A Virginia woman made headlines after speaking with local media about being sexually assaulted in a Massage Envy. The spa chain has well over 1,000 locations across the country and reportedly boasts over 1.5 million memberships in the United States and Australia.
But that apparently doesn’t mean it’s trustworthy.
According to a BuzzFeed investigation, more than 180 women have said they’ve been sexually assaulted at the national massage chain, and some victims have already seen their assailants begin their sentences.
The article outlines a number of different assault cases stemming from Massage Envy, and many of them share the same core occurrences.
For example, not only did some of the women say they were sexually assaulted during their massages, but they also reported little to no response or action from the franchise even after reporting it.
In fact, in many cases, according to BuzzFeed, the men who allegedly assaulted clients were permitted to continue working right away.
For Pennsylvania woman Susan Ingram, she wasn’t even able to convince the employees at a West Chester location to remove her massage therapist from his next scheduled massage after reporting what he did to her.
She told BuzzFeed she’d been assaulted by James Deiter. At the time of the incident, Ingram had already had six previous massages with the man, but the seventh time was much different. She said her eyes were closed, as most clients’ are, when Deiter suddenly pushed his erect penis against her body.
He also reportedly groped her breasts before putting his fingers into her vagina.Thelingoatl/Instagram
She said she was in such shock that she was virtually frozen; it wasn’t until after the car ride home — during which she said she was hysterically crying — that she called the Massage Envy to report what he did.
Instead of beginning an immediate investigation, however, Ingram told BuzzFeed the spa manager would not pull Deiter out of his client session.
She later said in court, per BuzzFeed:
I said to her, “Nicole, he stuck his fingers in my vagina less than an hour ago.”
She [the manager] said she could not do that, and she invited me in to talk about my services.
It should be noted his next client was female as well.
Ingram decided to call the police, and Deiter reportedly admitted to sexually assaulting not just Ingram, but other female clients as well. He reportedly told the police:
I need help.
Ingram’s assault happened on May 2, 2015. In 2016, Deiter pleaded guilty to sexually molesting nine women while employed at Massage Envy.
Sadly, Ingram was one of the few women brave enough to involve law enforcement, leaving many of the sexual assault cases hard to track and report on. In fact, two women had reported Deiter’s sexual misconduct to Massage Envy just months before Ingram, but their claims were either deemed not credible or were never followed through on.
According to BuzzFeed’s findings, Ingram’s case is just one of many in which Massage Envy seemingly barely responded, or in some instances, tried to dismiss the victim.
BuzzFeed listed several egregious sexual assault claims made by Massage Envy clients, including reports that an Oregon massage therapist drove his entire fist into a woman’s vagina and proceeded to ejaculate on her, a Florida woman attempted to push away a massage therapist licking her vagina, and one pregnant California woman opened her eyes to her massage therapist licking her nipple.
Shockingly, BuzzFeed found that Massage Envy’s policies look to protect the brand more so than victims. The spa chain doesn’t require its franchises to enforce any action like calling the police or filing a report. Instead, it reportedly encourages employees to conduct their own investigation into a claim to determine credibility.Milkandhoneyhouston/Instagram
A former employee told BuzzFeed:
[The internal review policy is] 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.
Another former employee on the corporate side told BuzzFeed the company has known about the sexual assault issue for some time, saying executives would discuss the outcome “if someone connects the dots of how many sexual assaults have occurred across the country.”
However, the employee told BuzzFeed:
But while I was there, they never figured out a solution.
Massage Envy declined to speak on the details of specific incidents “because of pending litigation” but said:
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.
Melanie Hansen, general counsel of Massage Envy Franchising, told BuzzFeed over 20 franchise agreements have been ended because of inappropriate conduct.
It’s unclear exactly how complicit Massage Envy has been in trying to sweep sexual assault allegations under the rug, but Ingram and seven other women are taking the company to court in January over how they encourage their employees to handle any allegations.
Massage Envy currently holds 67 percent of the franchised day spa market, according to BuzzFeed. But judging by the slew of sexual assault allegations, it might be a giant that’s about to crumble.