So. I guess we need to talk about Massage Envy. If you haven’t yet, you should read the piece that published early this week.
The situation is pretty terrible. Massage Envy (allegedly) failed to train franchise owners, managers, and therapists on how to respond appropriately to client complaints regarding harassment and assault. Massage Envy also (allegedly) failed to remove therapists who had received complaints, allowing for the therapist assailants to victimize more clients. They were more concerned about the Massage Envy brand than caring for clients.
While Massage Envy was the focus of this particular investigation, this problem certainly isn’t limited to that business. Assault happens in all kinds of massage environments, it is not limited to chains, franchises or large spas. Assailants are male and female practitioners. There are predators and assailants in smaller multi-practitioner offices and individual private practices. Massage is no different from any other profession.
That said, it was the article about Massage Envy, and their failure to properly respond to assault claims against their employee therapists, that got us here. So we’re gonna talk about Massage Envy.
To be clear, there are some parts of the article that I think are badly handled. Quoting a lawyer who has sued a bunch of Massage Envy locations who said ““An inordinate amount of people are attracted to massage therapy because of sexual interest…Just like there was opportunity in the priesthood, there’s opportunity in the massage room.” is just kinda crappy and wrong. And a pretty obvious sign that the author didn’t truly dive into what the massage profession actually is.
On top of Sunday’s report, if you spend 10 minutes talking to current or former Massage Envy employees, you’ll hear tales of clients who assault therapists and yet are continuously rebooked and allowed to return for more massage.
So, yeah. Massage Envy has done a terrible job of protecting both massage therapists and consumers.
Are there wonderful franchise owners who handle client complaints with integrity and respect? Yes. Yes there are. Are there managers who act as true advocates for their employee therapists and fire inappropriate clients? Yes. It is unfortunate that their work will be caught in the shadow of this mess.
Most of us are are ragingly angry for so many reasons.
- Hundreds of clients were assaulted and Massage Envy has done little but attempt to protect their own ‘brand’.
- Massage Envy’s failure to have a real policy for addressing complaints reflects badly on all of us. The work we do changes lives for the better. The application of skilled massage helps people in pain, people with mental health issues, babies at the beginning of life and people at the end of their lives.
- We’re already a profession struggling with identity, consistency and ethics. Now we’ve got to dig out of an even deeper hole.
- Ethical, well-trained male therapists are finding their schedules empty.
Massage Envy failed to protect clients, therapists, and the reputation of our profession.
Further, we are angry because our organizations and publications have been ignoring individual stories of assault (by and to therapists) while purporting to work with Massage Envy to make working environments better, under the guise of giving massage therapists options for employment, and doing so while taking their advertising money.
AMTA and ABMP both took a few days to respond. Many of us feel the response should have been faster, but I would bet they were both waiting and hoping for Massage Envy to hit the ground running with a statement and a plan. That didn’t happen. AMTA released their statement Tuesday afternoon, ABMP on Wednesday afternoon.
At the time of this publishing on November 30, Massage Envy has not responded to the news piece, acknowledged their failure to protect clients from known assailants or addressed how they are going to fix this catastrophe. (Update: Massage Envy published this post late in the day on November 30.)
Both AMTA and ABMP acknowledge the scope of the problem, the negative impact it will have on our reputations, and the desire to see higher standards for training and reporting regarding incidences of assault.
I am disappointed that AMTA has been working with Massage Envy for over a year “with the goal of supporting a better workplace for their massage therapists” and there has been no real change at the franchise level. I would suggest that if the initiative was truly happening, AMTA would have recognized much earlier that Massage Envy corporate has no real protocol for handling client (or employee) complaints. The question becomes: Is your partnership so weakly executed that you didn’t notice the lack of protocol, or did you know, but decide that it wasn’t something a national, professional, relevant organization should attempt to change? I’m not sure how blatant inaction fits into AMTA’s claim to be “the association that represents all massage therapists.” There seems to be a disconnect.
I am disappointed that neither organization acknowledged that is really not news. Rumors have been flying for years. An article was published a month ago (by one of the victims also interviewed for the Buzzfeed piece) describing Massage Envy’s terrible response to her assault, and noting a history of assault issues at various franchises.
I am disappointed that neither organization clarified their financial relationship with Massage Envy, or asserted what leverage they may have to encourage Massage Envy to improve their policies.
Since neither the AMTA nor ABMP have yet introduced any clear initiatives (we may need to take a breath and give them a few weeks, I know), and Massage Envy is hiding under a rock somewhere pretending this never happened, here is my Wish List of Action.
