Anti-human trafficking legislation enacted in Washington state last year could spell the end of low-cost massages offered by neighborhood “foot spas.”
The spas were included over concern that some of these businesses rely on untrained workers, some of whom are trafficked persons forced to work long hours for little or no pay.
Licensed professionals believe that the combination of cheap labor and a lack of training allowed foot spas to grow and prosper in Washington. Some spas offer hour-long massages for as low as $15 – a fraction of the cost of a licensed massage practitioner.
Starting July 1, the Washington State Department of Health will require all foot spas to be certified and inspected. Employees will be required to receive 200 hours of training and undergo criminal background checks.
The changes will give state regulators a chance to learn more about the workers in foot spas.
“Who are the people doing the work? Where are they coming from? Really, are they here of their own free will?” asked Kandi Burke, an accredited reflexologist in north Seattle.
Reflexologists -- who practice an alternative treatment using pressure on the hands, feet and ears – have long asked these questions about foot spas and the people who work in them.
Under current state law, reflexology is exempt from regulations that govern licensed massage therapy. Low-cost foot spas use the reflexology exemption to claim that they do not need the licenses or the 500 hours training that is required of massage therapists.
“That is why these guys are a problem,” said Burke. “They’ve come into town. They’ve undercut the standards of practice.”
The foot spas are not allowed to give full body massages, unless they have a licensed massage practitioner on staff. But a 2010 hidden camera investigation conducted by KING 5 found that several of these businesses were offering full-body massages.
Owners interviewed by KING often denied that their workers were giving body massages, even though the video showed otherwise.
The Legislature approved a package of human trafficking laws last year. Some of those laws targeted underage prostitution websites like Backpage.com.