Over 180 women across the United States have accused nationwide massage and therapeutic business Massage Envy Spa of sexual misconduct. The franchising business that reels in over $1.5 billion in revenue a year, has over 1,200 locations nationwide and holds over one million customers took a crushing blow after a local West Chester woman spoke out about her assault.
After an initial investigation opened by BuzzFeed investigative reporter Katie Baker, Buzzfeed released their findings in an article on Nov. 26, 2017 about the women who have been assaulted by massage therapists in West Chester and all over the nation. The victim who spoke out, Susan Ingram, was assaulted in a session with massage therapist James Dieter.
Dieter was in the middle of their regular session. The two had met during sessions several times before. However, this session ended differently than the others.
During the session Ingram felt Dieter push his erection into the side of her body. He then began to touch her body inappropriately, groping her breasts and inserting his fingers in and out of her vagina. Baker’s Buzzfeed report stated that Ingram was “frozen with fear and disbelief until it was over.”
Getting out as soon as possible, Ingram broke down on the ride home and called the local massage parlor in tears to report what happened. Upon hearing that Dieter was in a session with another woman she pled to get her out of the room. Ingram later stated in the court hearing that she remembers saying to the receptionist, “Nicole, he stuck his fingers in my vagina two hours ago” and was met with a refusal to terminate the other client’s session followed by an insistence that she had to come back in person to file a complaint.
She was unable to file it because the receptionist could not officially file the complaint unless the person who filed the complaint came back to describe what happened. After the refusal, she asked to speak to a manager who gave her the same response.
After the assault, Ingram got in contact with the Massage Envy receptionist to report the crime. That afternoon, Ingram contacted the police to report the assault. When the police questioned Dieter, he confessed to assaulting not just Ingram but nine total Massage Envy clients from fall 2014 to spring 2015.
Further investigation showed two women had confronted the spa about Dieter’s sexual misconduct but, like Ingram, the business refused to file the complaint due to the victims’ unwillingness to file the complaint on location.
While Dieter was convicted, almost 200 other women have accused Massage Envy employees of sexual assaults. This does not include women who may feel too afraid to speak up. In many of these cases, arrests have not been made.
All accounts stated that massage therapists either used their genitalia in an inappropriate way or grabbed or touched the genitalia of customers.
Adam Horowitz, a lawyer defending several of the women within the Massage Envy case, compared the situation to the outbreak of sexual misconduct within the Catholic Church. He represented several sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church in the past. “Just like there was opportunity in priesthood,” said Horowitz, “there’s opportunity in the massage room. When you get a massage, your guard is completely down. You’re not expecting to be violated.”
Christopher Sheehan is a fourth-year student majoring in professional studies with concentrations in journalism and graphic design. He can be reached at CS837135@wcupa.edu and on Twitter @chrissheehan16.