Following human trafficking incident, King County Council proposes better regulation of massage parlors

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn introduced legislation on Thursday that would create a workgroup to make recommendations on updating county regulations on massage parlors in order to prevent human trafficking.

Last week, a woman was held against her will at a Renton massage parlor and forced to perform sexual services for clients. She managed to escape and call 911. Renton SWAT raided the spa and arrested a 39-year-old woman on charges of attempting to promote prostitution and unlawful imprisonment.

"This case highlights the fact that human trafficking often occurs in plain sight and goes undetected without intervention," Dunn said. "So much about our understanding of the nature of human trafficking has evolved in recent years, so it could be very fruitful to take a look at King County’s decades-old regulations and look for ways that they can be used more effectively to prevent instances of trafficking."

RELATED: Several groups fighting against human trafficking in King County

The areas of King County code that regulate massage parlors were originally adopted in 1987 and haven’t been substantially reviewed or updated since then. A 2013 Report and Recommendations on Human Trafficking Response from the King County Sheriff’s Office estimated that 84 massage parlors that acted as hubs for human trafficking at that time. Though it is unknown how many are operating today.

Dunn's proposed workgroup would include representatives from the King County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Local Services, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Public Health – Seattle & King County, cities of King County and various nonprofits.

The representatives would evaluate existing King County codes that relate to human trafficking, including those that regulate massage parlors. The workgroup would also write a comprehensive review of the permitting status of businesses that might lend themselves to human trafficking, such as unlicensed massage parlors. 

The resulting report and recommendations would be due to the King County Council within 90 days of passage. Dunn’s legislation will be heard in the Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee in the coming weeks.