#Me Too — It’s not just powerful men who get away with sexual assaults, it’s powerful companies too

What Massage Envy Doesn’t Want You to Know

The epidemic magnitude of sexual harassment and assault is finally receiving the attention it deserves as countless individuals are coming forward to tell their stories, most recently in light of the latest scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

But it’s not just powerful men that get away with sexual assault, it’s powerful companies too.

On a Sunday afternoon in a suburban shopping center in Richmond, VA, after a long week of working full time as a college professor in addition to raising a rambunctious young boy, I went to Massage Envy, a national chain with 1198 storefronts across the country, to get a brief, relaxing respite. I’ll spare you the horrible details of those 90 minutes @MassageEnvy, but in the end I found myself with a massage therapist’s hand around my throat, and then face down with his hand covering my mouth while he violated me.

I had to endure a long, humiliating, and painful trial. The defendant’s lawyer actually asked me what I was wearing and whether I might have done something to give the masseuse the “wrong impression”. I was wearing sweats, no make-up, and it was a Sunday afternoon in a busy strip mall; apparently that doesn’t make you immune from victim blaming. The masseuse is now in prison, convicted of a felony sexual assault. He admitted to everything that happened; however, he maintained through the end that he did it “for my pleasure”. Many perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault hold the warped view that their victim actually wanted it.

As awful as the assault was, what happened next at the hands of Massage Envy made it even worse. Despite the massage therapist’s whispered demand at the end of our session “Our little secret, OK?”, I immediately reported the incident to the manager on duty at Massage Envy, and repeatedly told her that we needed to call the police. She told me that was not necessary because Massage Envy would handle it internally. She called her manager, and while she was on the phone, I repeatedly asked to speak to that manager and they refused to allow me to get on the phone with that person. The manager did call the next day — to tell me that they understood that I was “unhappy with my massage experience”, so they would not charge me for the massage.

I never heard from anyone at Massage Envy ever again. Not through the 11 months of the trial and court proceedings. Not when their employee admitted to everything and was convicted of a felony sexual assault. Not when I had to go back to court yet again and make a painful statement for sentencing. Not one person from Massage Envy, not from the local franchise or the national Massage Envy corporation, ever checked in with me to see how I was doing, or at the very least, to apologize for what happened to me when I was at their national establishment.

What’s more disturbing is that I later discovered that this has happened before. Countless times. There have been numerous lawsuits filed against Massage Envy for sexual assaults all across the country, for years. The company has even released a boilerplate “Statement from Massage Envy on Sexual Assault in their Stores” in which they state “Our hearts go out to anyone who has been through this terrible act. We and our franchisees are firmly committed to delivering the therapeutic benefits of massage in a safe environment, and we applaud those who are bringing these issues to light.”

But other than issuing a statement “applauding” those who bring these issues to light, my experience clearly indicates that they have no practices in place to support individuals who are victimized in their stores. Because the manager on duty at Massage Envy when I reported the assault insisted that the company would handle it internally and it was unnecessary to call the police, I had to find a local police station, wait hours sobbing and in a state of shock to make a report (because all the officers were out taking reports at the location of crimes as is typical), and then give my report about the details of the assault in the middle of a crowded lobby. I continue to get advertisements in the mail for the local Massage Envy where I was sexually assaulted. You can imagine how traumatizing that is: to be going about my day and have a sudden, unexpected reminder of this horrible time in my life. The way that Massage Envy has treated me clearly indicates a company that issues statements saying the right things to protect its corporate brand, but is unwilling to do anything to support victims of assault.

Let’s change that! Please share this story widely. I struggled with the idea of coming forward with my story, because like most people who have experienced an assault I didn’t want to be defined by it. But I was inspired by the countless women coming forward, who have pointed out that it is our silence that allows this culture of sexual harassment and assault to continue. There are Massage Envy stores in family shopping centers across the country, and I ultimately decided that I couldn’t live with knowing that my experience could happen to someone else, and likely will if we don’t do something about it. Let’s get the word out about what’s going on and send a message to Massage Envy that they need to change their corporate policy to put in place procedures to support victims of sexual assault. Don’t visit Massage Envy stores. Cancel your membership and let them know it is because of how they handle sexual assaults at their franchises. Sign this petition (https://www.change.org/p/massage-envy-corporation-massage-envy-needs-to-support-individuals-sexually-assaulted-at-their-stores) letting Massage Envy know they need to change the way they treat victims of sexual assault.

Powerful corporations, like powerful men, cannot expect to get away with this behavior, or to get off with a mere apology, anymore.