Sex at massage parlors? 'It's prostitution' therapist says

Sex at massage parlors? 'It's prostitution' therapist says
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Dozens of massage parlors in Bakersfield are listed on a website that claims to show where sex acts are performed. Eyewitness News investigated a number of these locations. Women in the facilities said no "extras" are offered, but massage therapists in other clinics said they have serious concerns.

The website shows photos and addresses of massage shops, along with information about prices and things such as parking. It then gives names for some staff members and allegedly information about their appearance.

Some of the locations also include "reviews," apparently by customers. Some of the comments are extremely graphic, including allegations of sex acts that are provided and how much the masseuse was tipped for that service.

A woman said none of that happens at her shop on North Chester Avenue, despite her shop being listed on the website.

"It never happens here," she said. The woman suggested perhaps the website had the wrong address. The shop does appear to have a couple names attached to it.

However, owners of nearby businesses on Chester told Eyewitness News that they see suspicious activity at the massage parlor, and they're worried about it.

Longtime local massage therapists said they've been worried and upset, too.

"Especially these past two or three years, it's really ramped up," Dave Dowdy told Eyewitness News. He's a certified massage therapist. "It seems to really start steering people to illegal practices that are going on."

As of Thursday, the website listed 40 massage shops in the Bakersfield area, alleging they lead to "happy endings." Dowdy said he wasn't surprised at that number. The site allegedly has information about massage salons nationwide.

It's not clear how the salons are selected to be put on the website. And, it appears the information on the "extra services" comes from customers. So, it's impossible to say if it's accurate or made up. Eyewitness News tried to reach the creators of the website but hasn't heard back, yet.

At another local location shown on the website, the woman behind the front desk identified herself as the manager and said she had no knowledge of the website. She didn't speak much English.

That shop is also on North Chester Avenue, and in one review a customer said a masseuse had allowed him to touch her.

The manager said some customers ask about the staff and if they can get a "sensual" massage. The manager said customers are told they can't.

She added there are many massage salons, and she has heard there are problems at some.

An established local massage therapist said she's heard about plenty of problems. This therapist said she works in a clinic near a salon on the website list, so out of caution she only wanted to be identified as "Jane."

"I think it's horrible," Jane said. "I've had many clients that have come in to our establishment and they had mentioned hearing sex sounds."

At some of these other locations, she's also heard complaints about the girls in skimpy clothing and other questionable behavior.

"I feel like people need to be aware of what they're actually going to get themselves into going into a place like that," Jane said.

Another salon listed on the website is on H Street. The woman behind the desk said she was aware of the list and disputed the comments about where she works.

"Actually, this is not true," this masseuse said. "We don't do that kind of stuff."

She gave her name as Michelle and took Eyewitness News back to their massage rooms, showing the tables and things like warm towels. No one was in the salon at that time, and she said business has been slow.

A "review" on the website had listed a masseuse named "Mickey" as providing sex acts. Michelle said that girl was fired after the shop owners found out about the comment.

"The owner says this is bad (for our) reputation, especially (because) Bakersfield is really small," Michelle said. But, she doubts the other masseuse did what the site said. "My consideration, she didn't do that," Michelle added.

But, Michelle said she had heard a comment from one customer about another shop in Stine Road which is also listed on the website. She says the customer said for $100 he could get anything he wanted.

"I'm sorry," Michelle says she told the man. "You go there then and don't come here."

Eyewitness News also went to that shop on Stine Road. A website "review" by one customer said he was allowed to touch a masseuse, and sex acts were given. A woman who answered a door in the lobby said she didn't understand our question about the website. She took a business card and said someone would call us. No one called.

A number of men's magazines were on a table in the lobby. A man seen leaving the salon didn't want to talk to us.

Eyewitness News contacted Bakersfield Police and Kern County Sheriff deputies about the allegations of sexual activity at the massage salons. Officers said they are aware of the websites and keep an eye on them. They respond to complaints about any specific shop locations.

Both the city and county have extensive regulations on massage establishments. The rules require cleaning and sanitation of equipment and towels, adequate dressing facilities for customers, and even the minimum amount of lighting.

The salons must keep records of the dates and hours of each treatment, and the name and address of the customer, and which technician administered the treatment.

The Kern County ordinance also sets requirements for how the customer must be covered during the massage, and the technicians must be "clothed in hygienically clean wearing apparel at all times while providing massage or related services."

The Bakersfield regulation spells out more, saying, "massage/bodywork practitioners shall be fully clothed at all times. Clothing shall be of fully opaque, non-transparent material and provide the complete covering from mid-thigh to three inches below the collarbone."

The county rule also states no technician "shall place his hands upon, or touch with any part of his body, a sexual or genital part of any other person in the course of providing massage or related services, or massage a sexual or genital part of any other person." The Bakersfield ordinance is similar.

And, each establishment must have a license and business permit, each therapist must also have a license. Under the city rule, the technician must have a photo identification name tag visible at all times.

Massage therapist Dave Dowdy said the permit process is rigorous. "We have to be fingerprinted and Live Scanned," he explained. The therapist must complete training from a certified school, and provide things like a tuberculosis test.

The city massage practitioner permit costs $101, and the massage establishment permit runs $179. Salons also must have insurance.

Dowdy said it's all important. He worries about the public getting a massage from someone who doesn't meet the requirements.

"The massages that get reported back, they're actually hurting people," Dowdy said. He recommends that anyone should check for a license, permit and insurance before getting a massage.

He worries about clients he's heard from who went to a questionable salon. "They've gone in there just out of curiosity, and been offered sexual favors," Dowdy relates.

"Jane" has the same concerns for the public, and for massage therapists like herself.

"It's degrading," she said regarding the small shops she sees. "It gives therapists a bad name." She says it also hurts financially, arguing the salons offering "extras" can charge a lower regular hourly rate than the "legitimate" clinics.

Dowdy said he saw shops like the ones on the website pop up around Bakersfield in the '90s. At that time, law enforcement took action.

"They cleaned up the city, it was fantastic," Dowdy said. He hopes for something similar soon. "It just seems like it wouldn't take too much to clean this up again."

"Jane" sees it the same way.

"It's prostitution, it's a sex scandal," she worried. "I'd like to see that they start cracking down on the illegal work they're doing."