August 3, 2011
By Kathryn FeatherCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown has signed SB 285, the anti-human trafficking legislation that makes it a misdemeanor to sell phony massage school transcripts. The bill is widely supported by the massage therapy profession and the state's certification board.
Sen. Lou Correa and Orange County California District Attorney Tony Rackauckas developed the bill as a result of an investigation by the state's massage therapy certification board which proved that that criminals were selling and distributing fake massage school transcripts in order to obtain work permits for prostitutes. The new law gives "law enforcement the tools to go after human trafficking at its inception," Rackauckas said. Brown signed the bill on August 1, 2011, following unanimous passage by the State Senate and the Assembly. The law takes effect on January 1, 2012.
Amazingly, prior to the investigation by California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), it was legal to sell a fake transcript in the state. Transcripts - along with criminal history records - are key credentials in the state's massage therapist certification system that allows therapists to practice legally.
The investigation began when the CAMTC discovered patterns in which certain "schools" seemed to have large numbers of graduating students with prostitution arrest records. Armed with this and information from other sources, the CAMTC brought in an undercover investigator who discovered that these "graduates," mostly women of South Asian and South American descent, were part of a vast network of human traffickers profiting from prostitution.
The undercover investigator found that human traffickers were selling phony massage school transcripts so prostitutes could pose as legitimate therapists and work or operate massage parlors that are nothing more than fronts. The investigator told Massage Today that these suspected bogus "schools" were targeted based on tips, police information and an analysis of data collected by the CAMTC.
"Police departments who work with us, gave us every prostitution arrest along with the name of the schools they claimed they had gone to," said the investigator. Information was also obtained from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, as well as states like Texas that maintain close records of prostitution arrests.
With the support of the California Massage Therapy Council and with major support from the Orange County (CA) District Attorney's Office, California State Senator Lou Correa introduced SB 285 to make providing fraudulent transcripts a misdemeanor subject to specific penalties. Meanwhile, the CAMTC is now refusing to accept transcripts from schools identified in the investigation as nothing more than diploma mills. A list of suspect schools can be found on the CAMTC website, www.camtc.org.
"Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world," said Senator Correa. "The new law will reduce the ease with which human traffickers operate in the State of California."
Correa's Senate Bill 285 states: "A person who provides a certificate, transcript, diploma, or other document, or otherwise affirms that a person has received instruction in massage therapy knowing that the person has not received instruction in massage therapy or knowing that the person has not received massage therapy instruction consistent with that document or affirmation is guilty of a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of not more than two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) per violation, or imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. 628.5. For any person that is criminally prosecuted for a violation of law in connection with massage therapy, including for crimes relating to prostitution, the arresting law enforcement agency may provide to the California Massage Therapy Council, created pursuant to Section 4600.5 of the Business and Professions Code, information concerning the massage therapy instruction received by the person prosecuted, including the name of the school attended, if any."