Massage businesses operating in Denver must be licensed by July 1 under a new city requirement.
The new license, approved by Denver City Council in July 2021, is a tool to help authorities fight human trafficking that takes place in illegal massage businesses, according to city officials and police.
Police said that since 2019, the Denver Police Department has contacted about 25 potential victims of sex trafficking linked to bad businesses. At the same time, 12 defendants in Denver have been charged with felony charges as part of a criminal investigation into human trafficking.
“The new massage business license gives us a much-needed tool in our efforts to combat illegal massage businesses and prevent human trafficking crimes against individuals in Denver,” said Sargent. Aaron Kaffer with the Department’s Human Trafficking Unit. “We recognize that many individuals currently working in illegal massage businesses are experiencing exploitation rising to the level of human trafficking. This new approach aims to focus enforcement actions on individuals benefiting from illegal massage schemes by focusing on victim- Tries to stay focused.”
Kaffer estimates that there are about 140 massage businesses operating in Denver and about one-quarter of them are illegal, where prostitution and human trafficking are carried out.
Businessman Sandy Strohmann has owned and operated the Elixir Mind Body Massager in Lower Downtown for the past 15 years.
Strohmann has worked hard to grow and expand its legitimate “spa-like” business, which includes massages with facials, saunas, and other wellness offerings. She works with and employs several massage therapists.
“Most of what we do is massage,” Strohman said.
“I hope it makes a difference,” she said of the new licensing requirement. “I don’t know if it will happen, but nobody wants human trafficking.”
Massage businesses where a state-licensed massage therapist practices as a sole practitioner are not required to have a Denver license.
There are other exceptions:
- Public and private schools recognized by the State Board of Education or approved by the State Division of Private Vocational Schools.
- The training rooms of a recognized professional or amateur sporting organization, dance troupe, genuine athletic club, or other such athletic organization.
- Facilities for providing massage services by employees of any government institution.
The Department of Colorado regulatory agencies require individual licenses for massage therapists, but there are no state licensing requirements for professions where massage therapy is practiced.
“There are many instances where you don’t have it (the new license),” said Eric Escudero, communications director for the Denver Department of Excise and Licensing. “It’s not for people who are already regulated, it’s for those who aren’t regulated.”
A massage business in Denver that has multiple therapists practicing under the same business name or group will soon require a license. There is an initial application fee of $500 and an annual license fee of $250.
Denver businesses can apply for a new required license online. Strohmann describes the process as “cumbersome”.
“I’m trying to get over it now, that’s a lot,” she said. “The directives are very bad and it’s really disappointing. It’s a government process, I understand why they need it. Some of these bad actors hide behind many companies. I understand, but it’s a lot. “
The business license will help Denver officials stop opening illegal businesses by identifying unacceptable potential owners through criminal background checks and denying them licenses, Kaefer said.
The associated licenses and regulations, including oversight, will help city officials keep a better eye on massage businesses and cut down on illegal players. It will also ease the process of closing illegal businesses while having the ability to pull licenses, as opposed to going through sometimes time-consuming public nuisance mitigation processes.
New license applications will require oversight by the city’s departments — Excise and Licensing, Community Planning and Development, and Denver Fire. Police will conduct compliance inspections on receipt of complaints of human trafficking. The new fee will cover city-wise compliance inspection and license administration.
Aurora imposed a similar license for massage businesses in 2018 to combat human trafficking.
Denver officials have worked with Aurora and other metro area agencies in the hope of expanding massage license requirements to businesses.
“We have worked collaboratively with them. Hopefully, we can make an impact regionally,” Kaffer said. “We hope that we are going in the right direction with other municipalities as well.”