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Anti-human trafficking advocates urge legislature to move massage business regulations

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
Members of the Zonta Club stand with Rep. Joe Webster, D-Montgomery, at a press conference.

 James Gates

Members of the Zonta Club stand with Rep. Joe Webster, D-Montgomery, at a press conference.

Ten massage businesses across Dauphin, Cumberland and York counties were searched in September over suspicion of human trafficking after a years-long investigation.

The Cumberland County District Attorney’s office said the searches ended with evidence of labor and sex trafficking and a large amount of cash.

On Wednesday, the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey and Greenlight Operation called for the General Assembly to move legislation introduced by Rep. Joe Webster, D-Montgomery.

Webster’s bill would add regulations to massage businesses to prevent illicit ones from moving from one location to another if they are discovered. It would ensure the businesses have valid licenses and would increase access for state inspectors.

The bill identifies illicit massage businesses as ones that entice customers through advertising or other business practices directed toward sexual desires.

The bill is not targeting licensed massage therapy businesses. To find out if a massage therapist is licensed, visit

The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, which works to ensure massage practices are done safely and competently, could not be reached for comment.

According to the Polaris Project, many of the people who engage in sexual acts at illicit massage parlors are trafficked. Webster’s bill also aims to provide better protection to the victims of human trafficking.

Webster said his legislation would help close the cycle that allows illicit massage business owners to operate.

“Because we don’t have the methodology in law to license the business. So the business recreates itself,” Webster said. “The individuals who were victim(s) of that whole process pay a price and the leadership, the business manager, gets away. And it repeats itself over and over.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 1,897 cases of human trafficking in Pennsylvania between 2007-2021. In those cases, 4,048 victims were identified. Most of the venues for trafficking were illicit massage or spa businesses.

Across the world, there are an estimated 27.6 million victims of trafficking.

Joining Webster were Reps. Sheryl Delozier and Thomas Kutz, both Republicans from Cumberland County.

Kutz noted that Pennsylvania’s location provides multiple outlets for traffickers to enter the state and leave for another.

“People who can come in and be in any one of six different states within a couple-hour drive,” Kutz said. “As legislators, it’s incumbent upon us to stand up for our most vulnerable citizens.”

If you suspect an organization is engaging in human trafficking, dial 888-373-7888.

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