Massage therapists hope for a happy ending


The California Massage Therapy Council, a statewide body that licenses massage practitioners, may expire at the end of this year unless extended by the California Legislature. Some anti-prostitution crusaders say reverting to local control will make it easier to shut down covert brothels, but the practitioners fear a return to the bad old days, when stigmas and stereotypes overcomplicated their lives.

On one side of the debate are the massage therapists, who say that the council protects them from unfair discrimination, replaces a patchwork of local ordinances, and provides a greater level of respectability to their profession. However, an array of city officials, police departments, and powerful groups such as the League of California Cities argue that the CAMTC makes it easier for illicit massage parlors to get away with prostitution and human trafficking.

“I receive complaints from neighbors all the time about certain establishments,” said Sup. Katy Tang about her supervisorial district in San Francisco's Sunset District. “We can inspect, but we have no ability to enforce any of our regulations. If there are any penalties, we can’t enforce them.”

Tang’s frustration stems from Senate Bill 731, legislation that was signed into law in 2008. That bill created the CAMTC, a non-profit organization that has the authority to certify massage practitioners and therapists in California. Prior to the creation of this body, each city and county enacted its own certification procedures, leading to a messy patchwork of rules all over the state.

Before the CAMTC, “there were 550 different kinds of regulations from city to city,” said Ahmos Netanel, CEO of the organization. “Within a radius of one mile, you can have a situation where different cities have their own standards. One city may require no training, and another right next door may require 1,000 hours.”

A massage provider working in California pre-2009 not only had to be savvy with the medley of laws, but also needed to purchase expensive licenses for each city he or she planned to practice in. The CAMTC creates a universal—though voluntary—system, where licensed practitioners can travel and work freely around the state.

The contentious part of the law comes from the protection that it offers to licensed practitioners. Any establishment that employs all CAMTC-certified massage providers is exempt from city ordinances that target massage businesses. Law enforcement agencies claim that these restrictions impede their ability to crack down on illegal parlors, but the massage therapists say that they are necessary to fight off discriminatory laws.

Some of these unfair regulations targeted entire establishments, such as zoning rules that forced all massage businesses into run-down or dangerous parts of town, with the assumption that they were brothels. Massage providers argued that this was neither fair nor safe for, say, a 75-year-old woman seeking out massage for arthritis, or a soon-to-be mom trying to obtain a pre-natal massage.

Other laws targeted the therapists themselves. Stacey DeGooyer, a certified massage therapist in the Bay Area, remembers times when practicing massage meant mandatory STD testing and reminders from police to not wear undergarments as exterior clothing.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is for my profession?’” DeGooyer said.

To massage practitioners’ chagrin, they are still lumped into the same category as adult entertainers and subjected to “archaic prostitution laws,” according to DeGooyer, while similar legitimate therapies, such as physical rehabilitation, are overlooked. Most massage providers aren’t looking to be on par with physicians, but they don’t want to be on par with prostitutes, either.

Bodywork in San Francisco

Currently, the city of San Francisco has its own certification program that is regulated by the Department of Public Health. To practice massage in the city, the provider must have a license from either the city or the CAMTC. However, only those who have the state CAMTC license can legally call themselves a “licensed massage” therapist or practitioner.

Tang has been one of the most outspoken critics of the CAMTC in San Francisco, urging the Legislature to let the body sunset at the end of the year.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m against [the CAMTC], but there are structural flaws in how it was designed,” Tang said. “It was created for good reasons, since there were so many jurisdictions and they wanted to standardize it and create a cohesive process.

“But there are jurisdictions like San Francisco where we have our own robust process, but when an establishment uses all CAMTC practitioners, they can bypass all rules. More and more people are starting to become aware of this and are starting to do CAMTC instead, and the city can’t do anything.”

But Netanel disagrees.

“Some cities are claiming that the CAMTC makes it more difficult for law enforcement, but that’s not the reality,” he said. “We even got a thank you letter from the Santa Monica Police saying we made it easier for them, not harder. Cities that cooperate and partner with CAMTC greatly benefit from our tools and protocols to go after bad apples. Other cities have a misinterpretation of the law, and choose to take a different approach.”

Netanel said that even though some cities, such as San Francisco, compete with the CAMTC by providing their own massage licenses, over 150 other California cities have made CAMTC certification mandatory within their jurisdictions. He also points out that many applicants who are denied a license by the CAMTC often turn around and obtain a license within their cities, which generally have lower standards than the state organization.

