Recently BuzzFeed said that more than 180 women around the USA have complained they were sexually assaulted by massage therapists at Massage Envy. Some of the women filed lawsuits which have since settled. Since the announcement, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has subpoenaed a number of documents from Massage Envy locations in that state, as well as from corporate headquarters in Arizona. Madigan is looking for corporate policies, employee training, information about lawsuits, sexual misconduct complaints, and how employees are vetted.
We will see if any corporate officers get charged with a crime. (A recent episode of our Law Sisters podcast explains the difference between civil and criminal sexual assault)
Over the years our law firm has represented a number of women who were sexually assaulted during a massage, so we have noticed a pattern. From what our clients have told us, and the evidence in our lawsuits, we have the following advice.
Before you go, check the therapist’s credentials.
- Look for reviews online, and study them carefully. Check especially for negative reviews. Often they don’t indicate anything, but sometimes they do.
- Check several places online. Check Yelp, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. There may be more. So, do a Google search also.
- Check the company’s hiring policies and its background search policies. If the company is not willing to give you this information, go elsewhere.
- Don’t assume because it’s not a chain you will be safer! We have represented women who were assaulted in chain massage therapy businesses and in smaller family-owned spas. Predators go where the patients are.
Tell someone where you are going.
This is good advice in general, but especially important when you are about to lie naked under a sheet in the presence of a stranger.
Check the exits.
Once you get to a new facility, or even one familiar to you, check your surroundings. Plan ahead for how you will escape a bad situation, fighting, kicking and screaming if you need to.
Check for others in the office or spa.
Make sure you are not alone in a building or in a suite of offices with someone unless you thoroughly trust that person. On top of getting you to lie on a table in front of them unclothed and behind a closed door, massage therapists and other providers like chiropractors also often work alone and at odd hours. It’s a perfect environment for a predator.
Check your gut.
When you get there, if something makes you feel uncomfortable, either before the massage or after it has started, do not stay! You do not owe the therapist an apology. Simply say, I need to leave now.
If your therapist says something to shame you, he’s the wrong massage therapist.
Several victims we know have told us about massage therapists mocking them because they wanted to stay partially clothed or covered. This experience should be about making you, the customer, feel comfortable. There is nothing wrong with modesty and a massage therapist who shames you, rather than respects you, doesn’t deserve your trust.
If something does happen, avoid second-guessing your response.
You can never predict accurately how you will respond to a sexual assault. Some of the strongest women I know have laid still and quiet. However, you got through it just realize the choices you made enabled you to survive so they are to be respected, first of all by you.
If you are touched without permission or put in fear of harm, report it to law enforcement immediately.
Even if you are not sure you want anyone to get arrested you can and should still make a report. Law enforcement officers usually are trained be patient with victims. You may find that the police are familiar with your perpetrator and have just been waiting for more evidence so they can stop him.
With a few precautions, all your massages can be relaxing and enjoyable.
Handling cases of personal injury, wrongful death, sexual harassment and sex abuse, and workplace injury and mistreatment, Leto Copeley has been listed in Best Lawyers in America since 2005 and included in the list of North Carolina Super Lawyers published by Law and Politics Magazine since 2006. She has also been listed as one of the top fifty women lawyers in North Carolina by the same magazine.