Rubbed the Wrong Way

Massage advertisements offer no relief for law enforcement

It doesn’t take much to come across questionable massage advertising in Las Vegas. A quick Google search brings up not only ads for a “beyond” massage experience, but also websites that review—and recommend—local establishments offering the proverbial “happy ending” with their service.

Alt-weeklies and the local phonebook also do their share to assure us “hot sexy busty young girls” needed to loosen up that sore back are only a phone call away.

“We do have a long-standing policy regarding massage headings,” says Mike Truell, spokesman for phonebook publisher DEX One. He says advertisers must not use words such as “nude,” “confidential,” “XXX” or images of the human form that could suggest sex.

But when pressed about the aforementioned “hot sexy busty young girls” advertising in the 2008-2009 book, he says: “We’re aware that with some words people can read into it as something else.” A copy of DEX’s “long-standing policy” regarding massage ads was, unfortunately, not made available.

Local First Amendment attorney Allen Lichtenstein, who represents the trade group United Massage Business Association, says the ads fall in line with Vegas’ infamous “What Happens in Vegas” slogan and other suggestive ads. While the group he represents works to keep a good image for legitimate massage businesses, he also says too much regulation of massage advertising is a catch-22.

“If we close down every business in town that uses certain sexual [phrasing] or innuendo, we would have a ghost town,” he says.

Metropolitan Police’s vice unit, which works undercover to bust prostitution rings, uses the ads for leads. Vice Sgt. Donald Hoier says there has been an increase in the number of 24-hour massage businesses, many of which are now showing up in Henderson.

While Hoier estimates there were just a few of these businesses in Henderson a couple of years ago, recent reports suggest there are upward of 50 today. As a result, in January, city officials adopted stricter regulations for massage businesses, including limiting hours of operation to between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., and requiring masseuses to wear clothing that covers from the knee cap to the neck.

While massage parlors are sometimes a front for prostitution, Hoier says the number of prostitution-related arrests in the Valley has dropped, from 3,931 in 2008 to 3,233 in 2009. He adds that some of it may be attributable to higher bail rates and stricter regulations that are forcing many convicted prostitutes to spend time in jail instead of being released without posting bail.

Lisa Cooper, executive director for the Nevada Board of Massage Therapy, which regulates massage therapist licensees, says regulation comes with its share of gray area. The board does not regulate the ads or the massage businesses themselves, but instead focuses on the 4,000-plus licensed massage therapists in the state. For example, a massage parlor owner may not be a licensed therapist. However, that person may have licensed therapists working for the business offering illegal services supported by suggestive ads.

“The only thing we can do is talk to a massage therapist, explain what we see. We can issue a cease-and-desist, but we can’t coerce,” Cooper says. “Unfortunately, it gives good upstanding legitimate massage therapists a black eye.”

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