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Huntington Beach Massagers No Longer Need HIV Testing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Huntington Beach police announced Friday that they will scrap a 17-year-old vice-squad requirement that all city massage therapists be tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases--a requirement that critics claimed is outdated and illegal.

Facing the ire of national and local massage therapists, city police said they will no longer demand that massage therapists submit to annual testing for HIV, syphilis and gonorrhea.

The decision followed an extensive lobbying effort on the part of local massage therapists, who harshly criticized the requirement.

“I’m feeling very pleased and vindicated,” said Mark Dixon, a 14-year sports massage specialist who spearheaded an effort to eliminate the requirement. “Finally, our profession is being respected as the fine healing tradition that it is.”

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Dixon and other massage therapists, including the president of the American Massage Therapy Assn., complained it was degrading to demand such testing of therapists, because it implied they were providing more than massages.

Dixon, who was approved to attend the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as a massage therapist, said no such testing was required by the FBI, which handled the approval process.

“I was outraged at the whole premise,” Dixon said of the Huntington Beach requirement. “I’m not going to have sex with my clients.”

The requirement also ran afoul of the law by requiring test results for HIV. Doctors are legally barred from revealing the results of HIV tests.

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Therapists had planned to assemble in force at next week’s city council meeting and demand that officials eliminate the requirement. City police, however, relented Friday and agreed to scrap the requirement unilaterally after reviewing the policy.

“We decided that the policy was outdated and had to be removed,” said Huntington Beach Police Lt. Preston Linker.

“It was an old ordinance that we approved in 1985, when we had a significant problem with massage parlors acting as fronts for illicit sex businesses. . . . That’s not the problem today, however.”

Although officials are removing the HIV testing condition, therapists must still be tested for TB and Hepatitis B and C, similar to other health workers.

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Massage therapists must also prove they have had at least 500 hours of schooling and that they are certified by a national professional organization.

Linker said those requirements, as well as aggressive policing by the department’s vice unit, had served to keep illicit massage operations out of Huntington Beach.

“I’d say it’s been a year or two since we’ve had a documented incident of sexual misconduct occurring under the guise of legitimate massage,” Linker said.

Removal of the testing requirement is effective immediately, Linker said.

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Among those people who called for the elimination of testing was retired Huntington Beach Police Vice Detective Tim Chambers.

In a letter sent to the city council, Chambers said the training and certification requirements were adequate to ensure the city licensed legitimate therapists.

“When prostitutes operated in Huntington Beach, disguised as massage therapists, this [testing] requirement did nothing to solve the problem,” Chambers said. “Not one house of prostitution was shut down, nor one potential prostitute kept out of the city by this code section.”


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