City Councilmember Lauren Meister has asked that the city require that human trafficking notices displayed in massage parlors, businesses with alcohol licenses, urgent care centers, and certain other locations be translated into multiple languages in addition to the currently required English, Spanish and Chinese.
Meister’s proposal will go before the City Council at its meeting on Monday.
State law currently requires certain businesses to post signs that include a telephone number that victims of human trafficking can call for help. A memo to the City Council says “This item directs staff to amend the West Hollywood Municipal Code to require mandated businesses in West Hollywood to include several more languages, including Tagalog, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Farsi, and Russian. Because of the nature of human trafficking, statistics concerning the country of origin of victims of trafficking can be difficult to obtain, but these languages were chosen as they represent a diverse range of potential victims.”
The telephone hotlines are meant to offer help to someone who is “forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave — whether it is commercial sex, housework, farm work, construction, factory, retail, or restaurant work, or any other activity”
Those in such situations can send a text message to- 233-733 (Be Free) or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 or the California Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) at 1 (888) KEY-2-FRE(EDOM) or 1 (888) 539-2373 to access help and services. The numbers are toll free and answered 24 hours a day by non-profit organizations.
To date, Meister is the only member of the City Council who has expressed concern about a story published in WEHOville on March 16 that revealed the existence of nine massage parlors in West Hollywood that are largely staffed by Asian women who are said to provide sexual services to clients. Visits by WEHOville to several of those parlors revealed that some employees do not speak English. That story was inspired by an investigation by The New York Times that identified nearly 9,000 such massage parlors in the United States, in many of which the women are held captive by the parlor owners.
At an earlier City Council meeting, Meister questioned the then acting Sheriff’s Station captain about the parlors. Councilmember John Duran objected at that meeting to the notion of law enforcement inspections of massage parlors, citing what he described as a history of law enforcement raiding gay bars several decades ago. The City Council took some symbolic action on the issue earlier this year when it adopted a resolution recognizing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and committed to increasing public education about the issue, including screening a film about it as part of the Human Rights Speakers Series. The Council also directed the Public Safety Department and Code Compliance Department to ”take additional actions to train city officials, local law enforcement, and other interested stakeholders on human trafficking and ensure businesses are in compliance with human trafficking notice requirements.”
However, to date, the issue has not been discussed at the city’s Public Safety Commission meeting. Public Safety Director Kristin Cook has referred questions about the issue to the Sheriff’s Station, saying she hadn’t read the WEHOville story. However, Edward Ramirez, the new captain of the Sheriff’s Station, said last month that he and the city’s new Code Compliance Manager, Daniel Rivas, now are coordinating a plan to inspect such massage parlors to ensure that they are complying with relevant local and state laws.
Ramirez said they will focus on those massage parlors listed on RubMaps.com, a “Yelp” for customers of massage parlors offering sex who rate them and describe their satisfaction with the sexual services they receive. “We’re not trying to ruin people’s lives. We’re not trying to punish people for small misdemeanor crimes,” Ramirez said, responding to concerns by some that the inspections will result in punishment for the massage workers, some of whom may be undocumented workers. “We are just going to ensure that nothing is happening that is against the law.”
The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica. Parking is free in the five-story structure behind the Chambers with a ticket validated in the lobby.