I have been watching the recent scandal with Massage Envy evolve and thought about a title all week. I can’t tell you how many times I revised this post going from anger to what can we do. If you haven’t been paying attention because you are busy massaging….. here’s the scoop. But before I write about the details, I want to say this:
To Be Clear.
All Massage Envy’s are run independently and the majority of them get it and take appropriate steps. There are many respectable franchise owners and many many employees providing a great service for many clients. There are about 20,000 to 25,000 employees at about 1000 – 2000 locations ( i saw varying numbers of franchises in different reports) around the US most of who are reputable and trained in dealing with these issues. Now they are left with this image over their business and careers. How will this affect them in the long run? What do their families think when they say they work at or own a ME? ME owes their whole franchise an apology and everyone a very large bonus for allowing this to happen in their franchise. It is the therapists that continue to work there and the owners of the good offices that are hurt the most by this. It is the male massage therapists that work there and other places that will be hurt the most by this. How will this effect the massage profession over all? (Notice I said profession, while franchises tend to call it an industry.)
Here’s the story on the Massage Envy Scandal.
Last Sunday, November 26,2017, this story hit the news. I first saw it in a Yahoo post. The headline reads: How a nationwide massage franchise is dealing with hundreds of sexual assault allegations. The original story as far as I can gather is a new story from Buzzfeed. You really should read that one.
But a review by BuzzFeed News found the company’s policies on reporting improper conduct do more to protect the company brand than to ensure customer complaints are handled appropriately. Customers have been violated in shocking ways, then seen their reports brushed aside, while offending therapists have been allowed to keep their professional standing with no consequences.
The major difference in this case is the way that ME handled (or didn’t handle) the claims. According to the claim, their main goal in handling such cases has been to do everything they can to avoid publicity and save their brand. The Change.org petition Massage Envy needs to support individuals sexually assaulted at their stores and make amends.
One thing we need to recognize in the chaos around all of this is that there are really two separate issues in play here:
1) The industry wide allegations of criminal sexual assaults by *massage therapists, and
2) how massage businesses, of all kinds, respond to these maters when they are brought to their attention.
* One look at these cases by a professional colleague indicated that as many as 30% of these cases found in the national news cycle involved unlicensed sexual predators who were using “massage” as a means of enticing victims into compromised settings.
With this in mind it’s appropriate to recognize that much of what has driven the recent interest in all of this is how Massage Envy responded to these complaints at the franchise level.
According to the Buzzfeed article:
Massage Envy does not compel franchisees to notify police of sexual assault complaints except where such reports are required by local laws. The company requires internal investigations but provides little counsel on how to conduct them, BuzzFeed says.
The main incidence actually happened a few years ago. A ME insider did say that the corporate office was under different management a few years ago and that they were removed because of this.
What you might not know is that in 2015, ME went to AMTA for help with issues of employment and their franchises. ME is paying AMTA for their help on this issue. Their goal was to:
Massage Envy and AMTA will work together on four key areas over the next two years:
- Self-care programs focused on body mechanics, warm up and recovery techniques to empower massage therapists and estheticians to put the same focus on themselves as they do on their clients, so they can continue practicing in the profession throughout their career.
- Continuing education courses which Massage Envy has made free to employees of its franchised locations.
- Training for Massage Envy franchisees and managers so they can better understand the needs of therapists, and more successfully lead and support their teams.
- Career support including research and strategies regarding compensation and career development for massage therapists.
(It seems like they forgot Ethics or it isn’t clear if any of the new training would include Ethics.)
I have many questions around this relationship and they have not been very forthcoming about their relationship and what they are doing and what they are working on? Did AMTA not know that this was a major problem for the ME franchise when accepting their offer for help? Did ME ask AMTA because of this issue in the first place? Who decided to cover this up – ME or AMTA or both? How much are they paying AMTA? What exactly are they doing together?
AMTA was the first response that I saw:
AMTA and Massage Envy entered into a relationship over a year ago with the goal of supporting a better workplace for their massage therapists. We have been discussing the topic of safety for both clients and massage therapists since this past summer—and effective immediately, that will be the emphasis of our efforts moving forward. AMTA is the association that represents all massage therapists, and we don’t want to abandon the 20,000 massage therapists at Massage Envy nor the other 330,000 massage therapists dealing with these issues throughout the profession. Inappropriate behavior impacts the perception of the entire massage therapy profession and cannot be tolerated. AMTA will lead the efforts in advancing a conversation surrounding inappropriate behavior, and a call for a profession-wide discussion will be shared in the near future.
