Sunday, April 2, 2023

Wilmington’s ‘moral’ massage parlor laws are anything but relaxed

A way to unwind for some could actually be against the City of Wilmington's own laws (Port City Daily/File)
A way to unwind for some could actually be against the City of Wilmington’s own laws (Port City Daily/File)

A 1962 Wilmington law prohibits men from getting a massage from women (and vice versa); it also requires parlors to hand over detailed lists of employees — and clients — to the chief of police.

WILMINGTON — Getting a massage might seem like an innocent way to unwind from the stress of a long week, but did you know that in Wilmington ordinances regulating the massage industry could mean you’re may be breaking the law without even knowing it?

That’s because of a law dating back to 1962, created to regulate massage parlors, that put restrictions on these businesses in the name of “health, safety, welfare, and morals.”

“To protect the general health, safety, welfare and morals, this article shall regulate the privilege of carrying on the business, trade or profession of masseur or masseuse and the carrying on of the businesses, trades or professions commonly known as massage parlors,” according to city code.

So what does this mean? The code actually goes on to define several different regulations that the city has placed on massage parlors including one that makes it illegal for someone to receive a massage from someone of the opposite sex — unless they have a doctors note — even then, you can’t get more than 10 massages.

According to the ordinance, “No person holding a license under this article shall treat a person of the opposite sex, except upon the signed order of a licensed physician, osteopath, chiropractor or registered physical therapist, which order shall be dated and shall specifically state the number of treatments, not to exceed 10.”

If a doctors note is provided, the massage parlor is still required to keep detailed records of the date and exact time of each treatment given as well as the name of the operator.

As far as treating anyone under the age of 18, once again, a doctors note is required or you could be in violation of city law.

No right to privacy

Did you know that in the city massage parlors have to keep detailed records of all their clients as well as staff? (Port City Daily/File)
Did you know that in the city massage parlors have to keep detailed records of all their clients as well as staff? (Port City Daily/File)

The City of Wilmington’s strict massage parlor laws do little in terms of privacy for both customers and staff.

According to the policy, “All licensees under this article shall file with the chief of police the names of all employees and their home addresses, home telephone numbers and places of employment. Changes in the list of employees with the names of new employees must be filed with the chief of police within seven (7) days from the date of any such change.”

Customers are also not protected by any privacy policy and the salon must keep detailed records of all people receiving treatment and make it available to any member of the police department if asked.


When it comes to enforcing laws such as the massage parlor regulations, police have had very little complaints against parlors in the city.

“Since 2016 we have had four complaints made against massage parlors in our area, however, they concerned human trafficking across state lines. We handed those complaints over to the FBI for further investigation. We have no further info on those complaints,” according to WPD Spokeswoman Linda Thompson. “We went back five years and could not find any citations issued to any massage parlors in our area.”

As far as actually enforcing the puritanical laws, police do adjust their enforcement focuses to stay with the times we live in now.

“As your local police department, our goal is to enforce local, state and federal laws to the best of our ability. There are some laws however that are not monitored as closely as others because of the times we now live in. This particular code was written in 1962 and as a result of our changing times, this code along with many others are currently under review by our City’s legal office to determine their practical application to our current times,” Thompson said.

As far as monitoring the logs of massage parlors, police simply do not do it, but if there was a need for it, WPD would have the ability to use the code for their benefit.

“We do not currently monitor massage parlor logs, however, if the need arises and there is a complaint regarding massage parlors in this area we will utilize the elements in this code and other laws to assist us with conducting an investigation,” Thompson said.

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