Massage therapy has been around for thousands of years. Some of the benefits it provides to the body include reduced stress levels, better sleep patterns, pain reduction, improved blood circulation, and better flexibility. These benefits make it a popular form of therapy for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Massage parlors in Houston naturally seek to take advantage of this demand to provide the service at a fee. While most are legal, some establishments have been known to engage in illegal activities such as offering sexual services, also known as “happy endings”. Such parlors are considered a front for prostitution and in some cases might be engaging in human trafficking for sex.
Indicators of Sex Crimes in Massage Parlors
Massage parlors in Houston are relatively easy to find because they are located in places such as strip malls and along highways. Most are legitimate businesses offering their services as stipulated by law.
While it’s hard to be 100% certain that an establishment is offering illegal sexual services, some telltale signs can give pointers. Polaris, a non-profit organization dedicated to tackling human trafficking, listed some of them in a report published in 2017. Some of these signs are:
- Massage parlors that charge below market rates
- Preference for serving only male clients
- Not being easily accessible to clients. Having a discreet entrance that is opened only to well-known clients.
- Covered windows which make it hard for passersby to see what is going on even in the lobby or front office.
- Evidence that the women who provide massage also live in the establishment
- Insinuations made either orally or through signs that a happy ending is available.
- Parlor being cagey about displaying its license and those of its massage therapists.
Prostitution Laws in Texas
The state of Texas prohibits both the solicitation and offer of sex in exchange for money, goods or other services. It also criminalizes the promotion of sexual services in exchange for money or other forms of reward. By this definition, one could be charged with engaging in prostitution even without directly being involved in the crime.
Owning, supervising, financing, managing, controlling or investing in an establishment in which prostitution takes place potentially makes one a pimp. Since sex is defined as more than just sexual intercourse, massage parlors run a risk of being affected by these laws. Failure to enforce discipline in the services offered could see the owner and employees charged with engaging in prostitution.
Law enforcement officers also carry out sting operations on a regular basis to ensure the establishments are abiding by the law. They don’t have to catch the participants in the act because the law allows them to make arrests so long as they believe illegal sexual activity is offered at the establishment.
Texas Penal Code § 43.02 – 43.06 outlines the state’s prostitution laws, as well as defining the offenders, types of crimes, sentences involved and defenses against the laws.
Classification of Prostitution and Penalties Involved
- Class B misdemeanor: for solicitation or prostitution. The penalty is up to 180 days in jail, fine of up to $2,000
- Class A misdemeanor: for those with 1 or 2 prior convictions of prostitution or solicitation, or first time pimping offense. The penalty is up to 1 year in jail, fine of up to $4,000
- State jail felony: for those with 3 or more prior convictions of prostitution or solicitation or for a repeat offense of pimping. The penalty is 6 months to 2 years in a state penitentiary, fine of up to $10,000.
- Third-degree felony: for owning, supervising, financing, managing, controlling or investing in an establishment in which prostitution takes place with 2 or more offenders present. The penalty is up to 10 years in jail, fine of up to $10,000.
- Second-degree felony: for soliciting from a person younger than 18 years, pimping a person younger than 18, or compelling a person younger than 18 to engage in prostitution; whether the offender was aware of the victim’s age or not. The penalty is 2 to 20 years jail term, fine of up to $10,000.
- First-degree felony: for owning, supervising, financing, managing, controlling or investing in an establishment in which prostitution takes place with 2 or more persons engaging in prostitution and at least 1 being under 18. The penalty is 5 years to life in prison, fine of up to $10,000.
It is important to note that even the smallest jail term or fine might still have a long-term impact on the accused, he or she might be forced to register as a sex offender. This will severely limit future opportunities, especially in finding jobs.
Defenses Against Prostitution Charges
Being charged with this crime should not necessarily spell doom for the accused. With the guidance of a good attorney, one can have a fair chance of challenging the prosecution’s version of events. Some common defenses include:
- Breaking prostitution laws due to coercion or even threats of violence
- Being specifically targeted and entrapped into engaging in prostitution by an undercover law enforcement officer
- Being drugged or otherwise intoxicated at the time the crime was allegedly committed.
- Inability by the prosecution to prove money, goods or services were exchanged for sex.
An experienced attorney can find ways of tearing into the prosecution’s case. At the very least, such an attorney will successfully force a reduction of charges and therefore, a reduction in the penalties it will attract. For example, a reduction from third-degree felony to state jail felony can mean a difference of several years or thousands of dollars in fines.
Anti-Human Trafficking Laws
Other than prostitution, massage parlors are also at great risk of becoming human trafficking establishments. Federal law severely punishes perpetrators of human trafficking, with those convicted facing up to 20 years in jail. If convicted of other offenses such as kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse or attempted murder, the penalty could include life in prison.
Persons convicted of engaging in sex trafficking of children under the age of 14 or sex trafficking or any other person through force, fraud, or coercion can be imprisoned for up to life. If convicted of sex trafficking persons between ages 14 and 18, the accused can receive a jail term of up to 40 years.
It is therefore in the massage parlor operator’s best interests to ensure any persons working for him or her are not in any way connected to human trafficking networks. All massage therapists should be adults and licensed to legally perform such services.
Looking for Expert Legal Opinion on Massage Parlors?
Are you already accused of breaking the law or simply concerned about protecting your business from future uncertainties? Our attorneys will set the record straight. With years of experience defending against prostitution charges, we provide our clients with personalized attention to ensure they’re prepared to successfully battle the charges brought against them.
The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp offers world-class legal expertise to Houston massage parlor therapists concerned about breaking prostitution laws. Our experience in Texas prostitution trials has been gleaned from years of covering high profile cases. Call us to schedule an appointment.