SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (CBS/AP) — Officials at Arizona-based Massage Envy said Tuesday that reports of sexual misconduct at its franchise spas are “heartbreaking” and the company is strengthening screening and reporting procedures.
The release of a six-point plan by the national company based in Scottsdale follows an investigative report last week by BuzzFeed News .
Massage Envy CEO Joe Magnacca said during a conference call with reporters that the company is committed to providing good care for its clients and keeping them safe.
“It has shaken us,” he said of the allegations.
Magnacca said the company has a loyal membership but has seen a relatively moderate drop-off of membership since the BuzzFeed report.
Message Envy’s plan includes bolstering background screening of all massage therapists and requiring that franchises provide law enforcement contact information to clients making an allegation of sexual assault, officials said.
BuzzFeed said more than 180 people across the United States have filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports and other sexual misconduct complaints against Massage Envy spas, employees and the company itself.
The website reported that many of those who complained believed their claims were mishandled or ignored by employees and owners of individual Massage Envy spas and by the company.
One of those victims lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She shared her story last month with CBS3.
“I was really in a state of shock, disbelief, fear,” said Susan Ingram.
She was a regular customer at a West Goshen Town Center Massage Envy location in West Chester.
On her seventh visit in 2015, she says therapist James Deiter began rubbing his groin against her.
“He lifted up my body, groped both of my breasts roughly and aggressively. Put his hands down to the lower part of my body,” Ingram said.
Too disturbed to report the assault immediately, she called the manager after she got home.
“She said in a very apparently scripted response, ‘We invite you in to talk about your services.’ and I said, ‘No, no, no, you don’t understand.’”
After Ingram filed a formal police report, Deiter pleaded guilty to sexually molesting a total of nine female clients and is now behind bars.
Dozens of women reported digital and oral penetration. More than 100 reported that massage therapists groped their genitals and breasts, or committed other explicit violations.
Along with providing contact information for law enforcement, franchises will provide a private room for clients to call authorities, Magnacca said.
Melanie Hansen, Massage Envy’s general counsel, said no franchise should discourage clients from reporting sexual misconduct, but the company is not requiring franchises to report clients’ allegations of sexual misconduct to law enforcement.
“We believe that should be a victim’s choice,” she said.
Hansen declined to comment on the litigation.
Magnacca said Massage Envy’s next steps include forming an advisory council to develop, maintain and implement strong standards and creating a new corporate department to oversee safety policies.
“We realize that for us, it will never be enough,” he said.