Sexual Assault During a Massage
Sexual assault in massage has gained media attention in recent years, as with the hundreds of lawsuits that were filed against Massage Envy in 2017.
Many depend on massage therapy services not only for relaxation and enjoyment but also for muscular rehabilitation. Massage therapy involves an element of trust since services are often given by a stranger. Unfortunately, this vulnerability makes it incredibly easy for perpetrators to commit their crimes.
If you feel you have been sexually assaulted, violated, molested, or experienced unwelcome or inappropriate touching during a massage, this page is intended to help you understand your options moving forward.
Molested During A Massage
Being sexually assaulted in a massage is particularly alarming because the environment places the survivor in a completely vulnerable position. They are focused on being physically relaxed and are mentally unprepared to respond to inappropriate conduct or abuse.
It is common for survivors to feel confused about whether they were sexually assaulted or not. They might feel as if they did something wrong or somehow invited the assault. This is normal.
At The Pride Law Firm, we help our clients make sense of their experiences by assuring them that if it feels wrong, it most likely is. A person should feel comfortable at all times during a massage and have a clear understanding about the professional boundaries during their session.
Inappropriate Touching During a Massage
When a massage therapist inappropriately touches a client, it is a criminal offense. This includes genital contact. A therapeutic massage should never involve contact with genitals. When the massage therapist initiates this, it is considered abuse. If a client requests it, it may be deemed prostitution.
Below is a breakdown of appropriate massage conduct around a client’s sensitive areas, as defined in Massage Today by Muscular Therapy Institute founder, Ben Benjamin (PhD):
The buttocks are typically included in a full body massage service, but this is entirely up to the client and 100% optional. However, there are guidelines for this as well. The massage therapist must not work close to the anus or open the area.
Contact with breasts during a massage is prohibited in most of the U.S. There are a few states where this is legal; however, it requires advanced written consent by the client.
Inner Upper Thighs
For the most part, this area is never touched — whether in the front or rear of a client. The single exception here is if the client has requested it in advance because of a muscle or tendon injury. It should remain draped during the process. Otherwise, the therapist should not come within two to three inches of this area.
Every part of a massage is outlined with rules of conduct. If you experienced inappropriate touch during a massage or think you might have, our staff of caring professionals can help determine whether these rules were breached.
Understanding your rights is critical. We discuss a few of the key ones below.
Your Rights During a Massage
The client should always determine what the session consists of. For example, choosing the technique, areas worked on, and dressing to their level of comfort.
If you are ever uncertain or uncomfortable during your session, tell your massage therapist that you wish to end it. Speak up immediately, and be direct.
Communication responsibilities go both ways during a massage. Your massage therapist should communicate with you to ensure your comfort level. While receiving a massage, you should also be clear and verbalize it if you feel uncomfortable at any time.
Related: When a Massage Becomes an Assault
Your massage therapist should not continue any behavior that causes you to feel alarmed, hurt, or violated. This is true for physical contact as well as verbal communication. Your massage therapist should never make a crass or inappropriate comment on your physical appearance, nor should they take photographs or record any part of the session.
Furthermore, the masseuse should never touch you with their genitals, expose themselves, touch themselves, or proposition you. Sexual assault in massage does not require physical contact in every situation.
If you feel your requests for privacy, boundaries, or respect were ignored during a massage, you are advised to speak with a sexual assault attorney to discuss your legal options.
Informed Consent During Massage
Getting a massage requires informed consent. This is your legal right to determine the type of services you receive as well as the massage therapist’s ethical obligation to include you in the process, according to the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.
It also means you must agree to the treatment voluntarily without being coerced through fraud, force, or deceit.
Keep in mind that consent is dynamic. While you may give consent at the start or during your treatment, you have the right to change your mind at any time. At the same time, if you give consent during one treatment, it does not mean you’ve given it for subsequent treatment.
If you do not consent to a certain treatment, your massage therapist should offer an alternative to meet your needs.
In short, you have the right to change your mind at all times.
Power Differential in Massage
A power differential describes the power contrast between an authority figure or professional and a person under their care or instruction. We see this demonstrated in parent-child, teacher-student, and several other types of relationships.
The relationship between a massage therapist and a client is particularly fragile since the client is physically exposed. This is also true with doctors, dentists or dental assistants, plastic surgeons, and any other practitioner in a similar capacity.
For this reason, a massage therapist is held to exceptionally high standards for professionalism and ethical behavior. He or she is responsible for protecting the person under their care and using their influence to benefit and serve the client, rather than to prey upon them.
“Maintaining professional boundaries is the responsibility of the practitioner, even if the client requests or instructs the practitioner to behave otherwise. The practitioner also has a duty to stay aware of how the power differential may affect the client’s ability to raise concerns.” – Ben Benjamin, PhD
Understanding this relationship helps explain the complexity of a survivor’s reactions when they are sexually assaulted during a massage. Fear, uncertainty, and confusion are common reactions because trust has been betrayed, even on a professional level.
