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What are examples of sexual abuse in spas?

Most instances of sexual abuse during massage therapy occur between male massage therapists and female clientele. However, there have also been instances of female massage therapists being sexually assaulted by male clientele, as seen in the new report on Ravi Zacharias, head of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and supported by former Vice President Mike Pence. It is important to note that sexual abuse in spas can happen regardless of your gender or position (i.e., whether you are an employee or a client). Examples of sexual abuse in spas include:

  • Unwanted touching anywhere on the body
  • Any form of penetration or manipulation of the genitals
  • Any other unwanted conduct, including requests for sexual acts

Getting a massage at a wellness center should be a relaxing and rejuvenating experience for your body and mind by relieving muscle soreness and reducing stress. In recent years, however, many allegations have come to light about sexual abuse in massage parlors and spas, including claims by clientele against individual massage therapists and the institutions that employ them.

If you have been the victim of unwanted sexual advances in a massage parlor or spa, contact an experienced sexual abuse attorney to learn about your rights and the path to recovery.

How common is sexual abuse in massage parlors and spas?

Instances of sexual misconduct complaints in massage parlors and spas have increased in recent years and reflect these overarching statistics related to sexual abuse and rape:

  • On average, one person is sexually assaulted in the United States every 73 seconds.
  • 1 in 6 women in the U.S. has been the victim of a rape or attempted rape.
  • 1 in 33 men in the U.S. has been the victim of a rape or attempted rape.
  • 9 out of 10 rape victims are female.

Claims of sexual assault in spas happen throughout the country and are not isolated to just one or two franchise locations. Investigators have found instances from New York to central Alabama, from central Alabama to San Francisco, and from California to Atlanta and the surrounding Atlanta area. The franchise network allows for companies to effectively expand; however, the nature of the franchise arrangement allows franchisees to get away with failing to implement appropriate policies for the safety of others.

Recent Cases of Sexual Abuse in Spas

In recent years, investigative news report that major companies have many sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations against their employees. Some examples include:

  • Massage Envy

To date, more than 180 women clients claim sex abuse against Massage Envy Spas and their employees, as seen in the BuzzFeed News article reporting these startling facts. The victims have filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state licensing board complaints against the national company and multiple Massage Envy locations. An investigative report in 2017 revealed that almost 200 reports of sexual assault, including lawsuits, police reports, and licensing board complaints, had been filed against Massage Envy employees and franchisees. Despite a new policy that Massage Envy’s corporate office instituted in response to the investigation, the company continued to shield itself and did not require franchise owners to take active steps toward preventing or remedying instances of sexual abuse by employees. In fact, many authorities and abusers kept their jobs within the company.

Massage Envy and owners of individual Massage Envy spas have been settling lawsuits alleging sexual assault by male massage therapists since 2002. Even as recently as last year, 2020, Massage Envy continued to ignore complaints of abuse against its massage therapists by not requiring franchisees to report those complaints to law enforcement. Despite the policies kept in place to shield their company, Massage Envy may still be held liable for the failure of franchisees to protect clients and for the actions of their massage therapists.

Charles Russo worked as a massage therapist at the Ritz-Carlton spa in New Orleans, Louisiana. Accused of unwanted sexual contact with a woman’s feet as she lay on his table for a massage appointment, Russo was arrested and charged with sexual battery. Detectives later learned that even though he had been disciplined before for a similar incident with a different client, the spa continued to employ him. He was later sentenced to a six-month suspended sentence, two years of active probation, and was required to undergo sex therapy counseling.

  • Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa

Similar to the allegations against Massage Envy chains, Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa has faced numerous lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of their clientele by massage therapists. Most of the lawsuits have been brought against the massage therapists individually, although the company is likely to face liability as well.

  • Abuse against female massage therapists

Ravi Zacharias, a former famed evangelist ministry leader, was accused several years ago of numerous instances of sexual misconduct. The victims were several massage therapists who alleged that he inappropriately touched them and raped one of them over a five-year period. Three of the female massage therapists were employed at day spas that he co-owned.

What Should I Do if My Massage Therapist Touched Me Inappropriately?

Why is sexual abuse in massage parlors and spas underreported?

Much like other instances of sexual assault, sexual abuse in massage parlors and spas is usually underreported due to feelings of confusion, guilt, or embarrassment. Typically, spa clients are required to sign a consent waiver. However, just because you sign a consent waiver for a massage does not mean that you are consenting to any unwanted or unauthorized touching, groping, or other forms of sexual advance. These establishments are meant to be a place for a professional experience. However, when rigorous policies are not in place to protect clients, there must be legal consequences. You can and should refuse any activity that you do not want and remove yourself from any situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, regardless of whether you signed a consent waiver.

