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Should prostitution be legalized on Guam?

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by Nick Delgado

With the Government of Guam agencies tasked with regulating and enforcing massage parlors, saying they lack the necessary resources to combat what's happening behind closed doors, it's apparent many have gotten used to turning a blind eye and allowing the sex trade to continue at many of these establishments.

So if there isn't a push to regulate these businesses and ensure people aren't paying for happy endings, the next phase of our investigative series delves into the issue of whether prostitution should be legalized on Guam.

For years, massage parlors have conducted their sex trade behind closed doors without law enforcement shutting them down or Public Health conducting inspections.  The situation has prompted the controversial question - should prostitution be legalized on Guam?

While it's obvious what's going on inside these massage parlors after our de facto tour, with many in the closely-knit island community admitting that they think it's a problem, these illicit acts continue to go unregulated - almost making it seem as if what's happening behind closed doors is legal, since it's so accepted in the community.

Vice-Speaker B.J. Cruz said, "I don't think anybody wants to touch this with a ten-foot pole."  And apparently that's how many island leaders feel when presented with the question of whether prostitution should be legalized.  

Officials weren't so quick to talk about what's been happening for years inside the massage parlors.  Instead they say they're working to address the issue, as Speaker of the 30th Guam Legislature Judi Won Pat told KUAM News, "Oh, gosh, I don't even want to go there. What I'd like to do is work on a comprehensive bill."  She added, "Because of the impending military buildup, I know that there are women's groups that have already approached me also to look at a comprehensive bill as well, and to address that."

And the legislation apparently is necessary since nothing has been done by the very regulatory and enforcement agencies that are mandated to enforce the laws on the books for massage parlors and prostitution.  Both the Department of Public Health and the Guam Police Department cited a significant lack of resources as the reason why inspections have not been conducted in years and why police haven't been cracking down on the sex trade occurring at the majority of these establishments.

Chairman of the Legislative Committee on Public Safety (and vice-chair of Health and Human Services) Senator Adolpho Palacios says he is well aware of the situation, but even he admits that lawmakers won't take action unless there's more of a push from the community.  "So that there can be more pressure on government officials to put funding into this, which I support," he stated.

Added Palacios, "We have a law, let's enforce it. There's no point in having this law and we see people making mockeries of this. Might as well repeal the law. Not that I support prostitution, now there's no way I support that, but we're not going to support that and put teeth into it, which we are not doing enough to do that."

And then there's the message these establishments are sending to the more than one million tourists who visit our island each year.  During our investigation KUAM cameras caught a taxi driver dropping three eager tourists to the Hong Kong Massage Parlor - money in hand and ready for a happy ending.

Guam Visitor's Bureau General Manager Gerry Perez says they've pleaded with the Guam Land Use Commission and the Legislature to remove these types of businesses, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.  "These adult entertainment facilities proliferate the strip," he said.  "It diminishes the brand image that we are trying to articulate to our market in terms of the culture and history of Guam."

And since GVB knows that getting rid of massage parlors isn't likely going to happen, the agency is moving to have these establishments moved to a special designated red light district.

But the speaker disagrees.  "You can't just go and take them out and try to put them in a red light district, because in a sense we are just condoning it," Won Pat chastised.

Meanwhile, Govenor Felix Camacho says the rampant sex trade on the island is an alarming situation, something he maintains needs to be further reviewed.  He said, "I think that it's something that certainly the community has to face and deal with some how or other. I think it's unfortunate. It is there it exist, and somewhere along the line were going to have to take care of it or address the issue."

With GovGuam leaders opposed to legalizing prostitution without some sort of action, massage parlors will continue to sell sex behind closed doors. Tomorrow we round out this special investigation with those legitimate massage establishments that are fighting to stay open and continue their practice in the midst of the illegal acts occurring at dozens of massage parlors around the island.

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