More than 180 women are accusing Massage Envy therapists of sexual assault. The women say therapists groped them or performed other sexual acts without their consent, according to an investigation by BuzzFeed News.
Susan Ingram filed a police report after massage therapist James Dieter sexually assaulted her during a 2015 session at a Massage Envy in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was highly recommended by spa staffers, according to reports.
Dieter pleaded guilty to sexually molesting nine women and is currently serving time in jail, according to BuzzFeed. Two of the women who were victims in Dieter's criminal cases also complained to the spa about Dieter. The investigation found that "more than 180 people have filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state board complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees, and the national company."
Ingram is now a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit against Massage Envy. The case is expected to go to trial in January. Additionally, she is pushing for federal legislation to require massage spas to report all sexual misconduct allegations to police.
Advocates worry that the sexual abuse is continuing at Massage Envy and other massage chains.
“Some have kept massage therapists on staff, even after multiple misconduct complaints,” BuzzFeed News reported. “Others have quietly fired therapists without reporting their offenses to police or state regulatory boards, allowing the therapists to move on to new professional opportunities with a clean record."
Ingram believes Massage Envy is not taking appropriate steps to protect clients.
“Massage Envy is a partner in crime,” Ingram told BuzzFeed. “They had every opportunity, on multiple occasions, to remove him from his position, and they chose not to.”
The company is owned by Roark Capital, a private equity firm that also owns Carl's Jr. and Arby's. Headquartered in Arizona, Massage Envy has more than 1,100 locations, employs 20,000 massage therapists and pulls in more than $1.3 billion in sales annually, according to reports.
According to owners, Massage Envy is a franchise, and that limits the parent company's involvement in daily operations, BuzzFeed reported. In a statement, the company also pointed to a "long and honorable" track record as an American business. Massage therapists also reportedly undergo background checks and training to learn what is appropriate behavior.
Former employee Kate Hardy told BuzzFeed that internal policies are designed to protect the company, not the client.
It’s centered around defusing the situation so the client doesn’t call the police," she said. "You don’t want cop cars showing up at your location the next day.”