SAIFE Tips: Protecting Massage Therapists

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

An August 2019 Gizmoto article by Brain Merchant exposed the unfortunate practice of companies protecting misbehaving massage clients in favor of repeat business, over massage therapists claims of assault or misconduct. In 99.9% of situations, massage therapists are trained, qualified professionals who genuinely care about the well-being of their clients. Perfecting their technique and participating in the healing process is a top priority that is jeopardized by clients seeking to violate the intimacy that’s created in a one-to-one massage environment.

Here are a few examples of client misconduct that shed light on what massage therapists may endure behind massage room doors.

Client Misconduct Example 1

In Merchant’s article, a woman named Ilene Antelman recalls an encounter with a client who booked her through Zeel, the largest and most popular on-demand massage spa app service. After the session ended, she returned to the room to an exposed masturbating client. Although she reported the incident to Zeel, she felt that her claim was disregarded. The client was not banned from the app and she began to lose other clients in what she deemed a retaliatory practice of the company. See full article here.

Ilene’s story is familiar to many massage therapists who encounter predatory clients seeking extracurricular services beyond the scope of a professional wellness massage.

Client Misconduct Example 2

In a similar ABC News 10 report out of San Diego, two female employees are suing the Grand Del Mar for negligence in preventing harassment, wrongful termination, and retaliation. “The women’s claims involve two spa clients, Steve Hodsdon and Juan Pablo Mariscal, who the women say made inappropriate advances during scheduled massage appointments.” They further claim that the Grand enabled this misconduct by allowing clients to disregard protocols, failing to adhere to zero tolerance policies, and ignoring their complaints.

Client Misconduct Example 3

During our own inquiries into incidents of misconduct, SAIFE representatives spoke with a group of massage therapists about their experience in the field. They have asked to remain anonymous.

One massage therapist recounted an incident in which a man waiting in the lobby demanded a massage from her by shouting, “You, you can massage me now.” Although she attempted to express her discontentment with his behavior, the manager obliged and booked a session anyway. Once in the room, he indecently exposed himself and demanded fellatio. She ignored these requests and finished the customary massage, but ending the session swiftly. The client continued his inappropriate behavior even after the session concluded. In this instance, the manager permitted services without addressing the obvious red flags the client was exhibiting and ignored the massage therapist’s concerns; ultimately, putting her in danger. Thankfully, she was not harmed.

Client Misconduct Example 4

In yet another scenario, the massage therapist encountered a client who began shifting underneath the sheets, purposely stimulating arousal. When she told the manager, the reply she received was, “Oh, not [him], he’s one of my favorites, I really like him.” After discussing the incident with the client, the manager returned and said, “He wants you to know that he’s very sorry and he didn’t mean anything by it.” She got the impression that the manager was not on her side and felt that where she erred was in not directly expressing how the incident and response made her feel.

A #MeToo Convergence?

“Management did not protect us.” This is a common thread amid these stories - a unified voice trying desperately to be heard.

In these incidences, management has instead chosen to place the needs of the business over the needs of the massage therapists that help sustain the business. Their sentiments resonate with the many voices of the #MeToo Movement that have endured oppressive practices by enterprises that value the bottom line above all else. When integrity is traded for profits in such vulnerable environments like a massage room, it’s almost more egregious than the incident itself. Spa managers are accountable for everyone’s safety, especially the massage therapists under their employ.

Here are some great tips on how to best protect your massage therapists against predatory clients. *Based on #ISPA (International Spa Association) recommendations.

Tips to Help Protect Your Massage Therapists Against Client Misconduct

Identifying and Preventing Predatory Clients

  • Adapt and follow a solid screening protocol where you: ask basic questions (name, address, email, phone number) – If they are unwilling or agitated in providing this information, this may be a red flag.

  • Ask questions about their experience with massage.

  • Explain spa policies and procedures.

  • State clearly that requesting sexual services is not tolerated.

  • Identify the language the client uses that causes concern. I.e., be wary of odd questions about your therapists or practices. If you recognize red flags, re-articulate zero tolerance policies.

  • Trust your instincts. If you are uncertain of their intentions, end the conversation and do not book the client.

Making the determination of whether a client is predisposed to inappropriate behavior is more complex than the steps above demonstrate. Although they are good indicators, you cannot be unequivocally certain until a client exhibits clear intentions or an incident actually occurs. And what you do not want to do is wrongly identify a client as a potential predator and unjustifiably ban them!

Obvious Signs of Potential Client Misconduct – Do Not Ignore these Signs!

  • Behavior History - Your spa may have record of a client behaving inappropriately during previous massages; however, they continue to book massages.

  • Verbal Cues - They may blatantly ask if “happy endings are offered here?”.

  • Therapist’s Accusations - When your massage therapists inform you of an incident, believe them, and follow proper reporting protocols according to state laws and your spa’s policies.

Trust these signals and take appropriate action to protect your massage therapists.

More Best Practices

  • Mandate Professional Draping – Proper client hand placement reduces the risk of inappropriate touching of/by the massage therapist.

  • Mandate Incident Reporting Protocols – Include date, time, and location of the incident, name, title, email, phone, and address of all parties involved, factual account of the incident, written witness accounts, action taken to resolve or escalate the situation.

  • When in doubt re-articulate your zero-tolerance policy.

  • Ban predatory clients regardless of their revenue potential.

  • Educate your staff on prevention methods, identifying red flags, and speaking up.

Benefits of protecting your MT’s include:

  • Higher morale – leads to higher productivity

  • Better performance – leads to better outcomes

  • Lower turnover – leads to higher retention of a qualified and trustworthy team

  • Strengthened intrinsic value in your brand

  • Gaining champions as opposed to critics

  • Fewer liability claims due to negligence

It is not enough to establish a prevention program. You must ensure that your team is actively employing best practices to eliminate potential risks. Too often, important steps are skipped due to budgetary, time, and staffing constraints. Over time, these oversights can result in costly incidents that could have been avoided. Whatever prevention program you choose to institute within your spa, make sure your team is implementing it competently and making informed decision as a result.

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