ROSWELL, Ga. — The Roswell City Council is taking steps to curtail and eliminate illicit massage establishments that promote human and sex trafficking.
Councilwoman Lee Hills made a motion April 25 to approve the first reading of a text amendment to the city’s code of ordinances with additional restrictions requiring all spa employees to obtain an annual work permit. The motion was seconded by Councilman Will Morthland and passed 5-0, with Councilman Marcelo Zapata absent.
“There’s a known problem across the United States, and certainly Roswell is no exception for human trafficking and prostitution that is going on under some of our massage establishments and spas,” Hills said. “I absolutely want every single business here in Roswell to thrive, to make money and go home and sleep well at night. For the ones that are trying to dupe our city or our residents or use us as a vehicle for illicit and illegal behavior, I have no tolerance for that.”
According to the City Attorney’s office, there are 80 massage establishments and spas that have registered with the city as of December.
Roswell Police Chief James Conroy said the ordinance in place today has historically provided challenges when it comes to prosecution. He said the amended ordinance will give officers additional tools so they can more readily identify offenders who are taking advantage of the loopholes, committing crimes in these establishments and “giving them all a bad name.”
“As I mentioned at the Public Safety Committee [meeting] last week, not all of these establishments are committing criminal violations and not all of the employees are involved in these criminal violations,” Conroy said. “This will allow us to identify them, those who are in violation, hold them accountable and prevent them from repeating these offenses.”
Mayor Kurt Wilson said the issue was brought to his attention soon after the March 16, 2021, shooting spree that occurred at three spas and massage parlors in Metro Atlanta. Eight people were killed, six were Asian women, and one other person was wounded.
Additionally, in 2016, an undercover operation at a Roswell massage business on Grimes Bridge Road resulted in three people being arrested and charged with prostitution-related offenses. According to media reports, Roswell police had previously made arrests at the same location, which had been operating under a different name.
“The victims of this (human trafficking) are the most vulnerable people with no place to turn, and it’s unconscionable as a city to not defend those who can’t defend themselves,” Wilson said. “There’s no more heinous crime than human trafficking.”
At the meeting, Janet Russell, a longtime Roswell resident and frequent speaker, asked the City Council to prohibit “these unreal massage parlors” from places such as near school bus stops.
“As I’m sure the chief knows, they move their staff all over metro Atlanta,” Russell said. “When they close this one, they just move to another place and to another place and to another place. … I want to make sure that … we can’t have these massage places near school bus stops.”
Reading from the proposed ordinance, Wilson said massage or spa establishments will be prohibited from opening within 300 feet of any state route and at least 300 feet from any parcel occupied by a house of worship, public or private elementary or secondary school, public park, state-licensed day care facility or residence.
“Let me go just go ahead and be very bold about this,” Wilson said. “ … I can say to you that a year from now, there will not exist any of these illegal spas in the City of Roswell, and I say that confidently because this team is behind it and it’s going to be eradicated.”
The next City Council meeting is slated for May 9 at 6 p.m.