• sexual assault allegations in massage therapy industry

Dark room, closed door, lack of clothing and a stranger. It’s a recipe for vulnerability otherwise known as a massage.

Across the country, that recipe has produced bitter results for women sexually assaulted by massage therapists.

In Arizona, two women accused Aaron Frank Orrico of sexually assaulting them in a Sedona spa and won a $4.9 million judgement from a jury in Yavapai County Superior Court. Orrico also was convicted in criminal court in cases involving three women.

In four Massage Envy franchises in California, four women have filed suit against the company in San Mateo County Court saying it covered up accusations of sexual assault and ignored the “known risk of assault they posed to customers” by transferring them to other locations and allowing them to keep their jobs after allegations of misconduct. 

Massage Envy is the largest employer of massage therapists in the country, according to American Spa. A 2017 investigation by BuzzFeed found 180 cases where Massage Envy clients alleged sexual abuse by filing lawsuits, police reports or complaints with other officials.

The parent company has adopted rules requiring that therapists accused of wrongdoing be removed from the schedule while an investigation is done by a third party.

But the National Center on Sexual Exploitation says the company has a ways to go – the non-profit group has called on Massage Envy to drop its requirement that clients waive the right to sue, even in cases of  intentional wrongdoing on the part of employees.

Courtney Leigh Winston, a Richmond attorney with Christine Pendelton & Associates, P.C., has two cases filed against Massage Envy franchisee Amsden Group, LLC,  and a massage therapist in Chesterfield County, Va. Winston said one client was assaulted in 2018 when the therapist digitally penetrated her. The client sent a detailed report about it to Massage Envy about 24 hours later. 

Her warning went unheeded, Winston said, and the therapist raped a different woman soon after that report. 

“The fact they allowed the person to go back to work and have an opportunity for battery of the second person was pretty mind blowing,” Winston said. “Both women were on the (massage) table. He helped himself to violate them.” Massage companies should be careful about whom they hire.

Just as society wants to be careful about who works with children and the elderly, “we also should be careful about who works with people who are vulnerable,” Winston said. “When things like this happen, people are not in the best position to respond. You don’t have clothes on, so it’s not like you can jump up and run out.”

If you have questions about this topic or need assistance filing a claim, Newsome Melton can help. Contact us at 1-888-380-2809.