Social Change Takes Time, By Lesley Bush Aug 29, 2019
Social change takes time. Back in September of 2016, my daughter noticed a neon sign at Orchid Spa that said, “Open Massage.” She promptly checked the Google reviews and the very first one said, “Lucy gives a rapid hand fire job.” I was shocked and horrified to hear this kind of thing was happening so close to home.
It was a life turning moment for me. I explained to my daughter this was illegal and down the rabbit hole I went. I explained to her about human trafficking and prostitution. I was also going to college at this time and studying social work. It was there I studied the long term cultural history of people selling children and young adults with empty promises of giving their children a trade and education to make a living. The missing clarifying information was about sex trafficking or “sweat shops.”
What could I do to make a difference? Cultural change takes time. My favorite book, “People’s History” by Howard Zinn, talked about civil right movements that took three to five years. This is a great book about small groups of people who stood together and changed tyranny, oppression and slavery. I know human trafficking is an age old issue that needs key people to stand up and say, “This needs to stop, now.”
I started with writing a letter to the Washington Board of Health complaining about Orchid Spa practicing massage without a state license. Two weeks later I received a letter from the Washington Board of Health saying they would turn the concern of criminal activity over to the proper authorities in Bremerton. I am always amazed at how I think the laws work versus how it really works.
In October of 2016, Lavon Watson reached out to my local massage support group, called Massage Network Solutions. I arranged for him to be the guest speaker at our November meeting. He brought Kitsap Sun reporters Josh Farley and Andrew Binion. At that meeting I learned about a group of people who call themselves “Hobbyists” who are looking for the next sexual adventure in illicit massage. As the massage group started talking about weird phone calls and clients showing up with wads of money, Lavon explained this is typical behavior of a Hobbyist.
In December of 2016, the Kitsap Sun wrote an article called The Struggle to take down ‘Storefront Brothels.’ With this topic fresh in the local community paper, Lavon Watson and I organized massage therapists to talk to the Bremerton City Council about the need to write an ordinance to protect legitimate massage therapists and to close down illicit massage businesses. Lavon talked to the mayor after the meeting and I arranged to meet with a local city council member. Unfortunately, no one followed up or called us back.
On March 9, 2017, fellow massage therapist Cynthia Land briefed me about a meeting of The League of Women Voters of Kitsap at Poulsbo City Hall. All the police chiefs and sheriffs in Kitsap County were there to talk to the local people about concerns in the Kitsap County area. Lavon gave me a report on the strong markers of human trafficking in certain local businesses. I went to the meeting and was the only one who asked about human trafficking. People next to me where shocked and in dismay that such horror was happening in Kitsap County. The Bremerton Police Chief was aware, and spoke extensively about the problems they were facing in shutting down the activity. The police chiefs appreciated the report and showed great interest. I gave them Lavon’s and my contact information. No one reached out for more information.
I took Lavon Watson’s class on Human Trafficking 101. I lined up a keynote speaker for Massage Network Solutions to educate our massage community on law changes by Mary Beth Berney. Scarlet Road, a local non-profit, talked to us about their work as a safe house for helping people get out of human trafficking. It is a difficult subject. We lost members when we started this adventure. But now twenty-four members of Massage Network Solutions understand and are involved in raising awareness of human trafficking. They know how to protect themselves legally against perpetrators. They know how to pay attention to subtle grooming behaviors of hobbyists. The board members and I work hard to give massage therapists a safe place to talk about difficult situations that they experience in their businesses.
I know my sphere of influence is about 150 people that can reach about 1,500 people. This is true for every individual in the massage community. In Kitsap County, Massage Network Solutions has a sphere of 36,000 people they may influence. On the surface, the ordinance for Bremerton looked like nothing was going to happen. In hind sight, there was a lot of work going on in our community as awareness was on the rise. Sometimes information just needs to percolate, and organizations need to solidify their action plans.
In April of 2019, Christine Weber Davis, an LMT and co-worker, called me. She was happy to report that Bremerton was working on an ordinance for massage therapists. She was asked to be part of panel reviewing the information and to give feedback. She was waiting for permission from the police chief to share the ordinance with me for my review. I introduced her and the police chief to Lavon Watson.
In July and August of 2019, the Kitsap Sun reporter, Christian Vossler, called me to ask how the new ordinance would affect me and other massage therapists in the area. Thankfully, the local newspaper reached out. I did not know the local ordinance was getting ready for public vote the following week. That is when I acted fast. I posted the ordinance on a Facebook page called WA State Massage Therapists and LMTs of Kitsap. My massage therapist community acted instantaneously.
The president of AMTA-WA, Michael Mandell, called and wrote the mayor a letter of proposed changes. (PDF) Robbin Blake from WSMTA called and wrote proposed ordinance changes. (Facebook Page) At least eight massage therapists outside of Massage Network Solutions called and emailed the mayor and police chief. Extraordinary network intersections began happening. Jennifer Wiegand, LMT, talked to the mayor and his wife about the ordinance in great length at a local outside concert. Christine Weber Davis set up a 10-minute meeting for us to talk to Michael Goodnow, a Bremerton City Council member. He changed the itinerary from a vote on the ordinance to a discussion on August 7, 2019. Robbin Blake, Governmental Relations from Washington State Massage Therapy Association (WSMTA), commuted from Brinnon twice to speak about the ordinance at the Bremerton council meetings and made various phone calls and emails. Massage therapists Rebecca Shirley, Bonner Sams, Tomas Delgado and Julia Newrot Johnson reached out to the police chief and mayor by phone calls and emails. Julia Newrot Johnson invited the police chief to her massage office and explained how a legitimate massage business runs. They all showed up to the Bremerton council meetings. I don’t know the names of everyone involved and I wish I did. There are key people that kept the momentum going. Every person involved added to the social change.
So, in August of 2019, Bremerton voted to put Ordinance 5373 in place. This ordinance only allows massage therapists to practice in Kitsap County who have legitimate Washington State massage licenses. It took work to get the language to a place where we all agreed. The past three years have led up to the crescendo of Ordinance 5373 that has been voted on and is part of the laws in Bremerton. My favorite part was hearing the police chief and mayor enjoyed working with the massage community. The police chief said he made new friends. The mayor enjoyed the collaboration piece. He said everyone was polite, genuine, intelligent and experts in their field as massage therapists. The police chief looks forward to shutting down all businesses without legitimate massage licenses. He was relieved how streamlined and simple this action will be. Thank you to everyone involved. We did it!
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