How Massage Envy's Sexual Assault Epidemic Could Have Been Curbed

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According to a disturbing investigative report published by BuzzFeed News, over 180 women have reported being sexually assaulted during sessions at Massage Envy.

The assaults were reported at Massage Envy locations across the country, but a common thread is clear: Directors, managers, and front desk employees don't receive any training that helps them properly handle reports when clients approach them for help.

Although no statistics are readily available, BuzzFeed suggests that a small number of massage therapists may choose the profession because it gives them access to victims.

"An inordinate amount of people are attracted to massage therapy because of sexual interest," lawyer Adam Horowitz told the outlet. "Just like there was opportunity in the priesthood, there’s opportunity in the massage room. When you get a massage, your guard is down completely. You’re not expecting to be violated." (Horowitz has represented plaintiffs in cases against both Massage Envy and the Catholic Church.)

Certainly the vast majority of massage therapists enter the field for the right reasons, but it's disturbing that Massage Envy's training doesn't touch on how to handle sexual misconduct when it does occur. Training slides obtained by BuzzFeed show several possible complaints that clients may file — and one (a therapist sending a flirtatious text to a client) is noted as a fireable offense. Sexual assault is glaringly absent.

Furthermore, the outlet notes that Massage Envy employees aren't obligated to contact law enforcement when a client reports that a crime has occurred, even if that crime is rape. The women interviewed by BuzzFeed said that, when they did attempt to speak to managers and other employees, they were stonewalled.

Of course, questioning sexual assault victims requires very specific training and expertise. It's been noted many times, including in a recent report by Rolling Stone, that even law enforcement frequently fails victims. It's unreasonable to expect a manager of a massage chain to learn all the correct tactics when a sexual misconduct report is filed, so what's truly shocking here is that employees aren't trained to immediately hand these reports over to police.

It could also be argued that they're actually discouraged from doing so. One of the most damning documents obtained by BuzzFeed is a Massage Envy communication guide from 2014 that provides steps for how to handle client complaints. They're advised to ask themselves questions such as "Who is responsible?" and "Can it happen again?" But the only question that's described as "crucial" is: "Could it negatively impact Massage Envy’s Spa Brand?"

It appears the company has failed both its customers and its employees when it comes to handling sexual misconduct reports. Now that this news has come to light, let's hope that Massage Envy (and massage parlors everywhere) puts the most obvious rule possible in place and require that employees notify police immediately if a client reports sexual violence.

Refinery29 has reached out to Massage Envy for comment.

If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).