SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — More than 180 people across the United States have filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports and other sexual misconduct complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees and the national company, according to an investigative report by the website BuzzFeed News.
The website reported that many of those who complained believed their claims were mishandled or ignored by employees and owners of individual Massage Envy spas and by the national company.
Dozens of women reported digital and oral penetration. More than 100 reported that massage therapists groped their genitals, groped their breasts, or committed other explicit violations.
Adam Horowitz, a lawyer who has handled more than two dozen sexual misconduct lawsuits involving Massage Envy, said Monday that he received 25 calls from alleged new victims following the report’s publication.
The claims represent only a fraction of the tens of millions of services Massage Envy says its franchises have provided, BuzzFeed News reported.
Lawyers for spa clients told BuzzFeed News that there are cases of women reporting massage therapist abuse to police where no arrests have been made with Massage Envy spas offering settlements before lawsuits have been filed, leaving no public record.
Massage Envy in a statement Monday said the complaints documented by BuzzFeed News spanned a period of more than 15 years and said each account was heartbreaking.
“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 company said.
Melanie Hansen, general counsel of Massage Envy Franchising, told BuzzFeed News that the company has worked hard to create the industry’s “most stringent, rigorous policies” for hiring, screening, and training therapists.
“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,” she said in an email to BuzzFeed News.
Except in some places where local laws might demand it, the company does not compel franchisees to notify law enforcement or to hire qualified investigators to help determine what happened, BuzzFeed News reported.
The company tells franchisees they must conduct their own “prompt, fair, and thorough” investigation of any abuse or misconduct claims, but BuzzFeed News reported it provides little guidance on how to do so.
In court filings and in public statements, Massage Envy said it is not liable for sexual assaults that take place at the spas because of the nature of the franchise arrangement, BuzzFeed News reported. Spas control their own day-to-day operations, Hansen said, including figuring out how best to investigate inappropriate conduct.
The franchise network, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, has nearly 1,200 spas across the United States, collectively employs 20,000 massage therapists and has 1.6 million member clients nationwide.
Employees undergo background checks and are told of a zero-tolerance policy about inappropriate touching but Hansen said “there are no policies in any business that can ensure that an employee of a business will not break the law.”
The American Massage Therapy Association said massage therapists who inappropriately touch clients should face legal consequences and that people who think they have been victimized should call police.