Dozens of people turned out at the Evanston Civic Center Wednesday night to object to a city staff plan to impose special use restrictions on massage therapists and similar professionals.

The wave of opposition, from therapists themselves and other groups and individuals, initially persuaded three of the six Plan Commissioners present that they should drop the effort to regulate massage through zoning entirely.

But a plea by the commission’s chair, Scott Peters, persuaded them to instead defer the issue for further discussion at their July 19 meeting.

Peters, a former prosecutor, said prostitution cases are very difficult to prosecute under criminal law and that zoning codes offer a much easier way to address the problem because standards of proof are much lower and the difficulties of proving a case are much less.

“Maybe all we need is a definition of what a massage establishment is, so that when someone is operating a house of prostitution and pretending to be operating a massage establishment, we can say, you’re not meeting the definition and are therefore in violation of the ordinance,” Peters said.

“It’s quicker, easier and more likely to be successful,” he added.

The staff had retreated somewhat by Wednesday night from its original proposal to require all establishments offering massage-like services to go through the city’s special use licensing process.

After complaints from the American Massage Therapy Association, which has its headquarters in Evanston, that massage therapists are state-licensed professionals, the staff proposal was revised to exempt them from the special use restrictions.

But it preserved the special use requirements for practitioners of nearly a dozen other body works therapeutic models, including the Shiatsu.

Steve Rogne, owner of Zen Shiatsu Chicago at 825 Chicago Ave., said the professional group he belongs to, the American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia, has been lobbying the state for three years to establish a licensing procedure for his profession.

He suggested that bodyworks professionals could voluntarily submit to the criminal background checks and fingerprinting already required of massage therapists.

And he complained that the ordinance stigmatizes legitimate professionals by claiming that clustering massage and bodyworks establishments would detract from the character of the community.

Nancy Floy, who owns the Heartwood Center on Dempster Street, which houses dozens of professionals in massage, body work and other fields, said she had met Wednesday morning with Police Chief Richard Eddington and wanted to help stop prostitution problems in the city.

“But we don’t want our profession to be sacrificed in the name of stopping that,” Floy added.

Kaethe Morris Hoffer, legal director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said that rather than using zoning laws, the city should “focus on the true root of prostitution — the demand side, those men who purchase sex.”

“It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to figure out where to go to purchase sex,” Hoffer said. “If the johns can figure out where to go, so can police and law enforcement agencies.”

Dick Peach, the vice president for government affairs of the Evanston chamber of Commerce, said at least 22 chamber members would fall under the proposed ordinance and all are adamantly against it.

“It bothers us that in a community that supposedly is very proud of its small businesses, this ordinance turns around and stomps all over that reputation and impugns very good small businesses.”

Jeanne Lindwall of 625 Library Place, a urban planning consultant, said she’s thrilled that there are so many massage therapists and body workers in town.

“I’ve been getting massages over the last 10 to 15 years. They’re wonderful,” Lindwall said, adding that she doesn’t beleave the zoning ordinance is an appropriate mechanism for trying to address prostitution.

“Zoning is about land use,” Lindwall said, “Prostitution is an illegal activty and should be dealt with as such.”

Two prostitution busts over the past two years at spas or other establishments that claimed to offer massages were the trigger cited by city officials for the proposed new restrictions, which some officials say is part of a larger program to increase regulation of businesses in the city.

Related stories

Evanston eyes tougher massage parlor rules

Massage therapists work over Evanston’s proposed rules

Evanston massage rules misguided, therapists say

Related document

City staff memo and proposed ordinance

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Like mobsters?

    So, like nabbing mobsters for tax evasion instead of for killing people, we're going to nab prostitues not because they are taking money for sexual sevices, but because they are taking money for sexual sevices in the wrong zone or operating (sexually) with a special license that only includes massage and not prostitution?

  2. Clever

    When Peters saw the demise of the plan he instead pushed off the decision till July, hoping that the opposition will tire and forget.  Typical.

  3. Ridiculous

    The City Council needs to start seriously thinking about how to resolve Evanston's fiscal mess and empty storefronts instead of focusing on senseless regulation against one industry or business segment like massage therapists.

    Who's next, bed and breakfasts?  Ooh, I forgot, they are already targeted.

  4. So Mr. Peters, why should the

    So Mr. Peters, why should the burden of proof be on the legitimate state licensed professionals? Why can't you people just ask for proof of state licensure when issuing business permits and conduct inspections? There are websites where illicit sites are NAMED. Why can't prostitution just be shut down when found? What's so hard about prosecuting laws that already exist and doing your job?

  5. Evanston Massage law erodes personal freedom

    The Evanston Massage law erodes personal freedom and does not protect the public. There are so many flaws and irrational arguments and statements it's hard to know where to start with. First thing is that no massage and bodywork regulation ever proposed or enacted anywhere in the US has ever had any impact on prostituition in any significant manner. Generally because they are unrelated! Second even if you recognize the misguided state approvals, national approvals such as NCBTMB etc. You also have to know they do not regulate not teach morals, nor do they actually establish competency for the practicies they propose to regulate. All that required is to pass a written test. Written test do not establish technical competency nor safety.

    In Honolulu they passed a similar ordinance regarding licensing to prohibit massage practitioners from being prostitutes. It didn't work. In fact it actually ended up supporting and increasing prostitution. Hows that? Well prostitutes make money, some good money. Prostitutes have pimps and madams etc who have money. What the private call girls did is simply enroll in massage schools, pass the courses, pass the national boards and then practice massage legally with a "license". No one knows for sure how many call girls are going through massage programs as we speak but the number is high and becomes a greater incentive every time one of these rediculous laws goes into effect.

    The city council is not competent to judge who is a competent healer or bodyworker. Neither is the state or any government. Many practitioners practice as a way of life based on spiritual principles. Private corporations and state agencies have no right to determine who is a practitioner of conscience and who is not and then tax them accordingly. It's a violation of free speach and right of assembly and may be a violation of religious and civil liberties as well determined by how broad the definitions of acceptable practice are.

    For example, if Reiki were to be included on the included list it would be a violation as no governing authority can regulate exchange of energy and reciprocity of intention nor to determine competency or quality of the exchange etc. Same goes for traditional arts such as Shiatsu. If practitioners self image is so poor they need external validation by government licensing and corporate approvals for their energy based healing then let it be entirely voluntary.

    The best way to not be confused with a prostitute is to not be one!

    Say no to bad , invasive and irrational intrusions of law into our life and civil liberties under the guise of public safety.

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