Dozens of women who are victims of abuse have come forward against massage businesses, prompting sexual misconduct lawsuits. If you are a victim of sexual assault while receiving a massage, it is crucial that you report the assault to local law enforcement to start your claim. You may be able to file claims or state board complaints against the perpetrator and the institution.

What should I do if my massage therapist touched me inappropriately?

Even though it may be hard and there may be difficult questions, it is essential to report the sexual abuse right away. If you have experienced inappropriate conduct by a massage therapist, you should:

  • Report the sexual conduct – File a police report and lodge a complaint with the company that owns the establishment.
  • See a doctor – Schedule an appointment with your doctor for a physical examination related to your sexual assault. Take photos of any related body marks.
  • Gather information – Compile any documents you may have related to the date of the abuse, including appointment details, receipts, phone call recordings, or spa membership information.
  • Record what happened – Write down what happened and any details you can remember, including names, dates, address, and other information about the spa where the abuse occurred.
  • Contact an attorney – A lawyer experienced in spa sexual abuse cases can help you learn about your rights under local laws, manage your claims, and seek damages on your behalf.

Who can I hold liable for the sexual assault?

There are multiple parties that a survivor of sexual abuse at a spa can hold potentially liable. Some of these parties include:

  • Abuser – A perpetrator of sexual abuse can face criminal charges as well as civil liability for the physical and emotional damages caused by their actions. Lawsuits against the abuser may result in revocation of their professional license, jail time, and monetary penalties.
  • Owner and operator of the massage parlor or spa – Businesses and owners are responsible for ensuring that their clients are safely interacting with their employees. Owners and operators of these businesses can be held civilly liable for failing to take preventative measures to protect their clients from sexual abuse. Victims can demonstrate that the owner and operator failed to adequately implement screening, instructing, and other processes while hiring and training therapists and the franchises’ employees.
  • Franchise – For large spa chains, the leading franchise can also be held civilly liable for damages resulting from their negligence. Massage Envy, for example, has been held liable for concealing complaints of sexual abuse in their spas from law enforcement, licensing boards, and the public.

Most national companies are required to have policies in place to ensure that employees respect client boundaries. These policies often include background checks on potential employees, closely monitoring and adequately training employees on proper behavior, and reporting and investigating any claims of misconduct.

Unfortunately, some large employers, such as Massage Envy, have ignored complaints of sexual abuse against their massage therapists and continued to employ these individuals, making themselves liable to claims of negligence. Under most negligence laws, if the massage parlor or spa had previously received complaints about sexual misconduct by a massage therapist and continued to employ that therapist, they can be held negligent and face civil penalties.

What kind of claim can I file if my massage therapist sexually assaulted me?

If you have experienced sexual abuse at a massage parlor or spa, you may be able to file civil claims and criminal charges against the perpetrator. In most cases, you can bring criminal charges against the individual who assaulted you, but you may also be able to bring civil claims against the establishment where the perpetrator worked.

Criminal vs. Civil Claims

Criminal claims of sexual misconduct are usually accomplished by using law enforcement investigations in filed reports. They will be brought by a prosecutor on behalf of the victim and are typically against the individual perpetrator. The perpetrator can face fines and jail time because of their actions.

On the other hand, civil claims are filed by private individuals, most often through an attorney. Civil claims alleging sexual misconduct in spas may seek damages against the massage therapist for their actions as well as the spa owner and the franchises for negligence. Civil claims allow victims to attempt to recover medical expenses or compensation for pain and suffering resulting from the incident through civil courts. Court filings can be an overwhelming, confusing process. However, the best way to ensure that you file the right documents in a timely manner is by consulting with an experienced lawyer.

How much compensation can I receive if my massage therapist abused me?

Compensation varies on a case-by-case basis and will often depend on several factors, including:

  • Medical expenses or other financial support for therapy or other treatment related to the trauma of the abuse
  • Amount of lost wages or employment benefits if you are unable to work due to physical or psychological injury
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment in hobbies or activities you enjoyed prior to the abuse

When do I have to file a claim?

The statute of limitations to pursue criminal charges or to file a civil lawsuit related to sexual abuse depends on which state you live in. In most states, you have two years from the date of the abuse to bring forward a lawsuit. Some states also have statutes that may provide additional time for filing against the spa or massage parlor that employed the perpetrator. It is vital to contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn about the time frame you have to file a claim.

Should I contact a sexual abuse attorney?

Yes. A knowledgeable law firm can review the facts of your case and explain your legal rights. They will handle all communications with the massage parlor or spa, make sure all the necessary documents are filed on time and will advocate for your rights against the individuals or companies involved.

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse in a massage parlor or spa, contact Herman Law to learn about your options.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, we want to help. Contact us confidentially today.