Published in the June 21, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD — A year ago, when the town was looking for ways to get a handle on the problem of so called Bodywork spas serving as fronts for prostitution and human trafficking, the Board of Health agreed to look at its old massage regulations with an eye toward tweaking them to apply to the Bodywork-type establishments.

Last night, the Health Board approved those new regulations that will require Bodywork and other disciplines not covered by state massage regulations to register with the Wakefield Health Department and allow at least one inspection of their premises annually.

The new regulations will go into effect on Oct. 1.

Cities and towns once regulated massage therapies but a number of years ago the state took over the regulation of massage parlors. However, it left a loophole that has been exploited by some establishments using the name “Bodywork” as a front for illicit sex-for-a-fee operations. Some of those have also been suspected of human trafficking and exploitation of foreign nationals in those sex operations.

The suspected sex parlors, including several with Wakefield addresses could be found advertised on adult websites last year.

In the spring of 2015 Wakefield Police conducted a number of sting operations, making arrests and forcing the closure of several spas alleged to be offering sex services.

The new Bodywork regulations will require any spa practicing disciplines not covered by the state’s massage regs to register with the Health Department and submit to an annual inspection for such things as cleanliness. Operators will also need to produce positive identification and prove that they have no criminal record.

Health Director Ruth Clay said that the disciplines that the regulations would target are so broad and in many cases ill-defined that it would be difficult to require standards for such things as training.

But she and the board were confident that the new regulations will be sufficient will hold the line on Bodywork-type spas offering illicit sex services.

“It’s less likely that people who do that sort of thing will come to a town that makes them go through a permitting process,” Clay said. She added that Police Chief Rick Smith had reviewed the new regulations.

Clay she said that the Health Department would send letters to any establishments offering therapies not covered by the state massage regulations advising them of the requirement to obtain a permit. She said that there was not much evidence of spas serving as fronts for prostitution in Wakefield currently.

The hope is that the new local regulations will keep it that way.