Therapists, Too: Protecting Spa Staff Against Sexual Assault

Here's how to protect employees from sexual assault at your spa. // Photo Credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

With the recent BuzzFeed News investigation reporting that 180 women have filed sexual assault reports against the Massage Envy spa chain, it’s evident that the spa industry is not immune to sexual misconduct. In fact, it’s particularly vulnerable due to the intimate nature of treatments, the fact that clients are often in a state of undress, and the reality that services typically take place behind closed doors. While recent allegations have mainly addressed inappropriate behavior directed toward clients, it’s also important to protect your staff from spa-goers who cross the boundaries of decency. 

“When I owned my chain of day spas, team members would regularly come to me reporting clients’ inappropriate and uncomfortable behavior,” says says Nicole M. Cober, Esq., principal managing partner of Cober Johnson & Romney and former owner of Soul Day Spa and Salon (Washington, D.C.). From aroused male clients to spa-goers requesting inappropriate touching, such issues can often arise in a spa setting. “That’s why training is so important for team members, because they should be forewarned about these potential danger zones,” says Cober. 

In addition to handling such situations professionally, it’s important staff members know they aren’t alone when confronted with inappropriate conduct. As awkward and uncomfortable as the situation may be, it’s crucial management be alerted so it can be addressed directly with the client. According to Michael Tompkins, executive recruiter with Hutchinson Consulting, you should offer support to the person reporting an incident. “I’ve often seen massage therapists be the victims,” he says.  “Explain that it is not their fault, and encourage them to speak to human resources following an incident”  

Zeel, which offers same-day in-home massages, has a policy in place to protect its therapists. The company performs background checks via partnerships with identity verification companies and verifies a customer’s identification and mobile phone number before they can book their first massage. The company also reviews feedback on therapists and customers and has a no-tolerance policy.

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