A bill currently awaiting Governor J.B. Pritzker’s signature would close a loophole in state law that allows some massage parlors to operate without state licensing.
Critics say a licensing exemption for Asian bodywork parlors has allowed some human traffickers to slip under the radar by masquerading as legitimate businesses.
Carol Merna is the executive director of the Center for Prevention of Abuse. She said the Center first worked to get an ordinance tackling the licensing loophole passed in Peoria last year. The Center's board then made the decision to take the effort statewide.
“Every time we briefed a state legislator, or even a federal legislator for that matter, we talked about it. We talked about what human trafficking is, we talked about what we were doing, what we were seeing, who we were seeing. But then we made sure to talk about this exemption. We couldn’t figure out why it existed," she said.
State Rep. Mike Unes (R-East Peoria) co-sponsored Senate Bill 1841 in the Illinois House to close the loophole after meeting with the Center for Prevention of Abuse.
“It’s just quite surprising to see the numbers of how much this problem has really been in the shadows of our community for quite some time," he said.
Under the proposed bill, all massage therapists or businesses operating without a license issued by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation would be subject to penalties.
Since the Center opened its Human Trafficking Service division in January 2018, they have helped more than 50 victims of sex or labor trafficking in Central Illinois. The victims range from ages 11 to 62.
The bill was co-sponsored with state Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) in the House and state Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) in the Senate.
If you want to report suspected human trafficking or need help yourself, you can call the Center for Prevention of Abuse at 1-800-559-7233 or click here to visit their website.