Peoria spa owner challenging City to exempt legitimate massage establishments from ordinance

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A Peoria spa owner wants to separate her business from illicit massage establishments.

The City of Peoria mandates a license for any business who offers massage services.

The thought behind the permits is to stop human trafficking.

WMBD spoke with the owner of Five Senses Spa, located at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie, on the change she wants to see.

“Why are we punishing people that are doing the right thing versus being able to really identify who’s probably not doing the right thing?” Paola Hinton asked.

Hinton is hoping to change a City of Peoria ordinance regarding bodywork establishments.

“We are not bodyworks. We are massage therapists that work here,” Hinton said.

The ordinance, passed in April of 2018, requires any business that offers massage services, to get a license with the City.

Hinton’s business offers massages, manicures, pedicures, hair cuts, and more.

“I already pay enough to have a State license. I already pay enough on all the taxes that I do,” Hinton said.

The ordinance is supposed to weed out the illegal businesses who could be sex and labor trafficking.

The Center for Prevention of Abuse CEO Carol Merna says in Peoria last year, 20 illicit massage establishments could be found advertised on the dark web.

Now? There’s seven.

Merna believes this ordinance has been a big part of that.

“Illicit massage business is actually the number one business for sex trafficking in Illinois,” Merna said. “The inspectors couldn’t check those out, couldn’t take a personal hands-on role to look into these facilities without having that ordinance in place.”

“We’ve been super proud to know the city of Peoria became a leader when it came to fighting this criminal activity and they’ve been committed to keeping our community safe from human trafficking,” Merna said.

Hinton has worked with multiple attorneys to find a way to get an exemption to this ordinance for establishments who do play by the rules.

“Our licenses, whether it’s for cosmetologists, estheticians, massage therapists, they all have minimum 1,500 credit hours they need to go through for schooling and board exams they have to,” Hinton said. “I have contacted two different attorney firms. One in Chicago and one in Washington D.C. The one in D.C. is with the Professional Beauty Association.”

She said she’s also looked at ordinances across the country.

“No doubt that the trafficking is disturbing, disappointing and unfortunate. The unfortunate part is legitimate people and businesses are being unfortunately categorized under this umbrella,” Hinton said.

Carol Merna said she’s proud of the work City of Peoria officials have done to combat human trafficking.

“We often use the City of Peoria as a really good example with other communities about the good work that can be done to combat human trafficking,” Merna said.

Merna cites the fact that the decline from 20 businesses to seven that offer ‘criminal services of all kinds’ is largely because of this ordinance.

Mayor Jim Ardis told WMBD he hopes both Paola and the City’s legal department can find a solution that doesn’t accidentally create a loophole for those businesses who are running illegally.

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