Stafford County plans to throw the book at massage parlors that get a little too hands-on with their customers.
The Stafford Board of Supervisors voted 6–0 Tuesday to pass an ordinance making it illegal for massage parlors—or anyone else—to offer masturbation services for money. Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer was absent.
Stafford will be the Fredericksburg region’s only locality with such an ordinance, which defines the sexual act as the “erotic stimulation of the genitals of oneself or another by manual or other means.”
Stafford Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen said in an interview that the Sheriff’s Office asked him to put forward the ordinance because state law does not explicitly prohibit so-called “happy-ending” massages. Virginia law prohibits offering money in exchange for sex or oral sex, but does not mention masturbation.
“It will give the Sheriff’s Office the tools they need to combat the growing prostitution problem,” Olsen told supervisors in a brief presentation.
Before Olsen’s remarks, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Meg Bohmke warned the audience that some residents may find the topic disturbing. “If you are sensitive to discussions regarding sexually related crime, you may want to exit the chambers or turn off your live stream of the meeting until the board concludes this item,” Bohmke said.
But the warning was probably not needed, as Olsen did not go into the specifics of the ordinance and supervisors voted without discussion.
Masseuses who offer masturbation services for money in Stafford could be charged with prostitution, a Class 1 misdemeanor, under the new ordinance. Patrons could be charged with soliciting prostitution, also a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Olsen told The Free Lance–Star that a growing number of massage parlors exist solely to sell masturbation services, but that he could not prosecute them under state law. A website that offers information and reviews about “erotic massage parlors” identified at least 11 such businesses in the county, most of them in strip shopping centers in North Stafford.
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County also have several “erotic massage parlors,” according to the website devoted to those businesses.
A Stafford Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said in an email that none of the massage parlors have been charged with keeping a bawdy place because the questionable activity was not technically illegal.
The Polaris Project, a nonprofit dedicated to combating human trafficking, stated in a report this year that the illicit massage business is booming, with more than 9,000 such parlors countrywide.
The businesses bring in an estimated $2.5 billion annually and represent the second-largest U.S. human trafficking industry, behind only escort services. Most trafficking victims come from China or South Korea.
The Polaris report stated that law enforcement agencies rarely target customers of those parlors. “It is very likely that without the availability of such businesses, this particular subset of risk-averse commercial sex buyers would remove themselves from the commercial sex marketplace,” the report stated.
None of Stafford’s massage parlors are suspected of sex trafficking, according to the Sheriff’s Office.