More than 180 women have filed police reports, lawsuits, and other official complaints alleging that they were sexually assaulted by therapists at Massage Envy spas, according to a disturbing report in Buzzfeed News.
Massage Envy, which boasts about 1,200 spas across the country, is the largest massage chain in the United States. Though the company promises its clients a relaxing, indulgent experience, BuzzFeed has uncovered “dozens” of reports of nonconsensual oral and digital penetration, and more than 100 reports by women who say that massage therapists groped their breasts and genitals, or committed other forms of sexual assault.
One woman, Susan Ingram, told the publication that her therapist “ground his erect penis against [her] body,” “groped her breasts,” and “put his fingers in and out of her vagina.” Court documents show that two other women had complained to the spa’s management about the therapist, but he was not fired from his position at a Massage Envy location in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The day changed my life forever,” Ingram told ABC News in an emotional interview. “I was just totally traumatized with sadness, pain, sobbing.”
Another woman speaking to ABC News said a massage therapist put his hand over her mouth and assaulted her as she lay on the table. “You never think something like this is going to happen, it’s the farthest thing from your mind,” Danielle Dick told ABC News. Dick is suing Massage Envy. She said she reported the incident at the time it occurred to the manager on duty, but was rebuffed. “Each time I said ‘We need to call the police,’ she [the manager] responded by saying, ‘Massage Envy will handle it internally,’” Dick said. Eventually, she went to the police on her own and her assailant was arrested and convicted.
Massage Envy operates on a franchise model, and it has said in court that it is not liable for any misconduct claims because each franchise is responsible for its daily operations. “We hold franchise owners accountable to our policies and, when we say nothing is more important to us than treating clients with respect and giving them a safe, professional experience, we mean it,” Melanie Hansen, general counsel of Massage Envy Franchising, told BuzzFeed.
But the new investigation has revealed that the company’s corporate office instructs franchisees to conduct “prompt, fair, and thorough” investigations of misconduct, but it does little to guide them through the process of doing so.
“Honestly, they don’t really prepare you for that serious of a scenario,” Kendra Simone, a former Massage Envy operations director, told the publication. Instead, she said, employees were taught how to keep incidents from escalating to negative publicity.
For the most part, local laws do not require franchisees to report sexual assault to the police. Yet representatives of the American Massage Therapy Association told BuzzFeed that it “strongly encourages” anyone who “feels there may be inappropriate behavior” to contact the authorities. Or as Ben Benjamin, coauthor of the book The Ethics of Touch, told BuzzFeed, “If a person says, ‘Someone put their finger in my vagina,’ of course you call the police.”
Read the full report at BuzzFeed.