Massage spas ignore Tampa's Bathhouse crackdown

Mayor promises to hold massage parlor scofflaws accountable

Tampa’s new crackdown on human trafficking gave massage parlors until June 1 to apply for required permits under the newly-revised Bathhouse ordinance, or they would face the consequences for operating in violation.

So far, there’s one application on file out of the 21 establishments that received register-or-else letters from the city.

"Well, that means there’s 20 folks we're going to go after," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "If they choose to ignore us then they do so at their own peril."

We’ve created a map to show locations of spas that received calls for registration under the Bathhouse ordinance.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn says if businesses that fall under the law fail to register they should be shut down.

"We're going to hit them with TPD (Tampa Police Department), we'll hit them with code, we'll hit them with everything we have," Buckhorn said. "And we'll chase them until they either abide by the law or they go away."

This movement to address so-called “Storefronts for Sex” began last year with an 8 On Your Side investigation of Asian massage parlors on Kennedy Boulevard with histories of prostitution investigations and arrests.

We uncovered just two prostitution arrests in five years despite the fact that more than a dozen such establishments just on Kennedy Blvd. advertised sexual services or were promoted on adult websites as havens for prostitution.

That led local activists to start the Clean Up Kennedy movement. The Tampa City Council then passed the revised Bathhouse ordinance to put a stop to illegal sex acts and human trafficking at those businesses through registration, licensing, inspections and disclosures that are now required.

Tampa Council Member Mike Suarez spearheaded the new legislation.

"If they're not providing the services, they don’t have to comply with the permit but if they are and we catch them then they're going to be illegal and we'll make sure they’re prosecuted," Suarez said. "If you’re having a massage parlor or bathhouse that is catering to human traffickers then we're going to catch you."

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