Shocking Investigative Pieces by Buzz Feed: 200+ lawsuits against Massage Envy for Sexual Assault
The following articles by Buzz Feed’s reporter, Katie J.M. Baker, uncovered 200+ heartbreaking and terrifying stories of sexual assault by male massage therapists at Massage Envy locations across the United States and the poor policies and lack of transparency by the company which has enabled more abuse at the hands of their therapists.
The first viral report came out in Nov 2017:
Across the US, people go to Massage Envy spas in search of a soothing, affordable escape. More than 180 people say what they got instead was sexual assault. But the billion-dollar company says that’s not its problem to solve. A BuzzFeed News investigation.
On May 2, 2015, Susan Ingram lay facedown in the dark at her local Massage Envy in West Chester, Pennsylvania, one of the franchise’s nearly 1,200 spas nationwide. It was her seventh session with James Deiter, a massage therapist whom the spa had enthusiastically recommended. By now, Ingram trusted Deiter, and she closed her eyes and relaxed as he worked her muscles. Then, without warning, Deiter ground his erect penis against Ingram’s body. He groped her breasts. He put his fingers in and out of her vagina.
Ingram lay there, frozen in fear and disbelief, until the session was over. After driving home sobbing, she called the spa to report the sexual assault. She was shocked when the manager refused to interrupt the session Deiter was having with a female client, Ingram said, or to connect Ingram with the spa’s owner.
“I said to her, ‘Nicole, he stuck his fingers in my vagina less than an hour ago,’” she later recounted in court. She begged the manager to get Deiter’s client out of the massage room immediately. “She said she could not do that, and she invited me in to talk about my services,” Ingram added.
Frustrated, Ingram called the police, who interviewed Deiter that afternoon. He quickly admitted to assaulting not just Ingram but other Massage Envy clients as well. “I need help,” he confessed. The next year, Deiter pleaded guilty to sexually molesting a total of nine women while working at Massage Envy from fall 2014 to spring 2015.
Two of those women had tried to warn the spa about Deiter before Ingram had, court records show. Three months before Ingram’s assault, one woman told the spa that Deiter had touched her genitals. One month before Ingram’s assault, another woman reported he had touched her breasts. The spa decided their allegations weren’t credible, in part because, like Ingram, both women had made them over the phone and wouldn’t return to the spa to discuss the events in person. Lawyers would later ask the spa owner and another clinic manager why they would judge an alleged sexual assault victim on her willingness to return to the scene of the crime.
“I was following the policy of Massage Envy,” the owner said, “and therefore I thought it was appropriate.”
Massage Envy, the first and by far the largest chain of massage franchises in the country, is a billion-dollar business that promises trustworthy services at an affordable price. But BuzzFeed News 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. Like Susan Ingram, many say their claims were mishandled or ignored by employees and owners of individual Massage Envy spas, and by the national company itself.
Dozens of women reported digital and oral penetration. One Oregon woman said her massage therapist forced his entire fist into her vagina before ejaculating in her face. In Florida, a woman said she tried to push away her massage therapist as he licked her vagina. Over 100 reported that massage therapists groped their genitals, groped their breasts, or committed other explicit violations, such as the California woman who saidshe opened her eyes during a prenatal massage to find her massage therapist sucking on her nipple.
A second follow-up report was made August 2018:
Dozens More Women Say They Were Sexually Assaulted At Massage Envy
A mother and daughter said they were both assaulted — in separate rooms — after purchasing a special Mother’s Day package.
Sixteen women claim they were sexually assaulted at Massage Envy spas in two lawsuits recently filed in California and Florida, adding to the hundreds of women who say they were abused by therapists employed by the billion-dollar massage chain.
Their attorney said many of the women came forward after BuzzFeed News’ 2017 investigation, which found that more than 180 women had filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state board complaints against individual Massage Envy spas, their employees, and the national company. Many of those women said their claims were mishandled or ignored.
At least a dozen other people around the country have also claimed that they were sexually assaulted by Massage Envy therapists in separate lawsuits brought since BuzzFeed News’ investigation last year, court records show.
Shortly after the BuzzFeed News report, Massage Envy, the US’s largest chain of massage franchises and employer of massage therapists, announced sweeping changes in how it instructs its spas to handle sexual assault allegations. But Massage Envy still does not require its franchisees to report sexual assault of customers by massage therapists to law enforcement or state licensing boards.
Some of the Jane Doe plaintiffs in the two new lawsuits went to Massage Envy for relief from pain following double mastectomies and spinal injuries, or to recover from childbirth. A mother and daughter came to the spa to celebrate Mother’s Day. Instead, the lawsuits claim, these women suffered assaults on the massage table ranging from groping and digital penetration to vaginal and anal rape.
A July lawsuit filed in San Mateo County, California, includes claims that multiple women were sexually assaulted by two Massage Envy therapists even after those therapists had been reported to their franchisees and the corporate office for sexually assaulting other customers.