MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Tampa Bathhouses Become Latest Target of Sex-Trafficking Panic

The city council is considering a mammoth package of new rules that threaten Tampa bathhouses and those who visit them.

Tampa Men's Health Club/FacebookTampa Men's Health Club/FacebookThree sex-trafficking victims told their stories in a dramatic Tampa City Council meeting yesterday. The purpose of the testimony was to get support for a new city ordinance on bathhouses—a mammoth package of new occupational licensing requirements, record-keeping mandates, limits on hours of operation, and other rules.

Problem: None of the victims who testified said they'd been exploited at a bathhouse. Indeed, local lawmakers failed to offer any evidence at all that sex trafficking is an issue at Tampa's bathhouses.

In saner times, people might point out that this testimony amounts to an emotional ploy to conflate these establishments with horrific violence. But "sex trafficking" has become such a magic invocation that politicians can use it to pass just about anything, no matter how unrelated to the law's professed purposes.

In this case, the city is using the specter of sex trafficking to collect new fees, take more control over local entrepreneurs, and make it much easier to shut down businesses they don't like. And they had ample help from the D.C.-based Polaris Project, which receives massive amounts of federal funding to undertake questionably beneficial trafficking projects.

"Polaris has been working with the City of Tampa on this draft ordinance to figure out what needs to be updated," reported 10 News Tampa. "They've also been flying in from Washington for the past eight months to attend each city council meeting on cracking down on these parlors."

"Rochelle Kahoon with Polaris...says this updated ordinance will no doubt run these parlors off," 10 News continued. "Members of Polaris also brought the website 'Rub-maps' to the attention of Tampa council members. It's a website where users can share feedback on massage parlors that offer sex."

Again, it's unclear how the evidence presented—reviews of erotic massage parlors—relates to bathhouses in Tampa, other than that Polaris is trying to make that link. Tampa has entirely separate regulations regarding massage therapists and parlors. While the new ordinance could target some ambiguous area "spas" by counting them as bathhouses, the regulations would mainly apply to the combination sauna, gym, and social clubs that are a fixture of Tampa's gay scene.

Complying with all the new rules would be a huge burden on these small businesses. Even if they manage to stay afloat under the new regime, setting up so many hoops all but ensures that city authorities can find some code violation if they go looking for one—while giving them a new mandate to go looking all they want. Enforcement of the rules would fall to Tampa police, the Department of Planning and Development, and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, with violations punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. Enforcers could drop by for random inspections up to four times per year.

Among other things, bathhouses would be forbidden from staying open past 10 p.m., keeping signs lit after closing, or allowing customers to enter through more than one front-facing entrance. Managers and owners at bathhouses would have to take a "human trafficking and prostitution awareness course" and apply for a new permit every year, subject to police and city approval and a clean criminal record. Any employee who was present in a room where customers were dressing or undressing would be guilty of sexual misconduct.

Tampa's original bathhouse regulations were written in the 1980s. The new draft regulations were approved by the Tampa City Coucil on Thursday, and the bill will get its first reading on December 21. It must pass two readings to be approved.

Photo Credit: Tampa Men's Health Club/Facebook

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    "They've also been flying in from Washington for the past eight months to attend each city council meeting on cracking down on these parlors."

    I wish someone would fly in and give me money to do my job.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    And they had ample help from the D.C.-based Polaris Project, which receives massive amounts of federal funding to undertake questionably beneficial trafficking projects.

    So still no federal funds to fight the clown epidemic? How many people must be victimized before something is done?

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    How many people must be victimized before something is done?

    How many employees does the Tampa Bathhouse have?

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I was just thinking that victim has now come to mean shill, but I think you are more correct that victim means employee.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    To be fair, "the Tampa Bathhouse" does sound like the name of a particularly unsavory sex act.

  • SusanM||

    It's like a Dutch Oven but in a crowded tent.

