeles, CA – Transnational feminist activists from AF3IRM Los Angeles applaud the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the passage of the Massage Establishment Ordinance on January 28, 2020, and urge the Board of Supervisors to remove a provision from the ordinance that would allow for the suspension, revocation, or denial of business licenses to survivors. The new ordinance will be the first in the County’s history to explicitly address sex trafficking in the massage industry. The passage of this ordinance is a critical victory in AF3IRM Los Angeles’ Survivors Not Criminals campaign, which launched in 2018 to demand an end to sex trafficking and the criminalization of survivors across LA County. Since that time, AF3IRM has led a coalition of organizations, including American Indian Movement, and March and Rally Los Angeles, to advocate for County policies that address the safety and safeguarding of sex trafficking survivors’ rights.

The Los Angeles County Massage Establishment Ordinance will update Titles 7 – Business Licenses; 8 – Consumer Protection, Business and Wage Regulations, 11 – Health and Safety; and 22 – Planning and Zoning. Title 7.  Last updated in the 1960s, these updated titles will impact massage business licenses, the most prevalent licenses issued in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County currently leads the nation in numbers of illicit massage businesses.

Through this ordinance, the County and the Department of Public Health aim to prevent human trafficking and related offenses in massage businesses by amending business license, health permit, operating, and operational requirements. Violation of any regulations will now be reported directly to the County Health Officer, who then determines a possible threat to the public health and safety of the community. Massage establishments will also be mandated to post human trafficking notices and offer their employees educational materials containing information on various health and victim assistance services, as well as emergency hotlines.

Recent high-profile cases involving alleged sex trafficking at illicit massage businesses (IMBs) include NFL Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, who was charged with soliciting prostitution from a massage business under investigation for ties to an international sex trafficking ring; as well as Yang Song, a masseuse in Flushing, Queens, who fell to her death during a police sting. These cases highlight community concerns about the effectiveness of law enforcement approaches to properly identify and protect the rights of potential victims of sex trafficking.

Angela, a member of AF3IRM Los Angeles, was present at the hearing and during her testimony, she urged members of the Board to pass the ordinance and amend potentially harmful language. “This ordinance is important because it would place regulation of IMBs  in the hands of county officials rather than criminal law enforcement, which is a much-needed step away from police raids and towards survivor-centered solutions,” said Angela. “The guiding principles of the ordinance should be supporting, destigmatizing, and decriminalizing survivors. Including a provision that allows suspension, revocation, or denial of a license to those with prostitution convictions goes directly against that principle.”

The ordinance was passed unanimously by the Board and AF3IRM Los Angeles will continue to advocate to refine the County’s policies to assist sex trafficking survivors with exit strategies and address the needs of sex trafficking survivors. AF3IRM Los Angeles will also turn to cities in the coming months to advocate for cities to opt-in to the new County ordinance.

“March and Rally Los Angeles proudly supports AF3IRM LA’s Survivors Not Criminals Campaign. Today we are encouraged by the passage of the Massage Establishment Ordinance at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. This is a step in the right direction for LA County,” said Helga Rodriguez of March and Rally L.A. “We will continue to support AF3IRM’s work to decriminalize victims of sex trafficking and to provide survivor-centered solutions.”

Lydia Ponce, with American Indian Movement (AIM) and AF3IRM Los Angeles, was also present at the hearing, and expressed, “It is an honor to work with our relatives as an AF3IRM LA member and as an AIM member. The unanimous vote by the LA County Supervisors yesterday, arrived after 2 years of meetings and prayers. This is an extremely important example of how we can work together to end human and sex trafficking in massage parlors and businesses. We must continue to decriminalize victims of sex trafficking. We must continue to create and provide survivor supportive services and centers. This is a big step towards ending the crisis of human and sex trafficking, and towards ending Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives.”

AF3IRM is an anti-imperialist, transnational feminist, woman-of-color-led grassroots organization with decades of history of organizing and advocating with survivors of sex trafficking transnationally. The organization of transnational feminists has been leading a coalition, including American Indian Movement and March and Rally Los Angeles, to advocate for policies that address the safety and safeguarding of sex trafficking survivors’ rights, in an effort to strengthen the County’s policy overhaul, for the past two years.

March and Rally LA is a grassroots organization in Los Angeles that supports direct action in the local community and empowers local organizations, campaigns, and movements to effectively collaborate and advocate on behalf of progressive causes.  ###


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