Massage parlor franchise Massage Envy is facing over 180 sexual assault claims by clients at franchise locations across the country, according to a recent Buzzfeed article.
According to the article, numerous clients said that Massage Envy had a limited to nonexistent response to their claims, and some didn’t seem to know what to do about it or seemed indifferent.
“It was clear that she had no idea what to do,” said client Danielle Dick, describing the response of the desk manager at a Virginia Massage Envy when she told her about a massage therapist who had assaulted her, according to Buzzfeed. “She was like a deer in the headlights.”
Kate Hardy, a former front desk associate and clinic manager at a Massage Envy in Montana, said slow or unsatisfactory reactions to sexual assault claims are due to internal policies. She says an internal review policy from headquarters “is not in place to protect the client.”
Hardy says that “[i]t’s in place to protect the company. It’s centered around defusing the situation so the client doesn’t call the police. You don’t want cop cars showing up at your location the next day,” Buzzfeed reports.
Lawyer Adam Horowitz, who has sued dozens of Massage Envy franchises, says that many Massage Envy therapists are directly out of school and have little experience, and that franchise owners and managers often have no experience with massage. He says it is easy for sexual assault to occur under such conditions.
“An inordinate amount of people are attracted to massage therapy because of sexual interest,” Horowitz, who also represented clients in sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church, told Buzzfeed.
“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.”
At 1,170 locations and 1.65 million members, Massage Envy is the first and largest massage franchise in the United States. Forty-nine states have Massage Envy franchises, and in 2016 the company expanded to Australia, according to Massage Envy’s main website.
An unnamed source who worked in the corporate office told Buzzfeed that inappropriate conduct had the national company scared “if someone connects the dots of how many sexual assaults have occurred across the country.”
In a statement given to Fox News on the Buzzfeed report, Massage Envy stresses that the claims represent a tiny fraction of their overall business.
“The article references 180 reported incidents. 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.”
The assault victims worry that massage therapists continue to be employed and continue to sexually assault new clients as claims against them are ignored or mishandled. Susan Ingram called the police over Massage Envy’s alleged inaction, and the massage therapist, James Deiter, confessed to police. He ultimately pleaded guilty to indecent assault and related counts against nine women.
Ingram is scheduled to go to court with seven other women in January in a case against their local Massage Envy in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Massage Envy’s corporate offices.
In court documents and public statements, Massage Envy corporate claims that it is not liable for sexual assaults that take place at their franchises because of their contract with them, and that each location is independently run, according to Buzzfeed.
Melanie Hansen, general counsel of Massage Envy Franchising, said: “Our right as a franchisor is generally limited to enforcement of our contractual rights under the franchise agreement (and other related agreements), including, when appropriate, terminating the franchise.” Hansen said the company has terminated over 20 franchises for inappropriate conduct.
Attorneys for clients with lawsuits against Massage Envy say, however, that the corporate office is responsible because they set the policies for and provide the training to employees at the franchises.
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