Three Berkeley massage parlors are under investigation after reports of illegal prostitution surfaced.
According to Berkeleyside, Crystal Massage has relinquished its permit voluntarily, and was given 120 days to vacate the premises. Acupressure Health Center and Berkeley Alouette have both vacated their properties, and the City Council will review their permits for considered revocation in July.
Suspicion regarding illegal activity arose after dozens of reviews were posted about the massage parlors on prostitution review websites including myRedBook and Rubmaps. Furthermore, of the three reviews on Crystal Massage’s Yelp page, all mention prostitution.
According to Berkeleyside, attorneys for both Berkeley Alouette and Acupressure Health Center noted a lack of evidence, and chastised the city for relying solely on online reviews.
At a public hearing on April 26, the attorneys representing the owners of the three massage parlors called the reviews “hearsay.”
“There is no direct evidence,” said Richard Hall, representing Berkeley Alouette. “There have been no citations, no arrests. My clients are not prostitutes.”
“It is disturbing that the city only relies on unfounded, malicious online reviews,” said Henry Hu, representing Acupressure Health Center. The reviews are all posted under pseudonyms, and Hu said the writers could have ulterior motives, such as personal grudges, or may be business competitors.
However, both Berkeley Alouette and Acupressure Health Center advertise on the websites that hosted the illicit reviews.
According to Berkeleyside, Berkeley Alouette’s myRedBook advertisement read: “We want to get our hands on RB gentlemen. Please mention Redbook so we will know to give you the special services you deserve.”
Investigators also found that all three of the businesses were violating city code regarding employee Establishment Permits.
The recent Berkeley crackdown is the latest in a countywide effort against illegal prostitution, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to CNS News, the effort has included investigations into more than 20 massage parlors in Berkeley.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Head of Sexual Assault Division Casey Bates noted that the county effort includes not only law enforcement, but also community outreach, education and support. Next week, Oakland will host a national conference on human exploitation.
“The Bay Area is kind of an epicenter for this kind of activity,” said Bates to HuffPost. “So we see this not just as a law enforcement issue, but as a community-wide effort.”
Bates noted that, of those involved with next week’s conference, 70 percent are in non-law enforcement roles.
“This reminds me of other points in our history when we saw things differently,” said Bates. “There was a time when we blamed women for being raped because of the clothing they wore. Obviously, we don’t do that anymore. I think this issue is the new frontier.”
Source: Huffington Post