- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wichita police have asked city officials to consider regulating massage businesses in hopes of reducing human trafficking.

It is unclear how many massage businesses actually operate in Wichita or in Kansas because they are unregulated and don’t require licensing. But Wichita police say they’ve had complaints since 2013 that some massage businesses sell sexual acts and are engaged in human trafficking, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1KKYgFF ).

Police conducted 24 investigations last year and arrested 22 people on suspicion of human trafficking at massage parlors, according to city documents.

“It’s important to have some tools in place and some type of regulation in place to be supportive of existing businesses and address the human trafficking,” deputy police chief Hassan Ramzah said. “We want to keep our community safe and eliminate victimization that occurs here.”

Ramzah said police have met with massage business owners in the area about the proposed regulations.

“The ordinance itself is not going to eliminate (trafficking) in its totality, because we know from previous investigations there are other avenues, but it will take away those opportunities for those businesses that decide to locate in Wichita and set up these businesses illegally,” Ramzah said.

An estimated 300 to 400 youths in Wichita are at risk to become victims of sexual exploitation, including trafficking, each year, according to Bailey Brackin, assistant director for Wichita State University’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking.

“It absolutely occurs in massage parlors, and one way to combat it is to address them,” she said.

Charles O’Hara, a lawyer who has represented clients charged with human trafficking, said police are using the regulation to try to outlaw those businesses. O’Hara said he’d like to see how many convictions for human trafficking have come from massage parlor arrests.

“Why is the city getting involved in something that’s already against the law? For whatever reason, the city of Wichita wants to regulate everything even when there’s not a serious problem,” he said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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