To battle human trafficking, district attorney asks City Commission to regulate local massage industry

photo by: Conrad Swanson

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson speaks at a news conference, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016.

In an effort to curb instances of human trafficking in Lawrence, the Douglas County district attorney is asking city leaders to consider regulating the local massage industry.

On Wednesday, the district attorney, Charles Branson, sent a letter to the Lawrence City Commission noting that Kansas is one of the few states in the country that does not regulate the massage industry on a statewide level.

“This has left the door open in our state to this industry being abused by those involved in human trafficking,” he wrote.

In his letter, Branson cited two recent cases in which Chinese nationals were convicted of both human trafficking and promoting the sale of sexual relations.

The two people convicted, Chen Li and Guihong Xiao, will likely be deported back to China, Branson wrote.

Human trafficking is often considered a “hidden crime,” Branson said, largely because the victims rarely come forward because of language barriers or fear of repercussion or persecution.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security describes the crime as a “modern-day form of slavery” where people are used for a personal or commercial profit.

“By regulating the industry, we would permit the work of the truly educated professionals working in the industry and cut-off what is currently an easy path for human traffickers,” Branson wrote.

Other Kansas communities, such as Lenexa, Overland Park and Westwood have municipal regulations that, if implemented in Lawrence, might combat human trafficking, Branson wrote.

Examples of regulations that might be included in Lawrence’s city code include:

• Requiring businesses to complete a license application.

• Requiring background checks.

• Requiring employees to apply for a massage therapist license.

• Setting minimum education standards for massage therapists.

• Requiring continuing education requirements for employees.

A full list of suggestions and examples of other cities’ requirements were sent to each member of the City Commission as well as to City Manager Tom Markus.