Group wants police to Clean Up Kennedy, shut down spas

- A group is working to shut down illegal businesses, widely known as "Asian Spas" on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa.

Members of "Clean Up Kennedy" held a protest outside of a massage parlor on Friday afternoon, hoping to spread their message to drivers during the evening commute.

Signs advertising massage and spa services are a common sight on Kennedy Boulevard. There are about a dozen similar businesses in a 1.5-mile radius, from Westshore Boulevard, eastward.

According to protesters, there's much more than just back rubs happening inside some of the businesses.

"You'll actually find people reviewing these places online, going into explicit detail on what you can get for what amounts of money," said organizer Joe Manson.

Manson said he's concerned that sex is being sold inside the spas. What's more concerning, he says, is the fear that some of the women working at the spas are being used for prostitution and sex trafficking.

"Many times they are not here under their own will, or they are tricked into coming to this country, thinking there's other work there," said Manson, who has learned the inner workings of the businesses from local human trafficking organizations.

Back in 2012, Tampa City Council members started a campaign to close illegal massage parlors, but finding a solution was deflected to the state. Tampa police officers have gone undercover at the parlors in the past, but often they cannot make an arrest due to a lack of evidence or women who slip away once they sense the police are coming back.

Manson and other protesters said by protesting outside parlors for the past two months, they're hoping to raise awareness about the illegal businesses operating in the city and hopefully get them shut down.

"I always said somebody needs to do something about these places, and one day I just said, 'Well, I'm a somebody. I guess I'll do something about it,'" said Manson.

The group plans to attend a Tampa City Council meeting next week, where the city attorney is expected to give a presentation on what steps the city can take to crack down on illegal massage and spa businesses. The meeting is scheduled for July 27.

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