King Spa on Central Avenue

Two illicit massage businesses, King Spa and A Spa, were shut down recently due to charges against the owner for running a sex ring in town. 

This is a problem that many say plagues Billings. Now, the state legislature is passing bills to fight this issue. 

According to the FBI, there are seventeen illicit massage businesses in Billings, and more than thirty throughout the state. 

We spoke with Penny Ronning, city council member and Co-chair of the Yellowstone County Human Trafficking Task Force. She said the women involved in Billings sex rings, are victims of human trafficking. 

"What we know is that inside these illicit massage businesses are victims of trafficking. They are forced there though typically through circumstances so it may not be forced through a gun to their head but their circumstances are such that they have no other choice," said Ronning. 

Ronning added, human trafficking is a multi-million dollar, organized crime, business. 

"Right here in Billings, Montana we know one female in one illicit massage business will generate $3,800 to $18,000 a month for that business that's right here in Billings, Montana," Ronning said.

According to Ronning, Montana is fourth per capita in the nation in human trafficking because these traffickers know the state is vulnerable. 

"So one of the things and one of the reasons why they are as prolific as they are in Billings and in the state of Montana is we have not had law that gives opportunity for law enforcement to get through that door," said Ronning. 

On Wednesday, House Bill 749 sponsored by Representative Daniel Zolnikov passed which would revise human trafficking laws and target these massage therapy businesses. 

The bill would provide funding for two agents with the division of criminal investigation to form a human trafficking enforcement team. 

It would also require massage businesses to display the license of each massage therapist working at the business, and it would allow law enforcement to enter the business at any time during business hours to ensure compliance. 

Ronning said this legislation would help give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on illicit massage businesses, but the Billings community is also part of the problem. 

"Most importantly is we have buyers here if we did not have buyers who were buying these victims we would not have this crime but every person that buys one of these victims is complicit to this crime continuing in our community," said Ronning. 

This is the second bill to passed related to sex trafficking. Senate Bill 147 carried by Senator Margie MacDonald, is waiting to be signed by the governor. That bill focused on targeting pimps and prohibits non-intercourse sexual activity. 

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