At a time where women everywhere are bravely raising their voices against sexual misconduct and exposing the magnitude of the problem, one of the largest spa chains in the country has found itself at the center of a massive controversy involving prevalence of sexual assault and abuse incidents at its locations across the United States.
More than 180 women have filed lawsuits and police complaints against Massage Envy and its employees, alleging they were molested, groped and even sexually assaulted during their massage sessions, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation. In almost all instances, the company either failed to take notice or completely ignored claims when the customers informed them of what happened in the dark room.
One of the accusers, identified as Susan Ingram, shared the harrowing details of her experience at her local Massage Envy in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The incident took place during her seventh session with a highly recommended masseur named James Deiter, who was reportedly in his 60s. Although he had massaged Ingram before, this time he rubbed his genitals against her and then proceeded to grope and penetrate her with his fingers, Ingram said.
“Ingram lay there, frozen in fear and disbelief, until the session was over,” the report said. “After driving home sobbing, she called the spa to report the sexual assault. She was shocked when the manager refused to interrupt the session Deiter was having with a female client, Ingram said, or to connect Ingram with the spa’s owner.”
The manager also told Ingram to come back to the massage center to discuss the session. Instead Ingram reported the assault to police who then interviewed Deiter, prompting him to confess his crime. The next year, he pleaded guilty to sexually molesting a total of nine women while working for the company.
As it turned out, two of his other victims had also reported their respective assaults, but the company took no actions because both women, just like Ingram, had made the allegations over the phone while the “official” Massage Envy policy dictates the company cannot to do anything until the customers personally came in to report assault.
“I was following the policy of Massage Envy,” the owner said, according to BuzzFeed, “and therefore I thought it was appropriate.”
According to BuzzFeed, Massage Envy's training materials make it clear the company's brand is to be protected at all costs. Managers received no training in how to effectively deal with assault accusations, other than to avoid negative PR.
Deiter was just one of many employed and reportedly protected by Massage Envy, which would enter the names of the offending therapists in the database, but would do little to fix the situation. More often than not, the accused masseur would only be transferred to a different location.
The exposé also included an agreement requiring franchisees to purchase insurance “that protects them and the national company against at least three sexual assault claims per year.”
Massage Envy, a billion dollar franchise with more than 1,100 franchises in 49 states and more than 20,000 employees, released a statement to address the allegations.
“Even one incident is too many,” the statement said. “That's why we will never stop reinforcing to our franchisees the importance of a safe environment. It's why we are constantly listening, learning and looking at how we can do more, including how we support franchised locations with best practices in handling these incidents and supporting their clients.”
Soon after the story, a number of people took to social media to share similar experiences:
I had a #massageenvy membership many years ago and terminated it because I was sexually harassed by a male masseuse. When I reported they said they’ve “had that complaint before”. - and you’re still employing him?! I was appalled.— Krizia (@KriziaBajos) November 26, 2017
When I tried to report my incident, the women on the phone told me I should've said something sooner and that they have a new staff so it'll be better now. This is after they've kept my membership going for months after the agreement ended. #MassageEnvy https://t.co/elOqbeKpCS— D Fontaine (@DaniFontaine86) November 26, 2017
Absolutely credible. I know a woman who reported a similar incident to the #MassageEnvy manager, who didn't take it seriously.— (((Larry West))) (@LarryWest42) November 26, 2017
But she didn't want to go to the police, for obvious reasons.
Probably thousands like that. https://t.co/55pM2jdbK5
The reaction on Twitter was swift:
#MassageEnvy No background checks? Totally awful business sense. It is always about money first clients second. Demand background checks for this line of work.— David Diaz (@ddiaztechie1) November 26, 2017
@MassageEnvy at risk of losing my monthly membership as it tries to hide behind being “franchise” business. McDonalds and #CFA have clear policies and procedures for franchises, why not #massageenvy ? https://t.co/jJBsuWx92j— Chanda White (@ChandaWhite) November 26, 2017
So wait, @MassageEnvy, if protecting your clients from #sexualassault that happens in a session at YOUR shop by one of YOUR masseuses isn’t your responsibility, whose is it? #MassageEnvy @buzzfeed https://t.co/Rz5bBVxV4M— Nessa Anne (@NessaAnne13) November 26, 2017
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