2015-08-20 / Front Page

Town Targets 'Body Works'

By James Merolla

Officials in Middletown want to make sure that if someone hangs a shingle advertising "body works," they are talking strictly about car repairs.

Middletown Police Chief Anthony Pesare urged the Town Council on Monday, Aug. 17, to have solicitor Peter Regan draw up ordinances to prevent illicit spas and massage parlors, which may call themselves "body works" spas to mask their true identities as houses of prostitution engaged in human sex trafficking.

The proposed rules would be similar to those recently drafted in West Warwick, Coventry, Cranston, Pawtucket and Providence.

The ears of each member of the council perked up. After a spirited discussion, the council voted 6-0 to have Regan draft regulations to keep such spas out of Middletown.

Council member Antone Viveiros was not in attendance at the meeting.

Pesare said no such spas exist in town presently, but that shouldn’t prevent Middletown from putting rules in place to prevent one from popping up. The chief cited a 2009 incident where police were limited in what they could do to a “spa” in a building on West Main Road.

“We were unable to do anything because there were no regulations,” said Pesare. Such ordinances would be “a way preventing il-legal prostitution and weeding out human trafficking.”

In many instances, the chief added, young women and girls, kidnapped and kept against their will, are forced to live in these places. “It’s a quality of life issue, but more importantly, many of these estab-lishments use people who are the victims of human trafficking, some-thing that’s absolutely intolerable. This would allow us to close the business and make arrests,” said Pesare.

The subject was a hot topic in 2009 when legislators closed a loophole in Rhode Island law that had effectively decriminalized in-door prostitution.

The council looked at a lengthy set of regulations passed recently in West Warwick, which requires that body work establishments buy a personnel license of $75 for each person employed and an es-tablishment license for $250.

Council member M. Theresa Santos thought the amounts were too low. “Sock it to them,” she said.

Pesare and Regan said it would be the council’s prerogative to determine the costs of licenses and fees. Pesare added that the proposed regulations would not impact state-licensed massage therapists, hairdressers, clinicians, or physical therapists.

Council member Barbara VonVillas asked, “Suppose they use a different name?”

“They can use any name they want, but the license ordinance would cover that type of activity,” said Pesare.

“What if they don’t apply for a license?” asked Santos.

“We’d shut them down,” said Pesare.

“How would you find out about it?” asked Santos.

“Oh, we’d know,” said Pesare to some laughter.

“One of the reasons I bring this to you now is that we presently don’t have a business like that,” said the chief.

“We could have something in front of you for the next meeting, for a first reading, and then adopt it by second meeting,” said Regan. “We just want to make sure we don’t sock it to legitimate businesses.”

The council next meets on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

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