Getting a massage is supposed to reduce your stress levels, and can potentially offer a variety of other health benefits. It’s a valuable care option for many individuals with chronic illnesses, and an affordable special occasion splurge for those trying to fit a luxurious escape into a busy schedule and tight budget.
Millions of Americans frequent massage parlors every year for various reasons, and the last thing anyone wants to think about during this ritual of relaxation is being on guard against an attack that could cause them permanent physical and psychological harm.
But as industry insiders have long known, and as most of the general public only recently found out, massage facilities have a miserable track record of protecting their clients from sexual assault.
Assault-Enabling Policies Have Not Truly Changed
The issue of sexual assault in massage parlors gained significant news coverage in November of 2017, when reports surfaced of more than 180 sexual assaults at Massage Envy spa locations across the country. These reports also brought to light Massage Envy’s corporate policy of protecting the brand at all costs, by dismissing customer complaints, refusing to involve law enforcement or state regulatory boards, and harassing any survivors who took legal action.
Once the scandal became too big to contain, the company’s self-preservation policies simply took a new form. Breaking with its usual tactic of denying all responsibility, Massage Envy instead made some superficial policy changes and claims of cooperation.
The new policy requires that accusers be given an opportunity to make a private call to the authorities, but it does not require location managers to make any reports themselves. It also calls for annual therapist background checks, which serve no purpose as long as therapists’ crimes go unreported, making those crimes impossible to discover through said background checks.
Perhaps most importantly, Massage Envy’s policy applies only to Massage Envy itself, and not to the systemic issues with the massage industry as a whole, such as:
A limited pool of qualified therapists that has not kept pace with demand, making facilities unwilling to be selective about hiring and retaining staff
Managers with no knowledge of appropriate massage techniques or training on how to handle incidents of criminal behavior
Services being performed in private rooms with no cameras or witnesses
Absence of federal regulation and uneven, inadequate regulation on state and local levels
Here in Georgia, for example, the board of massage therapy claims that it can’t possibly be expected to keep a record of massage therapists’ crimes, even when those crimes have received a conviction or high-profile news coverage. This indifference to regulating the massage industry, the very purpose for which the board supposedly exists, shows no signs of improving after recent events.
Massage Parlors Are Responsible for Keeping You Safe
Survivors of sexual assault often experience self-doubt and misplaced guilt. When an individual or business benefits from survivors’ silence, preying on these feelings is a common tactic. Massage Envy’s own lawyers once made a policy of accusing survivors of inviting sexual assault through their own negligence, simply by using the spa’s services.
In many cases, survivors also worry that they don’t have the grounds to accuse their attackers because they themselves did not do enough to fend off the assault. On the contrary, freezing is a common involuntary response to a sexual threat, part of the fight, flight, or freeze instinct. Finding yourself unable to fight back in the heat of the moment is not a sign of weakness or cowardice, and most importantly, it is not equivalent to consent.
Everyone has the right to be free from unwelcome sexual contact. If that right has been violated, the fault lies, at the very least, with the perpetrator and never with the victim.
In the case of sexual assaults in settings like massage parlors, the company usually shares culpability as well. In spite of all claims to the contrary, businesses are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure client safety. Failure to take misconduct complaints seriously and remove therapists who pose a known threat to clients is an egregious breach of that responsibility.
It’s normal to feel afraid and disoriented after a severe trauma, but make no mistake: you are in the right, and you deserve to be heard. Coming forward with your claim can protect potential future victims, and ensure that you have the resources you’ll need to cope with the long-term effects.
The Cost of Sexual Assault
There are many forms of sexual assault, and depending on your specific situation, you might end up facing unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and genital or internal injuries. Regardless of whether there are physical effects, you may also find yourself struggling with lifelong psychological symptoms, including:
Difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy relationships
Self-destructive impulses up to and including suicide
Support from a team of medical professionals can make a huge difference in your recovery, and the level of care you receive should not be limited by your ability to pay.
What to Do If You’ve Been Assaulted
First of all, get to a safe place and call 911. Make a full report to law enforcement, and get a full medical exam, even if you feel physically uninjured. Once your immediate needs are met, it may also be helpful, for the sake of records, to register a direct complaint with the massage company and the state board.
Do not take a quick “hush money” settlement or allow yourself to be intimidated into believing that what happened to you was unimportant, impossible to address, or your fault. Finally, reach out to the legal experts at the Stoddard Firm, online or at 678-RESULT, for a free consultation on how we can help you find justice.
Tell us about your concern and request a free, no obligation, confidential legal consultation.
Two important bills in Georgia’s fight against sex trafficking passed the State Senate on March 8th, the General Assembly’s crossover day. These bills will now advance to the House for further debate, and could well become law in the near future. The first, Senate Bill 33, explicitly protects sex trafficking survivors’ right to sue their traffickers for monetary compensation, plus legal costs.