At The Pride Law Firm, we understand the emotional state you may be in after enduring such a traumatic experience. We are here to address your legal needs as well as your emotional ones. As part of our commitment to our clients, our firm is the first civil law firm to provide our clients with a victim advocate.
Types of Massages
When speaking to an attorney, it helps to understand what type of massage you received. This provides context and helps clarify expectations with regards to varying levels of physical contact and different techniques.
Common types of massages available at spas and physical therapy centers include:
Swedish style massage uses long, gliding strokes, friction, rubbing muscles, and kneading to promote relaxation, reduce blood pressure, and increase circulation.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage involves strong pressure to reach the deeper layers of muscle tissue. The goal of this massage is to reduce stress and hormone levels, and lower the heart rate while boosting mood and relaxation.
Sports massages are designed for athletes and physically active individuals. This type of massage is uniquely geared toward the client’s sport of choice. The massage focuses on areas of the body that are overused during activity to alleviate sore muscles.
Trigger Point Massage
This type of massage pinpoints trigger points, or tender spots, often isolated within a group of muscles that can cause shooting pain. Trigger point therapy can cause temporary relief from pain and help correct and balance posture in the long-term.
Asking questions about what you can expect from the session before it begins can help you understand when a massage therapist is crossing a personal or professional boundary.
How to Report Massage Therapist Sexual Assault
It is best to report the incident right away to preserve evidence and notify authorities to act. To report massage therapist sexual assault:
1. Terminate the session
Do not hesitate to clearly and directly ask the massage therapist to stop. Immediately end the session if your personal boundaries have been violated, or you have been verbally or sexually abused.
2. Contact local law enforcement
Contact police as soon as possible after a sexual attack. Describe to them exactly what happened and be sure to include all details, as they will later be used as evidence.
3. File a complaint with the business
Whether it is a spa chain or privately owned business, you should file a formal complaint at the location where you received your massage immediately following your session.
4. Preserve physical evidence
This includes avoiding showering or discarding articles of clothing. If at all possible, refrain from using the restroom, showering or even washing your hands. You may risk losing vital pieces of evidence to support your claims.
5. Contact a medical professional
Visit your physician for an examination following a sexual assault incident, even if you do not believe you were physically injured. It is important to seek medical help right away to begin coping with the physical and mental effects of sexual abuse. Your doctor may recommend taking a rape kit test.
6. Seek legal advice
Once the proper reports are filed, speak to an experienced sexual assault attorney to determine your legal options. This is important to do sooner than later, as your attorney will also provide you with counseling and care resources to aid in your recovery.
Types of Sexual Assault Charges
If you were sexually assaulted, you have the option of taking the matter to civil court. Depending on the circumstances of your incident, you can expect to hold the perpetrator liable for numerous crimes. Our trained, experienced, and compassionate team at The Pride Law Firm can help you determine if your case meets the criteria for:
If you were assaulted, you were not physically harmed, but rather were threatened by an attempt of harm, or feared you would come to harm. Sexual assault may involve verbal sexual harassment or an attempt at sexual molestation.
Sexual battery involves actual unwanted touching in a sexual manner. This may involve inappropriate touching, rape, or coercion of sexual acts to someone against their will or to a person incapable of consenting.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
This involves conduct leading to severe mental anguish or emotional trauma. To establish intentional infliction of emotional distress, the survivor may prove how the assault led to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sleeping problems, flashbacks, diminished quality of life, or other emotional injuries
Contact a Sexual Assault Massage Lawyer
Jessica Pride understands the devastation and emotional ramifications of sexual assault. She is not only a legal advocate who fights passionately on behalf of her clients, she is a trusted friend and confidant.
For over ten years, Jessica Pride and The Pride Law Firm have devoted themselves to bringing justice for sexual assault survivors. She has represented multiple survivors in high profile cases involving abuse by medical professionals, youth leaders, dentists, clergy and others, including massage therapists.
The Pride Law Firm uses trauma-informed training and is a trusted legal authority, educating other legal professionals on the specialties of sexual assault litigation.
If you have been abused at the hands of a massage therapist or any sexual perpetrator, we are with you and for you. Please contact The Pride Law Firm today at (619) 516-8166 to receive a free, private consultation. We will answer your questions anonymously and without obligation, and all information is held in the strictest of confidence.
Reach Out to Us
If you have been a victim of sexual assault, child sexual abuse, or workplace sexual harassment we are here to answer your questions, provide a free and confidential case evaluation, and connect you to resources.
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The Pride Law Firm
2831 Camino Del Rio S., Suite 104
San Diego, CA 92108
Hours. M-F 8:30am - 5:00pm PST
Phone. (619) 516-8166
Fax. (619) 785-3414