Over 180 women are claiming they were sexually assaulted at Massage Envy locations across the country and the company is being accused of covering it all up.
In a feature on BuzzFeed news, several women have come forward to speak out against Massage Envy and share some truly frightening experiences.
Susan Ingram was visiting her Massage Envy masseuse James Dieter for the 7th time when he sexually assaulted her on the massage table. Susan called to warn Massage Envy about what happened and to have Dieter fired, but the manager refused to even removed Dieter from the massage session he was currently in. The manager also asked Susan to return to the office to discuss membership services.
Susan, instead, called the police.
When police arrived, Dieter immediately confessed, saying "I need help." In court, Dieter confessed to molesting 9 other women while working at Massage Envy. Unfortunately, Susan Ingram's story is fairly typical of Massage Envy's disregard for customer safety.
But Massage Envy relies on a reputation of safety. Massage Envy is a membership-based massage chain. Like a gym, clients pay a monthly membership fee.
This revolutionary idea helped Massage Envy become a huge franchise.
With almost 1200 locations across the United States and Australia, Massage Envy has 1.6 million members nationwide, and earns $1.3 billion in annual sales.
One of the biggest concerns for a spa offering massage services is safety, because... duh...
Massage Envy insists they work hard to have the most rigorous hiring policies in the spa industry. Melanie Hansen, general counsel of Massage Envy Franchising, told BuzzFeed News “We hold franchise owners accountable to our policies and, when we say nothing is more important to us than treating clients with respect and giving them a safe, professional experience, we mean it,”
However, they didn't mean it.... In court filings and legal documents, Message Envy's corporate offices deny they are liable for what happens at their spas, since they are run day-to-day by franchise owners.
Many women have reported that their claims of assault have been swept under the rug by Massage Envy. In 2015, Danielle Dick was assaulted while her mouth was covered by her massage therapist at a Massage Envy location in Virginia. He told her it would be "their little secret."
After telling the manager what happened, Danielle was told the franchise would handle the case internally. The next day, a Massage Envy employee called her to say, “We understand you are unhappy with the massage experience” and that they wouldn’t charge her for it.
If it seems like Massage Envy's employees aren't trained to handle something this serious, it's because they aren't. A former operations manager for Massage Envy said, “Honestly, they don’t really prepare you for that serious of a scenario.” She added that employees learned to prevent negative publicity but not how to investigate claims of assault made by customers.
Massage Envy routinely promised women who claimed they were touched inappropriately that the company would handle it internally. There's only one small problem with a company handling their sexual assault complaints internally: sexual assault is crime!
Massage Envy's franchise system also encourages owners to silence victims. Massage Envy's risk management guide for franchise owners recommends avoiding involving the police and making sure customers don't cancel their memberships.
California woman claims that the therapist who assaulted her is still employed by Massage Envy. After filing her complaint, she didn't hear back for nearly 2 weeks. She was also charged for an extra two months of her membership that she had cancelled.
The franchise system also means that Massage Envy is hiring a few unqualified massage therapists. While demand for massage therapists grows, research shows schools are graduating fewer qualified therapists in recent years. As a result, franchises are not able to be as selective as they might want to be.
A consultant who has worked with Massage Envy on this issue told Buzzfeed, “You have to be human first. You have to think if your daughter or mother or aunt or grandmother came to you with a claim, how would you react?”
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