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 were the victim of unwanted sexual advances in a massage parlor or spa, contact a sexual abuse attorney to learn about your rights and begin the path to recovery.
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’s 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; and
- Any other unwanted conduct, including requests for sexual acts.
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 in New York, Central Alabama, San Francisco, Atlanta and the surrounding area, and other regions. The franchise network allows for companies to effectively expand; however, the nature of the arrangement allows franchisees to get away with lackadaisical safety protocols and subpar policies for preventing sexual abuse.
Recent Cases of Sexual Abuse in Spas
In recent years, investigative news reports have highlighted the fact that many large, well-known companies often have many sexual assault and harassment allegations against them and their employees. Examples include:
- Massage Envy
To date, more than 180 female clients have filed sex abuse claims against Massage Envy Spas and their employees, as seen in the BuzzFeed News article reporting these startling facts. The victims 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 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, in 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 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, authorities arrested and charged Russo with sexual battery. Detectives later learned that even though he faced discipline previously for a similar incident with a different client, the spa continued to employ him. A court later sentenced him to a six-month suspended sentence and two years of active probation, and required him 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 likely faces liability as well.
- Abuse against female massage therapists
Ravi Zacharias, a former famed evangelist ministry leader, faced accusations 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 held employment at day spas he co-owned.
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 doesn’t mean you’re consenting to any unwanted or unauthorized touching, groping, or other forms of sexual advance.
These establishments should be a place frequented for a professional experience. However, when rigorous policies aren’t in place to protect clients, there must be legal consequences. You can and should refuse any activity that you don’t 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’re a victim of sexual assault happening at a massage parlor or spa, it’s crucial you report the assault to local law enforcement. You may be able to file claims or state board complaints against the perpetrator and the institution itself.
What should I do if my massage therapist touched me inappropriately?
Even though it may be challenging and you may have to undergo difficult or embarrassing questioning, it’s essential to report the sexual abuse right away. If you’ve experienced inappropriate conduct by a massage therapist, you should:
- Report the sexual misconduct – File a police report and a complaint with the company that employs the massage therapist.
- 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 or injuries.
- 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 victim 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 employees are safely interacting with their clients. 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, guidelines, and other processes while hiring and training therapists and 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 faced liability 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 previously received complaints about sexual misconduct by a massage therapist and continued to employ that therapist, they can be held liable and face civil penalties.
What kind of claim can I file if my massage therapist sexually assaulted me?
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse at a massage parlor or spa, you may be able to file criminal charges or a civil lawsuit 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 initiated by contacting law enforcement who perform investigations and, if warranted, issue a warrant for the perpetrators arrest. Documentation is compiled in an arrest report, and generally speaking, this information is publicly available. Victims file reports in criminal cases, and cases are brought by a prosecutor on behalf of the victim. Prosecutors often file criminal cases against the individual perpetrator. The punishment is often fines and jail time.
On the other hand, civil claims are filed by private individuals, most often through an attorney. Victims filing 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 recover medical expenses or compensation for pain and suffering resulting from the incident through civil courts, in addition to fines and jail time that may be ordered in a criminal proceeding.
Court documents and the procedure for filing such can be overwhelming, and the process confusing. However, the best way to ensure that you file the correct documents in a timely manner is by consulting with a lawyer experienced with handling sexual assault claims.
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 costs for therapy or other treatment related to the trauma of the abuse;
- Amount of lost wages or employment benefits if you’re unable to work due to physical or psychological injury;
- Pain and suffering; and
- 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 the state in which you live. In most states, you have two years from the date of the abuse to file a lawsuit. Some states also have statutes that provide additional time for filing against the spa or massage parlor that employed the perpetrator in certain circumstances. It’s vital to contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn about the time frame you have to file your claim.
Should I contact a sexual abuse attorney?
Yes. A law firm knowledgeable about sexual abuse or assault cases can review the facts of your case and explain your legal rights. They’ll handle all communications with the massage parlor or spa, ensure the timely filing of all necessary documents to assert your claim, and advocate for your rights against the individuals or companies involved.
If you were the victim of sexual abuse in a massage parlor or spa, contact Herman Law today to learn about your options.