Massage Envy promises reforms after reports of sexual assault

Woman sues Massage Envy over sexual assault
Woman sues Massage Envy over sexual assault

Massage Envy will roll out reforms after its workers were repeatedly accused of sexual assault.

The national massage chain said Tuesday that it will strengthen background checks for its massage therapists and help customers report misconduct to authorities.

Massage Envy will also work with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the anti-sexual-violence organization, to come up with better policies and a victim support network.

"It's been extremely tough to reconcile who we are as a brand and how we feel with the gut-wrenching accounts of clients who have been sexually assaulted," CEO Joe Magnacca told reporters on a conference call. "It has shaken us, and we are looking for ways to do more."

BuzzFeed News reported last week that more than 180 people have filed "sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state board complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees, and the national company."

Related: Woman says she was sexually assaulted at Massage Envy

One woman, Tara Woodley, told reporters at a news conference that she was assaulted at a Massage Envy in Washington in September. She said that near the end of her session, the massage therapist started performing oral sex on her without consent.

"I was panicked. I was fearful," said Woodley, who filed a civil lawsuit against Massage Envy. "I didn't even know how to respond in that situation."

Massage Envy told CNN last week that it does not comment on litigation, but provided a statement in response to the BuzzFeed investigation.

"The article references 180 reported incidents," the statement read. "These occurred over a span of 15 plus years and 125 million massages. 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 was created in 2002 and has almost 1,200 franchise locations. It claims to be the largest chain of its kind.

Magnacca, the CEO, on Tuesday described a plan for "meaningful change," to be carried out in coming weeks.

Among those reforms:

-- Massage Envy will require updated, annual background screening for its massage therapists. It is also using a third-party company, Universal Background Screening, to run background checks in real time.

-- The company will require franchisees to give any client who alleges sexual assault the contact information for local law enforcement, along with a private room to make a call.

-- It will create a list of "independent third-party resources" meant to help franchisees investigate claims. Massage Envy said it expects to have an initial list "in the coming weeks."

-- RAINN, the anti-sexual-violence group, will review Massage Envy's policies and procedures and recommend changes. The network will also help the company with victim support.

-- Massage Envy will create a Safety Advisory Council to oversee safety and support standards. The council will include a representative from RAINN and a woman named Danielle Dick, whose blog post about a sexual assault at a Massage Envy location helped call attention to the problem.

Dick called the changes a "victory."

"Their plan includes everything for which I advocated, and I feel confident that it represents a major step forward in preventing sexual assault and supporting victims," she said in a statement.

RAINN'S vice president of consulting services, Kati Lake, said the organization looks forward to partnering with Massage Envy. RAINN has in the past worked with other companies on best practices, including Royal Caribbean Cruises.

"Culture change doesn't happen overnight," she said. "It's something that happens when people are dedicated to making it happen, and to taking the steps that we know are needed to provide a safe environment for all of our community members."

Asked why Massage Envy decided to make the changes now, Magnacca said the company's "perspective has changed."

"From our perspective, this is something that we deal with each and every year," Magnacca said. "And although we've been able to focus on the issue and reduce incidents over the years, I think the appreciation that we currently have today is very different. And certainly in this environment, it's forced us to re-look and rethink if we're doing enough."

Magnacca added that the company's job will be to "earn trust for the brand." While he would not give specifics about how many customers Massage Envy has lost, he said the company has noticed a "moderate" drop-off in membership.

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