Activists, city face off over Tampa massage parlors

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Some say massage parlors along Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard have been the city's dirty little secret.

But recent protests along Kennedy have led to a new push to crack down on the so-called spas. 

“I don’t think those spas should be operating, when in fact they're just fronts for illegal activity,” said City Council Member Mike Suarez.

The plan is to tweak an old bathhouse ordinance from the 80s, which, at the time, was aimed at limiting the spread of the AIDS epidemic.

It will get the first reading Thursday morning in front of City Council.        

“If you’re going to act as a spa under our ordinance there are certain requirements you have to have. They may or may not be real spas. We want to make sure those people that do real messages will not be affected by it,” Suarez said.

Outside Tampa City Hall Wednesday, a small group of protesters rallied, calling the ordinance oppressive.

“I’m seeing legitimate massage therapists who feel like it doesn't make sense for police to keep coming in and raiding their businesses,” said Sydney Eastman, an advocate with the Sex Worker Solidarity Network.

She says the plan focuses on the wrong people.

“This ordinance, while it says it wants to stop human trafficking what it’s really doing, is arresting workers, and potentially victims, of human trafficking,” she said.

Suarez counters, saying arrests are not the goal.

“They may have been a victim of trafficking; they have the ability to get out of it.  What it does it puts people into a diversion program,” he told FOX 13.