Major US Massage Chain Hit With Sexual Assault Scandal

Nearly 200 complaints, suits filed against Massage Envy for assaults, mismanagement of complaints
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 27, 2017 9:08 AM CST
Major US Massage Chain Hit With Sexual Assault Scandal
In this Aug. 13, 2014, photo, Massage Envy staffers offer foot therapy at an International Spa Association event in New York.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

What one would expect when frequenting a place called Massage Envy: a massage. What one absolutely wouldn't expect: to be sexually assaulted. Yet per an investigation by BuzzFeed, the nation's largest massage franchise chain, its employees, and individual spas have racked up more than 180 police reports, lawsuits, and state board complaints alleging sexual assault is exactly what happened to paying customers. These accusations—which document groping, oral and digital penetration, and other unwanted contact—not only bring to light the alleged sex crimes, but also what customers say was a mishandling or blatant ignoring of their complaints by staff, franchise owners, and the parent company. But although Massage Envy provides training and sets operational standards, it argues that since each franchise is independently operated, the parent company shouldn't be liable in such cases.

BuzzFeed notes most states don't require massage providers to report sexual assault claims, and its look at Massage Envy's policies found the company not only doesn't mandate its franchises do so, but also doesn't offer much direction about what to do at all; most guidance focuses more on avoiding bad PR for the company. However, Ben Benjamin, the author of massage ethics book, says reporting such claims is a no-brainer. "If a person says, 'Someone put their finger in my vagina'"—which one woman says she told a Massage Envy manager after her assault—"of course you call the police," Benjamin says. Massage Envy cites "pending litigation" as the reason why it wouldn't get into specifics with BuzzFeed, but its general counsel notes "nothing is more important to us than ... giving [clients] a safe, professional experience." More here, as well as one customer's essay on her experience. (More sexual assault stories.)

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