- More than 180 people have accused Massage Envy massage therapists of sexual assault, BuzzFeed reports.
- However, the problem extends beyond a single company, with several other massage therapy franchises facing similar allegations.
- Critics say under-trained employees and a lack of oversight could be contributing to the prevalence of sexual assault reports against massage therapists.
Dozens of allegations of sexual assault by Massage Envy massage therapists could be just the tip of the iceberg of problems plaguing the massage therapy industry.
On Monday, BuzzFeed News reported that more than 180 people had filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state board complaints against Massage Envy and its employees.
Reporter Katie J.M. Baker uncovered allegations of massage therapists touching women’s genitals or breasts without consent, as well as other instances of sexual assault, such as grinding against or ejaculating on customers.
Troublingly, BuzzFeed reported that Massage Envy employees often brushed off customers’ reports of sexual assault. In fact, Baker reported that in more than one instance, Massage Envy continued to employ massage therapists who had been accused of sexual assault.
While the claims against Massage Envy are horrific, they could be part of an even bigger issue in the massage industry.
Investigation into any major massage chain in the US reveals a number of sexual assault claims.
Customers at Massage Heights – a company with more than 100 spas nationwide – have filed at least 10 lawsuits and complaints after alleged sexual assaults. Massage LuXe, with more than 50 locations, also has a number of lawsuits filed against it. Hand and Stone, another massage chain with more than 100 locations, has similarly been accused in a number of cases.
Some people argue that the franchises’ business model could be contributing to the prevalence of assaults.
Massage Envy and other franchised massage chains have helped make massages increasingly accessible and inexpensive across the US. However, some say that massage therapy is an industry that requires a certain level of understanding and experience that some franchisees may lack.
“You can’t compare running a fast-food joint to laying your hands on someone’s body,” Gina Liccardo, a New York City massage therapist, told BuzzFeed News.
BuzzFeed News also reported that there are fewer qualified therapists graduating from massage school. As a result, some fear that franchises are hiring people who should not be allowed to massage customers.
In 2015, a massage therapist started a Change.org petition to call attention to issues with massage franchises, specifically those that underpay employees. In light of BuzzFeed News’ report, many massage therapists have taken to social media to speak out against brands that they believe have a negative impact on the profession.
“As a high integrity male working as a professional therapist, I am glad the insane lack of oversight while hiring is being addressed,” one man posted on Facebook.
As an [licensed massage therapist] this is so upsetting,” wrote another person. “People come to me for relaxation, healing, and safety. This tears that all apart and tarnishes a profession where a majority are health care workers.”
For Massage Envy’s part, the company told Business Insider in a statement that it “will never stop looking for ways to help our franchisees provide a safe environment at Massage Envy franchise locations.”
“The article references 180 reported incidents,” the statement continued. “These occurred over a span of 15 plus years and 125 million massages. But, we believe that even ONE incident is too many, so we are constantly listening, learning, and evaluating how we can continue to strengthen our policies with respect to handling of these issues.”
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