The number of massage establishments have surged since the adoption of the CAMTC, which critics use as evidence for a growing number of illicit parlors. But Netanel referenced multiple points in the original bill which allows law enforcement to do its job to prevent prostitution. The CAMTC has no real enforcement power to go after illegal establishments itself, but instead works to prevent them from existing in the first place. Out of over 63,000 applicants, Netanel said, they have never certified a single person who has been convicted of illicit activities. They also utilize an online complaint form to report questionable behavior, and respond to all complaints within 24 hours.

The Department of Public Health and the SFPD—the two city entities which police illegal massage business—both ignored multiple requests from the Bay Guardian to find out exactly how and if the CAMTC makes their work more difficult.

The CAMTC is set to be dissolved at the beginning of next year, unless the Legislature decides to extend the original law. A current bill in the California Assembly would extend the CAMTC’s authority until 2019, an additional four years, and massage therapists across the state are pleading for that to happen.

“Even with those who criticize [the CAMTC], we share the same goals,” Netanel said. “We want a safe, healthy, and reliable certification process, so consumers can trust their therapists. Even more, we want to put an end to illegal massage parlors so they are no longer categorized with honest providers.”


fees for activities that people have been doing since forever quite happily without them.

I generally make a point of hiring people without licenses because they are cheaper, as they don't have that extra cost burden, and because it's usually "cash only" which saves them the tax.

Licensing, outside maybe of doctors and dentists, is a scam.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

You definitely do not want a fly-by-night electrician putting a new breaker box in your home. Nor do you want an "I taught myself in my kitchen" stylist slapping corrosive bleaching solution on your hair. Some things are over-licensed but in general I'm quite comfortable with state licensing of professions like contractors, accountants and stylists.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

who charges more and an unlicensed guy who is cheap

What i do not want is you telling me what I should want

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 6:02 pm

because you chose a cheap unlicensed guy to install your electrical in the home next to mine. Or my apartment beneath yours to flood because you decided to go with an unlicensed "but very experienced" Chinese plumber, straight off the boat from Guangzhou.

Unlicensed means there's no one to sue, no bond on file to go against and no way for anyone else to know this person does substandard work.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

How about this? You don't tell me what to do and I won't tell you what to do?

And if I cause your home to burn down, sue me.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 7:07 pm

If you want to live without worrying about your impact on anyone else, go build a log cabin in the woods a la Ted Kaczynski.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 9:09 pm


Go live in Sweden if you don't like choices, freedom and liberty.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 7:06 am

America was founded on the rule by genocidal white males who kept women in a slightly higher state of chattel than they kept the blacks.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 7:16 am

the US growth rate which was for a long time similar to other large colonial nations that did not have slavery, like Canada.

The impact of slavery is much exaggerated, usually by blacks trying to play a card

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 7:51 am

I have ever read on these comment pages. And I've read a lot of stupid things.

Millions of people died prematurely because of slavery. Millions.

Those that continued living did so under atrocious conditions and subject to violence, rape and constant humiliation.

Slavery enabled landowners and business interests to accumulate vast amounts of capital, which is still being used to this day to enslave almost all the rest of us in wage slavery.

I don't know where you get such ludicrous information about how history exaggerates slavery based on growth rates. If you are so uncritical that you believe such hogwash, you are irredeemable.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 8:26 am

What he said was that in the final analysis, it didn't make much difference to the economic success of modern America. The costs of slavery, both financial and social, largely washed away any pure gain in GDP.

I challenge you to find some stats showing what America's GDP would be now had we never taken slaves, and I think you will find very little difference. Places like Canada and Australia never had slavery and they have very similar per capita GDP as America, indicating it made very little long-term value.

Again, not to say slavery wasn't unfortunate. Only to say that in the end it didn't even make much difference economically. Either way, it was a waste.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 8:45 am

Slavery was "unfortunate," kind of like the holocaust was "unfortunate."

Posted by Greg on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 11:15 pm

When you hire a magician, otherwise known as an union electrician you are likely overpaying.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 12:32 am

guy does substandard work and/or causes harm to your home?

Posted by Guest III on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

unlicensed workers are less skillful or diligent than licensed workers. They are just more expensive.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 1:22 pm

to you (yet). If you have never had a car accident, why then should you have insurance?

So you have no problem with having no recourse if the unlicensed worker does harm to you or your property?

Posted by Guest III on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

license means you are better.

You can always sue a worker regardless.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 4:55 pm
Posted by Guest III on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 10:51 am

Or similar.

Anyway why do you care if I am willing to take risks that scare you?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 11:03 am

Because shoddy work by unlicensed contractors can easily impact your neighbors, that's why.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 11:43 am

You oppose choice in favor of a monopoly of an unelected clique of "licensed" workers who pay fees to a government which then protects that clique.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 11:50 am
Posted by Guest III on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

If an unlicensed guy is half the price and appears to be as good, then not.

