A large massage company, its franchises and its employees are implicated for covering up sexual assaults reported by more than 180 women, according to an investigative report by BuzzFeed News published Sunday.
Massage Envy and its franchisees ignored or mishandled many of the claims, and they offered settlements that kept allegations from public scrutiny, BuzzFeed reported.
There are 11 Massage Envy locations in or near Kansas City, according to the company’s website, and 1,170 locations nationwide.
Among the dozens of sexual assault allegations at the hands of Massage Envy masseurs outlined in the BuzzFeed article:
An Oregon woman alleged in a lawsuit that a massage therapist forced “what is believed to be an entire fist inside of her” and ejaculated in her face.
A therapist in Pennsylvania rubbed his erect penis against Susan Ingram’s body, groped her breasts and penetrated her with his fingers, according to BuzzFeed. The therapist, James Deiter, later pleaded guilty to sexually molesting nine women, two of whom tried to warn the spa about his transgressions before Ingram was assaulted.
A woman in Florida said she tried to push away a massage therapist who was licking her vagina.
Danielle Dick, one of the women featured in the BuzzFeed article, wrote on Medium in October that after she was sexually assaulted at Massage Envy, the manager said the company would “handle it internally.” Dick wrote she never heard back from Massage Envy. The therapist was convicted.
And in California, a woman having a prenatal massage said her therapist began to suck her nipple.
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.
Massage Envy in a statement Monday said the complaints documented by BuzzFeed 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.
Massage Envy’s training materials allegedly instructed its employees that the ideal goal in sexual assault cases is to “avoid police and keep membership,” according to a civil lawsuit brought by Ingram.
After being assaulted, Ingram told BuzzFeed that she left and called an employee at the spa, who refused to pull Deiter out of his next session with another woman. The employee asked Ingram to return to the spa to report what happened.
“I said to her, ‘Nicole, he stuck his fingers in my vagina less than an hour ago,’” Ingram said in court, according to BuzzFeed.
The employee later testified that she was following company policy by asking Ingram to return to the scene of the establishment where she said she’d been sexually assaulted. The employee also testified that upper management did not recommend reporting the incident to police and company policies did not suggest she needed to do so.
On Monday, a Washington, D.C., woman came forward during a news conference after being identified as Jane Doe in court proceedings. Tara Woodley said she was sexually assaulted by a Massage Envy therapist, Habtamu Gebreselassie.
“It is almost impossible for me to find the right words to express how violated I felt and how scared I was,” Woodley said recently, according to Patch.
Woodley filed a $25 million lawsuit earlier this year against Massage Envy for covering up sexual assaults, according to WJLA, a D.C.-based ABC affiliate.
Her attorney, Kim Brooks-Rodney, alleges that Massage Envy had previously received complaints about Gebreselassie and that he was transferred from one Envy location to another after a client accused him of sexual assault, Patch reported. Woodley said she was assaulted after Gebreselassie was transferred.
“This lawsuit is about change,” Brooks-Rodney said at the conference, according to Patch. “It’s about making day spas safe, it’s about never again (happening) to another woman.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.