ABMP also issued a response:
To quote from the foreword to our Massage & Bodywork article, “We believe one of the best ways to curb sexual abuse in massage therapy is to sear the problem with bright light and constructive conversation throughout our community.” The BuzzFeed reporting provides a bright light, and a necessary reminder that protecting our clients, our profession, and ourselves is paramount.
As you may be aware, ABMP’s motto is expectmore, which is both an invitation and a challenge. We invite our members and prospective members to expect more than the status quo from any other association or insurance provider, and we challenge ourselves to deliver on that promise. We also expect more from others in this profession; we believe Massage Envy can, will, and must do better going forward. Each and every one of us must be part of the solution and accountable to each other.
ME responded after a USA Today inquiry and said it was “heartbreaking”.
Mid-summer they also had an apology on the Doctor Oz website Statement From Massage Envy on Sexual Assault in Their Stores (who has been a previous keynote speaker at AMTA) which apologizes to the many victims.
Our hearts go out to anyone who has been through this terrible act. We and our franchisees are firmly committed to delivering the therapeutic benefits of massage in a safe environment, and we applaud those who are bringing these issues to light.
Preventing these incidents is a top priority for our business and we’re proud of the work we do to minimize the risk that any such incident could happen in our independently owned and operated franchised locations. We have the highest standards and policies that ensure our franchisees employ a rigorous hiring process, including accredited background checks and compliance with state licensure or certification requirements. Our required training program, including our Behind Closed Doors course, is a model for teaching safe, professional practices, and we expect that the 25,000 therapists employed by our franchised locations treat every client with respect. When a franchisee reports a violation of our Zero Tolerance Policy, our policies make it clear that the franchisee is required to restrict the therapist from working at any of our Massage Envy franchised locations.
We are passionate about giving every Massage Envy customer an exceptional and safe experience. We are also looking beyond Massage Envy and partnering with industry groups and leveraging technology innovations to develop programs that will improve the safety of the entire industry.
Now Massage Envy has a letter right on the homepage of their website.
- Each location was required to review, recommunicate and, in no uncertain terms, recommit to our safety and reporting policies.
- We have just completed an additional review of all massage therapist files to ensure they have a completed background check and professional reference checks as well as to ensure their licensure/certification is current and annual training requirements have been met.
- Our accredited third-party background screening company has begun rescreening each and every one of the 20,000 licensed massage therapists within the Massage Envy network.
So were they not screened originally? Were there not any training courses in place across the nationwide franchise? Why are some owners aware of how to handle these issues and some were not?
How in the world could you not have policies in place on how to handle the bad apples? How has this gone on for so long in the massage profession? Better yet – how did these people get into and through massage school and get a job?
Our professional associations responses are appreciated but not very forthcoming and they continue to dance around the issue and now want to talk about it supposedly, but I won’t hold my breath from my past experiences with these organizations. The fact that they did not NIP this in the bud (see below) right from the start is the most frustrating part. (I was livid all week with anger. )
There is More too this.
As I read the many massage forums with discussions on this, now there are also many massage therapists saying that they were attacked by clients and ME did nothing about it. That will be a whole other thing to address. Does ME and our professional associations know that is going on?
This isn’t just a ME issue. Massage Heights is also getting hit with a law suit . I am guessing that in a few months this will really be widespread with hundreds if not thousands more coming forward. It is OUR issue- the massage profession’s issue. How the professional associations respond matters. How each individual massage therapist responds matters.
In case you were not aware, sexual assault claims are really very common and are found regularly in the Google News Feed. (Type in the word massage and then set up one for massage therapy and have them sent to you in an email for a few weeks. You will be disgusted.)
53 cases were submitted by the WA State Attorney General’s office to the Board of Massage a few years ago, when the Board was working on creating new rules. See: Sexual Misconduct Cases (PDF)
The Board of Massage then created new Rules regarding draping and breast massage to make it clearer that this type of touching and draping are wrong. They said it would help them in prosecuting these types of cases.
No profession is immune from inappropriate behavior and sexual assaults but massage has the added feature of actually applying touch to vulnerable (naked, under a sheet) clients. Sometimes I wonder why we are surprised by all this especially in a profession where touch is being applied often in a dark, warm room. When I asked in my Facebook group, what training are you getting in massage school around inappropriate touch, the answers were….bleak to none…to read a book.
Even in Canada where the education requirements are 2000 hours of education compared to the average 500 hours required in the US, is not immune to problems around inappropriate touch as talked about in this Massage Therapy Canada article.
What else is currently being done in the massage profession
The Attorney General in IL is upping the cause by doing a full out investigation. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has subpoenaed Massage Envy as part of an investigation into whether the company properly handled the allegations according to the Chicago Tribune. I do also know that more Attorney Generals offices have been contacted about this issue.
