Fargo Commissioner explains "no" vote in massage parlor ordinance change related to human trafficking

Courtesy: City of Fargo
Courtesy: City of Fargo

(Fargo, ND) -- A Fargo City Commissioner is explaining his opposition to a law implementation and ordinance change in the city that aims to reduce human and sex trafficking.

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand says the conversation surrounding human trafficking and massage therapy began a few years ago and maintained prominence since that time. Strand spoke to several local experts in the field, including a former president of the American Massage Therapy Association who lived in Fargo. Strand says his conversations with other local experts is a key factor behind his opposition to the ordinances, citing a lack of evidence human trafficking was occurring through licensed massage providers in the city.

Strand also cited the North Dakota Board of Massage Therapy, who issue licenses to prospective therapists and regulate the industry across the state, as the board who should be making the rule changing decisions. He also compared North Dakota to Minnesota, who he says does not have a board dedicated to the massage profession. 

"I don't know this ordinance or evolution of policy was needed.  I don't know that it was going to fix anything," said Strand, "I'm not pointing fingers here, but it's awfully easy to think you are doing good when you say you are doing something to address human trafficking [...] but on the other hand there is a balance to be struck between the professionals in the industry, who are providing professional massage services."

The new law requires massage therapy establishments obtain a license from Fargo Cass Public Health that could be renewed annually. In addition, an ordinance change passed at the Monday commission meeting requires license applicants to be subject to a background check conducted by the Fargo Police Department. The penalty for not following the ordinance was also increased from an infraction to a Class B misdemeanor offense. 

Strand says he was open to room for compromise on this issue. One aspect he highlighted was ensuring certification of non-professional massage providers. He also wanted to avoid associating law-abiding massage professionals with people who are committing human trafficking crimes. 

Original Air Date: 
Thursday, November 30, 2023