Because a license doesn't imply quality - only a willingness to pay a big fat fee to the state each year.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 7:01 am

No, that would be better. CAMTC is not a state agency. The CAMTC is made up of private individuals in a "nonprofit" who gain personal benefits, financial and otherwise, off the poor massage therapists.

Caveat Emptor, however. . . . let the buyer beware and choose the massage therapist with the proper training. Certification is a good thing as it provides some sense of comparability in their choice of therapists (or tax preparers, or real estate agents, or whatever). We can't all be experts in the training these people receive.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 11:24 am

will improve their business by attracting customers who think that matters.

I just think it should be optional. There is a market for folks with less skills and a lower price.

As a customer. I always want more choice.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 11:36 am

Happy endings should be legal :)

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

inside these places and how is it effecting them in any way?

I can understand the issues of the people who work in the industry, how are the neighborhood people being put out.

Is this like that idiot Eric Mar whining about the Hustler club van being parked by his house, but being OK with cocks all over the Castro?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 12:36 am

It's not exactly rocket science to figure out which massage parlors are legit or not. A massage parlor opened at 2AM with windows blacked out and only male customers going in and out is probably not legal.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 11:20 am

It's not a massage until the paste hits the ceiling.

Posted by Chromefields on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 9:03 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 9:27 am

Actually, most massage therapists want a statewide licensing board. . The CAMTC's enabling legislation STILL allows for local permitting, and a broad array of requirements. And CAMTC has denied thousands of applicants simply due to language barriers.
So, while the majority of those who have been certified prefer the CAMTC to the previous system, as do I, we can do much better. A state Licensing agency, not this halfway step.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 11:19 am

Thank you for publishing this well written article that helps define some of the issues massage therapists and towns are dealing with through the Sunset process of the certification law.

Note that in California, massage therapists may obtain certification (because the law is a title act), we do NOT have a license (which requires a scope of practice act, which would be mandatory). Also massage therapists consider themselves Certified and if using that title, must post their CAMTC number on whatever marketing materials used, business cards, flyers, pamphlets, etc. Anyone can go on to the CAMTC website and search a therapists name to see if they are certified in good standing.

What we reasonably hope for is a productive dialogue and positive outcome to get the needs met of both sides of the topic. Cities have plenty of power to shut down illicit businesses, and the police can revoke a certification with an officer's declaration.

Posted by Lisa Santoro on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

Thai Banyan remains of the view that licensing is the most efficient and best way to first place then this should apply to all payments no matter what the level. Payments are triggered nor will they know the quantum due.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 8:11 pm

Why do they feel a need to stick their noses into people's sex lives and tell them how to live? This is the kind of stuff people move to San Francisco to be away from!

And who the hell calls themselves "Katy" past age 10 anyway? What is this, Sesame Street?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

Think that was the name she was given by her parents...

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 9:23 pm

Seriously. Thanks to Scott Wiener, a man can't even show his cock to tourists anymore. It's as if he doesn't like the angle of my dangle or something. Straight people are ruining the Castro. Any true gay man would relish a long, close look at my wang.

Posted by Snoozers on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 11:09 pm

Katie and Scotty and the rest of the stupidvisors should be fixing potholes and MUNI instead of worrying about happy endings and dress codes.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 11:28 pm

I will hope for the same too. It is really sad that because of some institutions that flaunt the law and do something else in the name of massage parlor all of them are getting shut down. The Govt should do something to make sure that the genuine ones are staying. There are many good therapeutic massage centers that have good quality doctors and provide good quality service. They should be spared.

Posted by Leonard R. Isley on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:37 pm

I appreciate the article, but I'm not too thrilled with the title. Anyone else roll their eyes? Not funny, Brian.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 11:46 am

Because everything is so serious all the time.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

It's things like this title that perpetuate the ignorant stereo-type of massage therapists giving hand-jobs. Shame on you. It's not even clever. Not to mention, I personally find such plays on words insulting to the reader's intelligence. "Things are heating up at the fire department" OH, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE!

Also, the CAMTC exists as much for therapists as consumers as it helps to protect against prejudicial treatment by local authorities, zoning ordinances, and other biased treatment of the profession. Some local ordinances required communicable disease tests...yes STD testing. What other occupations are tested for chlamydia? Seriously?

Until California has a STATE LICENSE people will continue to abuse the profession and confuse rub and tug massage parlors with therapeutic bodywork.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 08, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

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