US’ largest chain of massage spas Massage Envy has faced nearly 200 different allegations of sexual assault from customers, a new report reveals. Some of the accusers say the company’s staff offered free sessions in return for keeping silent.
A recently published report by BuzzFeed highlights hundreds of allegations of sexual assault against a nationwide massage spa franchise, Massage Envy, which boasts nearly 1,200 locations across the country and a reported 1.65 million monthly customers. The report comes amid a flood of revelations of sexual misconduct among high-profile politicians and celebrities in the US.
Although violations by Massage Envy therapists occurred at different times and at different locations, the customers’ stories sound very similar. The women told reporters they were caught off-guard, with assaults mostly occurring in the midst of routine appointments.
Susan Ingram, a Pennsylvania resident, described how she was relaxing with her eyes closed during her 7th massage with therapist James Deiter back in 2015 when suddenly the man groped her breasts and penetrated her vagina with his fingers.
“The day changed my life forever,” Ingram told BuzzFeed. “I was just totally traumatized.”
Deiter was later sentenced to up to 13 years for assaulting Ingram and eight other women. When arrested, he reportedly admitted that he “needed help” during questioning by police.
But what Ingram and other women who accuse the company’s employees of similar violations find most disturbing is that when they tried to report the crimes, the management was reluctant to cooperate. Rather than alert the police of wrongdoing within its spas, Massage Envy repeatedly attempted to deflect customers’ complaints and to dissuade them from calling the police.
“[The internal review policy is] in place to protect the company. It’s centered around defusing the situation so the client doesn’t call the police,” one former manager explained.
In many cases victims have filed charges and perpetrators of assaults have been found guilty and convicted. Adam Horowitz, a lawyer who has filed several lawsuits against Massage Envy, stressed that the massage business had its own built-in risks.
“Just like there was opportunity in the priesthood,” Horowitz said, “there’s opportunity in the massage room. When you get a massage, your guard is down completely. You’re not expecting to be violated.” He said.
Massage Envy in a statement referred to the incidents described in the report as “heartbreaking” but said that it isn’t liable for assaults taking place at the spas because the individual locations are franchises, meaning there are currently no protections in place for customers.
“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,” the company said.