Habtamu Gebreslassie, a 24-year-old massage therapist with Massage Envy, is facing sexual assault charges in a Washington D.C. Superior Court. Attorneys involved say that he plans to plead guilty to charges of first-degree sexual abuse and second-degree assault. Testimony has been heard by a grand jury and he is being held without bond. Judge Lynn Leibovitz has denied bond explaining that he could potentially advertise and provide massage services regardless of his location and execute another assault. One woman in D.C. and another in Maryland have reportedly made similar accusations; however, he has not yet been charged in those matters.
James Deiter, a former massage therapist for Massage Envy, recently pled guilty to several assault counts involving female clients at a West Chester, Pennsylvania franchise location. Susan Ingram, an alleged victim, claims to have received multiple massages from Deiter before he assaulted her during a visit. She described her feelings as fearful and shocked when Deiter began groping her. She attempted to report the incident to the location manager but the claim was not taken seriously. Buzzfeed has found several examples where complaints of sexual misconduct were not given the necessary attention that they warrant.
Massage Envy is a leading franchisor currently in the country, employing roughly 25,000 people and has been adamant about their background screening of all therapists. They outlined a multiple point initiative that will require yearly background checks and a provision requiring franchise owners to immediately report any alleged sexual wrongdoing to the local authorities. Although there have been many claims, the organization reminds the public that they have conducted millions of massage services to satisfied consumers since their inception in 2002. CBS News has reported that there have been instances where Massage Envy has reached financial settlements with victims prior to legal actions, thus avoiding any public record of the incident.
Following approximately 180 allegations nationwide, the organization has partnered with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which advocates for the prevention of sexual violence. RAINN will analyze their existing policies and assist with educational programming and improving the practices for reporting incidents. Kati Lake, their Vice President of Consulting Services, said they are looking forward to assisting Massage Envy with needed improvements. It is likely that some cases have gone unreported because many victims of sexual assault never report these actions for various reasons.
Joseph Magnacca, the CEO, voiced Massage Envy’s commitment to the safety of their clients throughout the franchise locations that exist in 49 U.S states. He said that the “heartbreaking stories of sexual assault” have led them to reexamine how they protect their guests. Melanie Hansen, a Massage Envy attorney, says they will have the “most stringent” policies for hiring and screening among those in the industry. They seek to hold those who own franchises accountable for their actions. The American Massage Therapy Association, which represents the industry, reminds consumers to report any behavior deemed as inappropriate to the police.