- I want the people in Massage Envy corporate who failed to create real policy and protocol for these situations, and failed to require and enforce that training for franchise owners and staff to be fired. They are directly responsible for the assaults on women that occurred after the first client complaint about any given therapist.
- I want to see new policies created, as soon as humanly possible, for handling claims of sexual assault in an ethical and legal manner.
- I want training to be mandatory for franchise owners and staff, for corporate to enforce that training and hold franchise owners accountable for any failures to comply with the training and application of those policies.
- I want this epic negligence resulting in life-altering trauma to hundreds of massage clients to never happen again.
- I want organizations, schools and publications and event planners to say “until Massage Envy has accepted responsibility for their negligence and instituted a real program for responding to assault claims we will
- not allow Massage Envy at any events
- refuse to allow Massage Envy reps to talk to students
- stop accepting Massage Envy advertising for our publications
- I want all efforts to move forward, aggressively, to raise standard in training, enforcement and reporting of assault.
There are 20,000 MTs working at Massage Envy, many more working at other such businesses, and they need our support. They deserve our support. It serves none of us to abandon our employee colleagues.
- I want all MTs working as contractors or employees anywhere and everywhere to have access to self-advocacy training and tools, including resources teaching how to report colleagues who may be breaking the law or just acting inappropriately.
- I want all schools to make sure new MTs graduate with knowledge and resources to navigate these employment situations.
I want educators to insist that the publications we write for and the organizations we teach for do better. I want us to do this even (and especially) when we take paychecks from these publications and organizations.
Do I actually think all of this will happen? No. Of course not. I understand how business works. I understand the legal system (kinda). Entrenched Corporate Heads will not roll. Massage Envy will not collapse and go bankrupt. Educators will still write articles that appear across from Massage Envy ads.
But it’s my wish list. I encourage you to go make your own and send it to your favorite massage publications and organizations, and anyone that does business with Massage Envy.
As for Michael and I here at Massage Business Blueprint, we want you to know about the other reasons we decided to talk about this. You need to know a few things as we move forward.
ABMP is a podcast sponsor here at Massage Business Blueprint, and I’ve been anxiously waiting to announce that I’ll be writing a regular column for Massage and Bodywork Magazine beginning in the January/February 2018 issue.
This is a dream gig for me. I get to write for a publication and organization I adore and put Massage Business Blueprint in front of a whole new bunch of massage therapists. I’ve been giddy for weeks, just itching to tell you all. My excitement is now colored by the reality of this situation. Massage Envy is a regular advertiser in that publication.
If I hold Massage Envy responsible for repeated assaults on massage clients (and I do), then I must also hold any organization continuing to take their money responsible. That includes ABMP. That includes Massage Business Blueprint if we write articles for the magazine and get paid for that.
As I began to talk with ABMP’s President Les Sweeney in September about podcast sponsorship and various ways we could collaborate, we talked about why I have been hesitant to work with any large organization: I worry that our partners and sponsors will take issue with my occasionally loud and public opinions, and that will affect how we can serve our community. Les assured me that ABMP would only encourage me to keep speaking freely.
I didn’t think that would be put to the test so soon. But here we are.
Since Monday I’ve had two conversations with Darren Buford, ABMP’s Director of Editorial, Design, and Digital Strategy and he has been my primary contact for the new column. I felt nothing less than heard, considered and respected both as a member and a colleague. Even after my unnecessary rant about rape culture, undervaluing of caregiving professions, and the disproportionate numbers of men in leadership in the massage profession. Seriously. Darren deserves combat pay for our phone calls.
Meanwhile, it is the nature of print media that stuff gets done in advance. Our first two columns have already been submitted, the second of which was sent in just this week, in the midst of all this mess. Those columns will run as planned.
If Massage Envy advertising appears in those issues (and I expect it will) we will be donating the pay we receive in equal parts to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and an organization in the massage profession that trains MTs to work in medical environments (I will not name them here as I don’t want them getting mashed up in this).
As this all plays out and we see how Massage Envy responds and how our organizations proceed, we will make decisions about our partnerships and collaborations accordingly.
We encourage all authors, educators, schools, event planners and other businesses serving massage therapists to do the same.
To be clear: I am embarrassed by my own lack of action surrounding this issue. I expect many of my colleagues feel the same way. It should not have taken a Buzzfeed article to incite action. But it did. My own complicity ends today.
We welcome your MINDFUL AND RELEVANT thoughts and feedback in the comments. PLEASE refrain from making broad generalizations that do not apply to every franchise location and trash talking in general.
We invite you to share your wish list with us here, and encourage you to send it to your preferred massage publications and organizations.