Ontario, Canada, where the number of hours of education is 2200 as compared to the states average 500 hours of requirements, is creating zero tolerance legislation. (Zero tolerance means handling individual incidences by calling the police, period.)
The Ontario government is ramping up its crackdown on sexual abuse of patients by health-care providers with the passage of Bill 87, which institutes amendments to the Regulated Health Professions Act, “strengthening and reinforcing” a zero tolerance policy on sexual offences by a regulated health professional.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health summarizes the amendments outlined in Bill 87, The Protecting Patients Act, as follows:
- Expand the list of acts of sexual abuse that will result in the mandatory revocation of a regulated health professional’s license
- Remove the ability of a regulated health professional to continue to practise on patients of a specific gender after an allegation or finding of sexual abuse
- Increase access to patient therapy and counseling as soon as a complaint of sexual abuse by a regulated health professional is filed
- Ensure that all relevant information about regulated health professionals’ current and past conduct is available to the public in an easy-to-access and transparent way.
The WA State Board of Massage has also been working to address these issues by creating new laws around breast massage (WAC 246.830.555), draping (WAC 246.830.560) and specific standards of practice outlining what can be touched and what can’t (WAC 246.830.550).
The WA State board has been working on the issue of number of hours of initial education requirements. In WA, it is still 500 hours and has been since about 1990. Cosmetologists require 2000 hours of education. (They hold scissors.) More education will hopefully start to weed out people seeking out a career in massage as an easy way to assault people. Currently the Entry Level Analysis Project- ELAP recommends 625 of initial hours of education which include
At the last Board of Massage meeting our local ME group submitted a document AGAINST raising the number of hours of education saying that it would further discourage people from going to massage school because of the extra cost. They are having a very difficult time finding enough employees to staff their offices as is everyone else in the state and in the US. I told them a few years ago, that the problem was low pay and difficult working conditions. Who would want to go to massage school only to get paid $15 an hour and depend on tips when you can get paid $14.00 an hour at Whole Foods or Jiffy Lube?
NOW who wants to go to massage school with this all over the national news?
In the US, we really need a place to begin to address this issue. Lavon Watson of Watson Consulting Services, recommends an independent research study be done to find our more about the people who choose to cross the lines. There are obviously more men than women committing such acts but are there some women hiding in the wings assaulting massage clients in the dark? We need to know.
Men in the massage profession are taking the brunt of this newstory – should men be massage therapists and should women be going to men to receive massage? How would we screen out the not so ethical ones? I for one suggest that we support the male therapist much more. I even once tried to start a group for men in massage so they could have a closed forum for discussing their concerns. Massage Today has a column – Women in Bodywork – any room there for the guys?
What can we do?
Make this right ME. Fire everyone involved. Prosecute to the fullest extent. Create TV ads for the Superbowl and a follow up ad campaign for the next 10 years to save your brand and maybe give some credibility back to the massage profession.
AMTA/ABMP – open your eyes. Stop accepting money from this company until they clean up their act. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon 20k therapists. You can still support them. It isn’t just about ME anyways. This has gone on way too long all across the US and more needs to be done.
To AMTA/ABMP – set up very specific training for ALL massage therapists and require clinical supervision. Encourage your chapter boards to work with their state boards to create language in their state laws that require such training. Make it for the people thinking about being pervs as well as how to handle pervs on the massage table.
If your local AMTA won’t help, consider starting a new State Association for your area.
To employees of franchises – It is a massage therapists job market right now. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate…whether you want to stay or not is up to you. Even with a good branch and owner, there will be blowback. Make your stand. This is not about you but is unfortunately about a company you work for, whose parent company has brought a dark shadow on the work you do. I know many of you have great jobs there and work for great bosses/owners, so if you want to stay, make sure everyone knows you are different.
To self employed massage therapists – step up your game. You might be getting more clients very soon.
To all massage therapists – choose the company who provides your liability insurance based on where you want your money to go to. Use an intake form and have a statement of informed consent on your website and in your office so they can sign it.
Create REAL massage campaigns like the one that AMTA-WA created in about 2013 but have been unable to promote – REAL massage is Responsible, Ethical, Accountable and Licensed.
This is our wake up call to get our act together and become the profession I know we can be. What will you be doing? This is not just a ME problem, it is the problem of the WHOLE massage profession.
I first wanted to use the video of Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show saying “Nip it, Nip it in the Bud”.
(This calls for action and NOW. Any youngster going wrong, you have to Nip it in the Bud).