Massage is used across the globe to ease physical ailments and promote relaxation. Massage Envy, a U.S. company with over 1,000 franchises, capitalizes on this healing modality by offering members regularly scheduled massages. But over 180 Massage Envy customers claim that instead of offering healing touch, their massage therapists sexually assaulted them. Survivors report that Massage Envy staff offered underwhelming responses to their claims: employees who didn’t express outright disbelief failed to take adequate action to address the women’s serious allegations. These women represent a growing trend of survivors stepping forward to share their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of their massage therapists.
A 2017 investigative report by BuzzFeed News reveals that Massage Envy failed to properly train their employees in sexual assault awareness and response. As a result of this lack of protocol, employees of the billion-dollar business appear to have ignored, minimized or covered-up customers’ complaints of sexual assault. The company’s failure to act on behalf of survivors has enabled perpetrators to claim more victims by allowing them to continue their practice, sometimes relocating the accused to another Massage Envy location. BuzzFeed News reports, “the company’s policies on reporting improper conduct do more to protect the company brand than to ensure customer complaints are handled appropriately. Customers have been violated in shocking ways, then seen their reports brushed aside, while offending therapists have been allowed to keep their professional standing with no consequences.”
Survivors are forced to contend with the physical and emotional wounds of sexual assault. Many victims never report their assault – embarrassment and shame, the anxiety of being doubted, and safety fears all contribute to keeping many survivors silent. Speaking up about sexual abuse takes enormous strength and courage. When survivors dare to speak up and are not believed – when their stories are questioned, minimized or silenced – they are often left feeling isolated, helpless and hopeless. This is how many survivors of sexual assault at Massage Envy report feeling after they shared their stories with the company. NBC News Washington reports that the day after a woman was sexually violated by her massage therapist, she disclosed the incident to management and requested the cancellation of her membership. Rather than honoring her request, or offering any sort of assistance, Massage Envy responded that they would give her a free spa day “as a courtesy,” and informed the woman that the perpetrator had been transferred to another location. Not only has Massage Envy failed to help survivors heal, the company’s negligence and disregard effectively retraumatize victims of sexual assault.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has placed Massage Envy on its 2019 “Dirty Dozen List” – the organization’s compilation of mainstream companies that contribute to sexual exploitation in the U.S. While NCOSE acknowledges that Massage Envy is taking steps to address sexual assault, it calls on the company to do more, including eliminating a waiver that members must sign, limiting their ability to file claims against the company. This form is buried in a slew of electronic paperwork, making its potential importance difficult to discern. As survivor of sexual assault at Massage Envy tells KTVU News, “‘I think that’s a pretty significant piece of information to disclose when you’re presented with an iPad talk about your back or legs hurting and then oh by the way, check this box and sign.’” Massage Envy’s policies and procedures are reminiscent of the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts’ handling of sexual abuse claims. All of these organizations appear more interested in protecting their reputations and bottom lines than they do in promoting the safety and well-being of vulnerable populations.
Sexual predators who work as massage therapists are not only found in large companies such as Massage Envy; they also work in smaller businesses and in private practice. A Goggle search will produce dozens of links featuring massage therapists accused of sexually assaulting their clients. These customers went to professional practitioners expecting healing; instead they were subjected to violence and trauma. It is time we held these perpetrators and the systems that support them accountable for their offenses. If you have been sexually assaulted by a massage therapist, please contact our experienced attorneys to learn how civil law can help you obtain justice.
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