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CBS12 Investigates: Allegations of sexual assault at Massage Envy

CBS12 Investigates: Allegations of sexual assault at Massage Envy. (WPEC)

Allegations of sexual abuse and complaints of inappropriate touching has put Massage Envy back in the news.

There are 1,147 complaints filed with the Florida Department of Health and dozens of local lawsuits filed against the massage therapists statewide.

But, despite legal action over the last decade, the complaints of abuse continue.

Especially in South Florida.

INAPPROPRIATELY TOUCHED

Jaime Wolfthal is still coming to terms with what her massage therapist did.

“I was absolutely stunned and at the same time terrified,” Wolfthal said, “Here I am under a sheet in a dark room, and I just froze.”

Wolfthal said she went to the same masseuse at the same Massage Envy in Boca Raton for six months.

“He was massaging one of my legs, and the next thing I know, he was swiping his hand across my vagina,” she said.

In complete disgust, Wolfthal took legal action.

The massage therapist plead guilty to inappropriately touching of a client.

Now, Wolfthal filed a civil lawsuit against Massage Envy.

LEGAL ACTION

Her case is one of 50, attorney Adam Horowitz is handling.

The lawsuits accuse Massage Envy of leaving clients vulnerable to sexual assault.

“It seems the massage therapy profession attracts people with improper sexual impulses,” Horowitz said.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the number of complaints against massage therapists rose from 503 in 2011 to 1,147 in 2015.

Many attorneys claim background checks are not being done on massage therapists, so those with a history of sexual assault are free to massage clients, allowing sexual assaults to happen again and again.

Horowitz said if a victim decides to file a complaint with the Florida Department of Health, which monitors massage therapists licensing, it is not listed until the massage therapist is charged.

“If you have been accused but not disciplined, it is nowhere on the DOH website,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz said it’s not just the slow response from the state, it is also Massage Envy's own guidelines that hurt the process.

Horowitz said Massage Envy does not have a policy in place requiring reports of sexual misconduct to be reported to law enforcement or to the Department of Health when there’s “inappropriate touch."

Horowitz argues in his lawsuits, that therapists are emboldened by a statement in the Massage Envy handbook that: Only four percent of upset customers will tell you when there is a problem.

“Their massage therapists know even if they are accused of sexual misconduct, unless the victim chooses to report it to police, they may never get caught up in the system and be outed,” Horowitz said.

MASSAGE ENVY RESPONDS

CBS12 Investigates contacted Massage Envy headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona and asked why, despite legal action, the sexual abuse continues to happen.

In a written response, Massage Envy denied any wrongdoing.

The company stated they have a zero-tolerance policy.

If violated, Massage Envy stated they impose serious consequences, including revoking a franchisee's license to operate as a Massage Envy franchise location.

POSSIBLE CHANGES

Wolfthal wants more women to speak up if it happens to them.

“Don’t be quiet. Scream. Scream about it. It is the only way we are going to stop it,” Wolfthal said. “I am angry that it happened. I am angry that it didn’t have to happen, but at the same time, I wonder if it happened to me, because I am brave enough to speak about it.”

Horowitz said he wants to see a panic button required in massage rooms and have the state act more swiftly in alerting the public about pending assault complaints.


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