There are variations on this scenario. Maybe you have a license to practice massage therapy, have undergone all the requisite training, and have been educated in the legality of the profession. Maybe you haven’t. What matters is that you sometimes offer your clients sexual services during the massage. Instead of one hundred percent of your time being devoted to massage therapy, your attention becomes split between massage and other activities. One day, an undercover law enforcement official enters your business posing as a client. They might have contacted you online and chatted already, or they might be simply posing as a walk-in customer. Instead of offering anything extra, you provide a professional massage and make no other suggestions.
If you have done your job in a professional context and haven’t solicited any sexual contact, is it possible for the New York police department to arrest you and gather evidence for the DA to build a case?
You might be surprised to hear that the answer is yes, and the New York penal code specifically allows law enforcement to charge you with committing a felony.
Unauthorized Massage Practices and Unlicensed Massage
To provide massage therapy in the state of New York, you need to have a valid and current license to practice within the state. A license in another country or even a bordering state isn’t good enough. New York law codifies unauthorized massage practices as a sex crime. If you give someone unlicensed massage therapy, you could be charged with a class E level felony. While this is the lowest tier of felony classifications, it carries a potential punishment of four years in prison.
New York law specifically criminalizes any individual who engages in unauthorized practice of any profession for which the state requires that you get a license. Certain professions must have a license to practice. Some examples would be a doctor, lawyer, or dentist. Health and law professionals are expected to have licenses to practice because they need to prove that they’re competent to be trusted by other people. The same principle applies to massage therapists. If you want to be a massage therapist in New York, you need a license, and there’s no way around that. The wording of this law doesn’t single out unlicensed massage therapists, which means that they can be prosecuted with the same harshness or lenience as other unlicensed medical professionals.
There’s also a class E felony in New York law for assisting or abetting a minimum of three people who have not been licensed to practice a particular profession. For example, if you run a massage parlor and knowingly hire multiple people who you know don’t have proper licenses, you could be charged with a felony. The more brazen your misconduct, and the more people you aid, the harsher the penalties will be.
Prostitution Versus Unlicensed Massage
People must have a license to give massages in a professional context. That means that if you offer to massage someone or advertise yourself as a person capable of massage therapy, you’ve already committed a crime classified as a class E felony. Unless, of course, you have an actual massage therapy license.
Unlicensed massage therapy is not specifically considered a form of prostitution under New York law. However, there are often legal ramifications that may be related to prostitution. Law enforcement will often target sex workers like strippers by charging them with offering unlicensed massage therapy if they can’t find evidence to charge them with prostitution. It’s a form of active and malicious targeting. If you’re in this kind of situation, it’s vital that you speak with a defense attorney immediately. Don’t tell the police anything without your attorney in the room with you.
If you have been engaging in a profession that requires licensure, and you don’t have a license, you should talk to a criminal defense lawyer before you continue to engage in your practice. Even if you don’t think you’re being investigated, the risk is greater than the reward.