  • ||

    And they do have the dual 'shield and spear' on a rainbow flag.

    I mean, I know in SJW-speak it has no connotation on gender, sex, sexual orientation, sexual preference, family or political status, or any other status real or imagined. But if it was simply a 'Unisex bathhouse' or 'Bathhouse - Men only' it would be one thing. Instead, I feel compelled to point out that if a massage parlor had an image of a woman's hand holding a man's penis, we'd probably understand the cops kicking in the door or at, the very least, bemoaning a business owner advertising that their door was unlocked.

  • sarcasmic||

    And they do have the dual 'shield and spear' on a rainbow flag.

    Let's just say that if there are any rooms with closed doors, do not go in there. Not if you want to avoid seeing things that cannot be unseen.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I think if you're wandering around a Tampa Bathhouse already than you probably know what you're going for.

  • sarcasmic||

    I used to go play pool (no euphemisms intended) at a gay bar with a gay friend of mine and my then girlfriend (who is now my ex wife). In the back there was a closed door that I dare not enter. One day a guy must have gone in without being warned, because he ran out at total top speed, slamming into people and walls, before tripping up the stairs on his way out. Everyone thought it was hilarious.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    There better have been someone prolapsing directly into his face to garner that much reaction. Seems a bit much for basically any sex act I can think of.

  • ||

    Seems a bit much for basically any sex act I can think of.

    -1 respect for BUCS imagination/sexual... acumen

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Yeah, BUCS isn't exactly the man on the street when it comes to judging the shock value of a sex act.

  • ||

    Yeah, BUCS isn't exactly the man on the street when it comes to judging the shock value of a sex act.

    It's like he hasn't even read The Mad Arab SF's Necronomicon of Sex, lest he would know the true horror of sex amongst The Great Old Ones. Acts that would drive men to the edge of insanity merely by description.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Haven't rubbed one out to that one since I was 11. Ah, the good old days.

  • Wizard4169||

    If he was that freaked out by a little dude-on-dude action, why in the name of all the gods was he in a gay bar to start with? I can think of plenty of things some people are into that I'd just as soon not see. (I have both the internet and a horrible curse of morbid curiosity. I've seen... things, man. Things!) But I'm pretty sure my reaction would limited to a very rapid about face, not full-on running for dear life.

  • Jimbo||

    I hope you skipped the optional facial.

  • Tony||

    "Health studio" is a euphemism for "dark place to fuck random strangers" that is new to me.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Why, what do you call it?

  • Tony||

    We just call it the bath house. I've been to one exactly once. Not my cup of tea. An acquaintance really has a thing for getting fucked by strangers, so he did that while I sat with another friend in a hot tub that I'm sure was very sanitary.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    SOME GAY MAN YOU ARE!

  • sarcasmic||

    That was some top-rate sarcasm.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Sex trafficking seems to be the least of the issues. "All men"? Talk about perpetuating the patriarchy.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Indeed, since we can just apply anything we want to any story now based on how uncomfortable it makes us, lets go all out.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I think there is some sort of universal statist rule that new legislation introduced during a mass hysteria cannot bear any relationship to the actual facts on the ground.

  • ||

    I think the real issue is, Will they perform a completely non-gay Christian steam bath at my heterosexual wedding?

  • Longtobefree||

    See you in court.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I think that if you have to qualify your wedding with "heterosexual" you might want to rethink some things before having it.

  • ||

    Next you'll be telling me I shouldn't have it catered by Memories Pizza! Or that a bunch of guys sitting around in a steam bath eating pizza isn't even a wedding! In any event, you're missing the whole point about the non-traditional wedding. It's not about who I'm marrying, it's about my right to disregard other's personal, sexual, and religious convictions and force them to serve me.

    It's the new normal, get on the right side of history wouldja?

  • Ken Shultz||

    So, when they say, "Tampa Mens Club All Mens Health Studio", does that mean it's for men?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online