AP NEWS

Danbury to crack down on massage parlors under proposed law

March 11, 2019

DANBURY - The city hasn’t had a billionaire snagged in a massage parlor scandal. Nor has it had any of its nail salons closed by state investigators for labor abuses.

But Danbury is quietly waging war on human trafficking and the illegal sex trade with a proposed law to crack down on massage parlors city officials say are little more than fronts for brothels.

“The victims here are really the young women and girls who are essentially enslaved by these cartels that bring them in from oversees and make them work to pay off their debts by putting them in these facilities where the conditions are horrible,” said Dan Casagrande, a Danbury attorney who wrote the proposed massage therapy ordinance, with input from police and the health department.

“The solution is not to arrest the women - the solution is to go systemically against the owners,” Casagrande said of the ordinance, which is now under review. “This would give police and the health department substantial regulatory authority to go after the systemic nature of the violations.”

The ordinance is designed to shut down businesses which “offer massage services as a subterfuge for prostitution, masturbation for hire, and other paid sexual contact” by establishing an annual license requiring businesses to comply with everything from criminal background checks to massage therapists being “completely clothed.”

Danbury’s massage and spa therapy ordinance, which took 18 months to research and write, comes at a time of heightened awareness about human trafficking and the exploitation of women in the sex trade.

The February arrest of billionaire New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and several hundred other men on charges of soliciting prostitutes at a Florida shopping center massage parlor raised national awareness about the prevalence of sex trafficking in America, which has been estimated as a $3 billion industry.

Similarly, last week’s crack down by state investigators on 24 nail salons for labor abuses has raised concern across Connecticut about workplace exploitation that often targets immigrants.

Although Danbury hasn’t had a high-profile prostitution arrest at a massage parlor in recent years, the police department said it needs better tools to crack down on the illegal sex trade, which authorities say is as prevalent here as in Bridgeport or Stamford.

Part of the problem is police need probable cause to search businesses.

“We have been going into these places with zoning officers to do inspections and discovered that they had unlicensed workers,” said Danbury police Lt. Mark Williams. “This is a huge problem.”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton agrees.

“We are going after the wink-and-the-nod storefronts, especially in light of the trafficking that we’ve been seeing,” Boughton said. “It is a problem that we are not going to tolerate in Danbury.”

The lengthy ordinance is packed with restrictions that include a ban on traditional bedroom furniture, such as ordinary beds and mattresses, and a ban on traditional bedroom attire.

The ordinance’s definition of “completely clothed,” for example, includes proper undergarments and clothes that are “entirely nontransparent.”

“It may seem like there is a high level of intrusiveness in this ordinance, but so many people are at risk,” says Laszlo Pinter, Danbury’s deputy corporation counsel. “When you have people being brought in clandestinely, these places become hotbeds of harmful activity.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342