What Should You Do if a Massage Therapist is Sexually Inappropriate?

 by Adam Horowitz

istock_000000762120mediumThe lawyers at Farmer Jaffe Weissing have decades of experience practicing in the area of sexual assault.  Combined, they have represented hundreds of sexual abuse survivors.

We are particularly experienced in representing survivors of sexual assault in the massage therapy setting and have obtained justice in numerous cases against large national chain spas such as Massage Envy, luxury hotels, and local spas.  In some cases, we have represented multiple victims of a single massage therapist.  It is often the case that after one client comes forward with her account that additional victims of the same perpetrator gain the courage and strength to come forward as well.  There is strength in numbers and having the courage to expose your perpetrator may provide support to other victims in telling their story.

Mosr recently in July 2014, a disturbing news story emerged from Jacksonville, Florida where a female client was allegedly sexually assaulted during a massage appointment by her massage therapist at the Massage Envy location on Roosevelt Boulevard.  According to the media report, the massage therapist grabbed the c lient’s breasts and then tried to perform oral sex on her.  What makes this case especially newsworthy is that the same massage therapist reportedly faced a similar charge in 2011 from another female client while working at the same location.  Yet, in response to the most recent allegation, Massage Envy cited its “zero tolerance” policy for abuse.  No explanation was offered by Massage Envy as to how this massage therapist’s employment despite a prior history of alleged sexual misconduct complied with the “zero tolerance” policy.  This report certainly raises questions about the applicaiton of a “zero tolerance” policy at Massage Envy franchises and other locations

All sexual contact by massage therapists during a professional setting is prohibited.  For instance, Section 480.0485, Florida Statutes, provides as follows:

Sexual misconduct in the practice of massage therapy. — The massage therapist-patient relationship is founded on mutual trust. Sexual misconduct in the practice of massage therapy means violation of the massage therapist-patient relationship through which the massage therapist uses that relationship to induce or attempt to induce the patient to engage, or to engage or attempt to engage the patient, in sexual activity outside the scope of practice or the scope of generally accepted examination or treatment of the patient. Sexual misconduct in the practice of massage therapy is prohibited.

In most jurisdictions, sexual contact by a massage therapist is a crime and can result in the massage therapist losing his professional license.  In addition to contacting a civil attorney to find out your rights, there are others to whom you should report a sexual assault by a massage therapist:

1. Notify the police department or other law enforcement agency in the city where the massage occurred.   It is important that you report the assault in full detail to criminal authorities so that the massage therapist can be exposed and held criminally responsible where appropriate.

2. Notify the Department of Health in the state where the massage therapist is licensed.  You should submt a report in writing detailing all inappropriate contact initiated by the massage therapist.  Remember — it is not your fault that the massage therapist touched you in a sexual manner and it is not your fault if you did not immediately stop the perpetrator.  When you go into a massage, you are expecting a relaxing experience from a trained professional.  You are not expecting the massage therapist to initiate sexual contact.  In most jurisdictions, the Department of Health or Board of Massage Therapy will commence an investigation of the massage therapist upon receiving a sexual assault allegation.  The Department is authorized to impose a variety of remedies, ranging from removing a message therapists’ licenses to suspension to public reprimand.  Sanctions against a massage therapist may become a public record and you can protect other clients from being exposed to a potential sexual assault reporting an assault to the Department of Health.

3. Contact a therapist.  After a traumatic event, it is typical to have feelings of anxiety, stress, intrustive thoughts, depression, restlenesses or fear, making it difficult to adjust or cope for some time afterwards. In particular, survivors of sexual trauma may experience severe feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While it is natural to have some of these symptoms after a traumatic event, if they last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, it might be PTSD. As important as it is to notify an attorney and civil authorities about a sexual trauma, there is no subtitute for also receiving therapy from a trained professional.

If you have a been a victim of sexual assault in a spa or during a massage, or if you know someone who has, please contact our law firm at (954) 524-2820 or send an email to attorney Adam Horowitz at [email protected].