NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Senior Staff Writer
BENNINGTON -- Some local massage therapists are hopeful a raid on two area spas Tuesday as part of a human trafficking and prostitution investigation will prompt the state to begin regulating massage therapy.
Laura Bull, a massage therapist who runs Massage For You in Bennington, said she is pleased the two spas were raided by law enforcement officials Tuesday for alleged illegal activity. Such places shed a negative light on massage therapists who have studied and received licenses in other states, she said. Vermont invites disreputable operations, however, because the state does not license massage therapists or regulate the practice in any way, according to Bull.
Vermont and Oklahoma are the only two states that have taken no steps to regulate massage therapy, according to the American Massage Therapy Association.
"While this is unfortunate, this could be a huge opportunity to push for regulation," Bull said. "When these things happen -- because this is not the first time in the history of massage, maybe in Bennington -- it's something to be both celebrated and commiserated."
Carla Preston, a case manager in the Vermont Secretary of State's Office of Professional Regulation, confirmed that no license is needed to operate a massage business in Vermont.
Bull said the Vermont Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association has lobbied in the past to require a license for massage therapy without success.
"We tried once and were shut down by the office of professional regulation," she said.
Bull said a case must be proven that harm can be done to the public before any regulations are put in place. So far, state officials have not agreed that the public is at risk of harm without regulation of massage therapy, she said.
Additionally, many massage therapists are against regulation, she said.
"Unfortunately, there's also a huge number of people in the state that are opposed to regulation," she said. "They don't want ‘the man' regulating their business."
Vermont Secretary of State James Condos said Thursday that the Legislature must act first before his office can regulate massage therapists.
"They have asked, but it's really a legislative issue. The Legislature really has to authorize which professions we regulate," he said. "I know this has been brought up over the last five to seven years probably several times. But, the Legislature has opted not to regulate it."
Condos said his office does regulate physical therapists and occupational therapists.
Local police and FBI agents executed search warrants Tuesday at Cozy Spa, 240 North St., and Green Spa, 412 Main St. Law enforcement officials said the search is part of an ongoing investigation into prostitution and human trafficking they believe is taking place at those massage parlors.
No arrests have been made in the ongoing investigation, but law enforcement officials said charges are likely in the future.
Bull said local, professional massage therapists had questioned the activities at those spas for some time. It took her and other professional massage therapists "about a two-second look at the storefront to realize that this is not a legitimate massage place," she said.
"We're psyched that they got shut down," Bull said.
However, the two spas have not been shut down. Local police said they have no authority to shut them down. And because the state does not regulate them, the state does not have any authority, either.
Bull said she studied massage therapy in Florida and sat for a national exam that required at least 500 hours of education. She is now considered a certified massage therapist. A massage therapist can also obtain, in other states, certification declaring them a licensed massage therapist, she said.
"It's up to the public to do the research on their own about their therapist," Bull added.
In Florida, Bull said she was issued a license from the state Department of Health.
Richard Sager, another local massage therapist, received his license in New York. Sager said in Vermont, "anybody with two arms, two legs, can do massage."
Sager has worked with many athletes, including a professional arena football team in Albany, N.Y. Insurance companies in Vermont will not cover massage therapy, however, because the state does not regulate it, he said.
"Maybe something good will come out of this," he said.
Like Bull, Sager said he also suspected illegal activity could be taking place at the spas and is pleased that police have taken steps to investigate.
"I was suspicious of what was going on there. You hope that they have good intentions. I was happy that the town and police were looking into this," he said. "I always have to explain myself why something like this can happen."
Contact Neal P. Goswami at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami