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Selling Sex in Honolulu: Unlicensed Massage Parlors Lack Enforcement Scrutiny

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*** Based on 2 member reviews

By Robert Brown

11/19/10 King StreetEditor's Note: This article is part of Civil Beat's ongoing coverage of prostitution and human trafficking in Honolulu. Read our related coverage:

At least eight massage parlors in Honolulu have no record of a license to practice, as is required by law, Civil Beat has found.

Civil Beat looked into the licensing of massage parlors because law enforcement officials say the establishments are sometimes used as fronts for prostitution and can be linked to human trafficking.

In our investigation, we went through the phone book and performed Google searches for "Massage Honolulu," "Full body massage Honolulu," "Oriental massage Honolulu," to find establishments.

A search of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs's website showed that all of the massage parlors we found in the phone book were registered and up-to-date. Those parlors included: Siam Thai Massage, Massage Thailand, China Mary Rose, Ohana Massage, Thai Hawaiian Massage, Stay in Touch and Therapeutic Massage Center, all of which were licensed through 2012.

The Google results, on the other hand, were not so positive.

A cursory search performed over a few hours turned up eight businesses that were not listed in the Professional and Vocational Licensing registry.

Under Hawaii law, local businesses must register with the DCCA's Business Registration Division. The exceptions include sole proprietors, charitable organizations and unincorporated associations.

But even if they qualify for an exception, every massage establishment, business or sole proprietor has to get a vocational license with the Board of Massage Therapy, a separate arm of the DCCA.

If they fail to do so, they are operating without a license.

But the law isn't enforced unless a complaint is filed against a business, said Jo Ann Uchida, a complaints and enforcement officer with the DCCA.

In fiscal year 2010, the detection and enforcement wing of the DCCA issued 25 citations and six judgments against businesses that operated without a license.

"We get reports, usually from other licensees but also from consumers that suggest that there might be some activity that requires a license," said Uchida.

Once a complaint is received, an investigator gathers information on the alleged unlicensed activity. If the office can prove that the business is operating illegally, it then issues citations or judgments.

If cited, businesses are supposed to close until they get a license. The state also issues fines, which vary.

Hawaii Revised Statute 436B-26.5 says that penalties for first violations must not exceed $500. The fee is up to $1000 for the second and $5000 for three or more offenses.

If the business challenges the citation, it goes to an administrative hearing, where the court can issue a judgment compelling the business to register or pay fines.

Uchida told Civil Beat if the office receives multiple reports regarding the same, or similar location, the office will periodically initiate stings, occasionally with the help of police.

Operating Without A License

Searching the Internet, Civil Beat found the eight businesses that appear to be operating without a license.

Some, like Mai Thai Massage (advertised below) were licensed.

Mai Thai Massage

Its license expires June 30, 2012.

But in a single afternoon, we found several other establishments that didn't have licenses: Pearl City Relaxation, Rosemarri, Rappongi Relaxation, Pine Tree Spa, Tokyo Relaxation, VIP Relaxation, King Spa and Oriental Relaxation.

We called each establishment to make sure that these were real businesses, not out-of-date listings on Google. We verified that they identified themselves by their advertised names and confirmed that they performed massage services.



Businesses Aren't Allowed to Use Fake Names

Christine Rutkowski, executive officer for the Board of Massage Therapy, says that a business must have a vocational license under the same name that it advertises with.

We verified this with each of the eight businesses we searched.

For example, a Google search displayed the following listing for Oriental Relaxation:

Oriental Relaxation Therapy

When reached by phone, a receptionist identified the business as "Oriental Relaxation Therapy."

We searched the DCCA's database to find out whether it had a vocational license. Under the "Search by Trade Name or DBA Name" option, Oriental Relaxation should have had a valid and up-to-date license. But the Professional and Vocational Licensing Search showed no such business.

Rutkowski told Civil Beat that sometimes businesses may register with slightly varied names. To compensate, we searched several variations.

For example, for VIP Relaxation, we searched the trade-name database for the following terms: "VIP", "V.I.P.", "V (space) I (space) P." None brought up businesses relating to massage.

The same applied to others: Rosemarri, Rappongi, Tokyo Relaxation and Oriental Relaxation. (For these, we searched variants including "Rosemary," "Rose Mary," "Rose Marri," "Rapongi," "Tokyo," and "Oriental," among others.)

Sometimes, our searches turned up results that at first glance look relevant.

For example, when we searched for just "Tokyo," for Tokyo Relaxation, we found a "Tokyo Medical Massage" ­— but its license expired June 30, 2000.

Searching the name "Rosemary," a "Rosemary's Magic Hands" came up, properly licensed until 2012, but with the wrong address. The licensed business is located on Ohia Street in Kapaa on Kauai — not Oahu.

We had the same results for Pearl City Relaxation and King Spa. We found a "Pearl City Massage Therapy" in the trade-name database but its license expired in 1996. We also found a "King's Massage" but it was located at a different address than the one given by King Spa over the phone.

Explicit Online Reviews

Some of the massage parlors that did not have a vocational or business license had advertisements and online reviews that explicitly detail sexual encounters. Here's one for Pine Tree Spa:

Pine Tree Spa

To be sure, online reviews aren't always credible. This could be an attempt by a disgruntled employee or unhappy customer to discredit an establishment.

It is also possible that the registration paperwork for some of the businesses mentioned above are pending and have not yet been put into the vocational license database. Rutkowski told Civil Beat there is an occasional lag between registering with the board and being able to view information online.

One of the eight businesses identified by Civil Beat, Rappongi, was reprimanded in 2007 for operating without a license.

According to a Circuit Court filing, in December, 2007, Rappongi Relaxation was fined $1,500, indicating that it was probably not its first offense.

"The Court ordered Defendant to be enjoined from engaging in the business of a contractor until he obtains a license pursuant to HRS Chapter 444," the document says.

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kf47 — Monday, January 17, 2011
alright ! nice job it looks like Hawaii may have its first "real" investigative reporter. Its my opinion that a good investigative reporter / news paper, make goverment and their departments accountable to the public, and maybe if they do a good job can help the governor with the budget this year. By cutting off the fat, fat doesn't do anything its just there. . . just like some of these so called offices so how many cases does DCCA actually take to court???

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civilbeat — Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Hi kf47, thanks for your kind words. Making the government transparent and keeping public officials accountable is exactly what Civil Beat is all about. You can check out more articles at I think you would particularly like our Fact Checks which you can find on the bottom of the homepage.

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someone — Friday, February 25, 2011
HELLO Robert brown. My name is Amy and i am working in one of the place that you post on this site. Its not true. most of the place that i know nobody going to let they license expires because they have to go test license again!!! And most of the people I knew they are sign for apprentice. I went to massage here in honolulu. I am know the law pretty much same as you do. Hopefully i clean your question. About selling sex. I don't know. The place that i working they didn't have that offer. We offer massage only.

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OC — Sunday, February 27, 2011
Civil Beat, you are full of it. You are trying to link Asian massage parlors with human trafficking, with no evidence to support the link. Nothing more and nothing less. To serve the ideological agenda of a radical feminist organization, PASS. You do not even have a separate topic under Civil Beat for prostitution. It is subsumed under human trafficking. You think people are stupid and don't know there is no objectivity to your "investigation" and your motive for investigation?

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civilbeat — Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Hi Someone – It's good to hear that your place of business is not breaking the law. Our investigation found that a number of massage parlors in Honolulu were unfortunately. Hello OC – The initial investigation was stemmed from our human trafficking articles. You can Google "CivilBeat: human trafficking" to read the array of content. As for prostitution, we found plenty of it and there many illegal Honolulu massage parlors that are being shut down for the practice. We have no agenda other than to pursue investigative journalism in Hawaii, and to shine light on issues that need it. Mahalo for reading.

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OC — Thursday, March 17, 2011
Civil beat, you are still full of it. Your initial investigation stemmed from you doing the bidding of PASS, a militant and feminist organization with an ideological agenda that you share, your apparatchik denial notwithstanding. You went out looking for prostitution at massage parlors because you WANT to establish a link between massage parlors and human trafficking. I am still waiting for your big scoop on human trafficking and coercion and slavery at these massage parlors in Honolulu, these dens of iniquity. Can you come up with some evidence, just any evidence, that these girls are held against their will? Please, I am waiting.

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someone — Friday, April 8, 2011
Hahaha!! Sometime it's hard for stupid people to believe. We do just massage really !!! You must to be very stupid to find only that kinda massage. Maybe you are just looking for that kinda massage? I believe have some but not all of them.

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jcorey — Thursday, May 5, 2011
Much Aloha, Seems as though someone has written quite an article doing their best to link "Asia" or any business following within an "asian" theme as unlicensed. What a narrow view and shame. Many of the worlds largest spa's originate from Asian Countries and have some of the most sought after therapists. An example would be which is a new high end spa with an excellent and well trained 'licensed' staff. Please, feel free to come do a write up about us as well.

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laowai — Monday, August 1, 2011
I think it's a bunch of white folks trying to justify a smear campaign against asian businesses. Yup, it had to be said... whites vs asians.

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natabridge — Saturday, October 8, 2011
I am a real licensed massage therapist, I work in one of the places that you found to be legit and up-to-date. Lemme tell you how irritating it is for us to work next door to all those "Asian beauties" etc. We have to explain million times a day that we don't do "full service", that draping is not optional, that there will be no happy ending and you can not pick a girl. Thank you for you investigation, I would also suggest to check individual MT's licenses, because from what I know sometimes even if the place's license is OK, they have "independents" that can do dirty. Feel free to contact me if you need any inside info about the massage field.

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Maltese24 — Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Civil Beat I dont respect your work.I believe you are actually hurting the state of Hawaii by having these businesses (organic or not) shutdown.Tourists spend alot of money at these types of places and better your economical status.Aside from that you will never get rid of your so called problem.Its not a war.Wars end.

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PuaLau — Friday, January 20, 2012
Relax, It's Just a Massage, in Waikiki, doesn't have a license and offers things on the side. The owner, Shanese Bowie does massage all the time and is not a licensed massage therapist. She also has her employees do facials and they are not estheticians. She has a criminal record and is listed on Hoover Police Department's Most Wanted website. She pays her therapists $15/hour and works them like dogs and pays them a month or 2 after they do the work. She's been in business for 2 years now. Sad to see that someone like her can be running a shady business and getting away with it. Only in Hawai'i!

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joepark — Friday, July 27, 2012
Don't you have better things to do then investigate prostitution? There are other major social issues impacting our community like Homelessness, Unemployment, abuse of power and money by government, etc... Get a life buddy!

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Matsue2012 — Friday, December 7, 2012
Thank you for this article. I too believe that this issue has become a problem in Hawaii. What many don't realize is as you've just said, Human Trafficking, who really knows if they are being forced, it could be your daughter or a family member. I don't think articles like this are hurting Hawaii, they are making people aware that acts like these are occurring on Hawaiian Soil. Everyone knows everyplace has a shady side, but this article is bringing the problem to light. But of course not all massage parlors are like these, I have a few family members that own a couple. I just wish Hawaii would start taking more serious actions.

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SirJecht — Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Oh wow, I've actually seen this online. Friend showed me on RubMaps where things like these "parlors" get posted on a daily basis. That site is like the Yelp of 'happy endings.' -___-

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Reality — Saturday, May 17, 2014
There is a connection between these massage parlors and human trafficking. I've been to the place called Smile, and one of the girls told us in detail how she was in fact trafficked and is basically a sex slave. She owes money to an Asian cartel for bringing her to America and the woman who runs the place is an old Vietnamese lady who seems very nice to us as customers but very mean to the women who work/live at the establishment. Also they do have sex with the customers there.


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