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Licensed massage therapists need more protection
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      Let me tell you a story about prostitution, human trafficking, massage law and special interest groups; this is a timely story because of Sen. Staton's introduction of SB 364.
      First, let me say that I congratulate and support Sen. Staton in his efforts. In short, SB 364 is designed to provide harsher penalties for licensed massage therapists that are convicted of prostitution. Unfortunately, in its present form, Sen. Staton's bill will be ineffective because of one very important fact: the crux of the problem is that approximately half of the people practicing "massage" in Georgia are doing it without a license and hiding under the guise of the term "bodywork."
      It is first necessary to understand that the Georgia massage licensing law originated when a large, national massage organization poured about $500,000 into lobbying for the passage of this law to serve one small special interest group (that group now has three of its members, who form a majority, on the GA State Board of Massage Therapy). During the legislative process, this situation evolved into its present form because of a "back door" deal between that special interest group and another; thus leaving an escape hole in the law the size of Atlanta that benefited both groups. The people who are evading the law are the bulk of the prostitutes. The licensed massage therapists who are convicted of prostitution are a very small minority within this group.
      This second special interest group calls themselves body workers; this is simply another word for massage (as is recognized in other states) used to enable this group to evade the licensing law.
They are exempt from the law.< I> This is the result of the deal that was struck between the two special interest groups for their mutual benefit to the detriment of the general citizenry of Georgia.
      In practical terms, this means that if you complain about a "spa" that offers prostitution services as part of a "massage," the state inspector can visit the establishment and ask if they do massage. If the answer is "no, we do bodywork," and the word massage is not used in their advertising, the inspector leaves. Bodywork is uncontrolled and he has no power.
      Let me be clear that I am in no way saying that everyone that uses the term bodywork is a prostitute. In fact, the overwhelming majority of this group is qualified to practice, but they simply desire to not be regulated by the state. I empathize with them; however, my goal of a fair and equal application to all Georgians of a law that has fair and equal requirements applied to all Georgians supersedes their desires.
      Human traffickers bring girls and young women into this country for the purpose of prostitution. Our state is a major place where this is happening with Atlanta being a national hub for this activity and Macon filled with opportunities. We need some effective action.
      I believe this current bill is a necessary step, but other legislative action is also needed. I think there is a necessity for some relatively simple amendments to the existing massage licensing law to include everyone who is having people undress and practicing an organized system of touch. These amendments will force the undesirable perpetrators to remove their billboards and close their "spa" doors or be scrutinized and comply with the law.
      These changes will help to protect the general health and welfare of Georgians, generate much needed revenues and be an effective tool against prostitution. It will stop the ability to evade the application of this law by approximately half of the "massage" practitioners who practice in Georgia, and make them subject to the proposed actions.
      Our legislators have shown by their actions and inactions that they do not understand the content and limitations of the law they have passed. Are they even interested is the question. I urge everyone to contact our legislators and ask them to become informed and take effective action on this very important issue that affects all Georgians. I would personally welcome an opportunity to speak with any interested legislator.
Gary Lescak
Licensed massage therapist

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