On Tuesday, the Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees will consider proposed changes to its land development code that would make it more difficult to open massage parlors that allow criminal activities on their premises. The measure, introduced by village trustee Elaine Sopchak, comes in response to revelations last year by Seven Days that at least three Chittenden County massage parlors, including the now-defunct Seiwa Spa in Essex Junction (seen right in a May 2013 photo), were allegedly offering sex for money, possibly by female workers who were the victims of human trafficking.
The proposal, scheduled for discussion at the board's February 11 meeting, would create a new section of the village's land development code that specifically targets massage establishments. According to Sopchak, the new code would define what constitutes a massage parlor and would require a public hearing before one may open, as well as routine inspections and an annually renewable business permit.
The new code would also place physical restrictions on such businesses, such as prohibiting sleeping quarters on the premises, banning locks on massage room doors and not allowing customers to enter and exit from the rear of the building. Sopchak, who's been working closely on the new code with Essex Police Chief Brad LaRose, said that many of the proposed changes are borrowed from a model ordinances developed by the Polaris Project, an international anti-human-trafficking group based in Washington, D.C.