NEW YORK — With nearly 1,200 outlets in almost every state, including more than two dozen in the tri-state, Massage Envy is the country's largest massage business.
180 women and counting have filed complaints or lawsuits against the chain, alleging that they’ve undergone massage therapy sessions in which they were sexually assaulted.
The number and severity of the allegations came to light in an investigation by Buzzfeed. It cited not only lawsuits, but also police reports and other complaints.
Massage Envy does not require its franchises to inform police when accusations of sexual misconduct are made against the company, according to the report.
One woman who had initially filed a lawsuit under the name "Jane Doe" came forward on Monday under her own name.
"I was panicked, I was fearful," said Tara Woodley, describing her initial reaction to an alleged incident in September at a Massage Envy location in Washington, D.C., in which she said a massage therapist put his tongue on her genitals. "As soon as I lifted my head off my pillow and saw him, I shouted, 'What?'" Woodley said at a news conference with her attorneys Monday afternoon.
The masseur, she said, begged her to not tell anyone, and claimed that he'd never done anything like it before.
"I called my husband," Woodley said, "and he encouraged me to call 911 immediately, and that's what I did." Police came very shortly, she told reporters. "I said, 'That's the guy right there,' and they arrested him."
It's not the only arrest that's happened at the massage chain. James Deiter, who's in his 60s, is serving a 6 1/2- to 13-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting nine women at a Pennsylvania Massage Envy where he'd been a massage therapist for years.
Deiter ended up confessing after customer Susan Ingram, of West Chester, Penn., said she was sexually assaulted in May 2015 by him. After leaving the spa, she called the Massage Envy location where it occurred to inform them of what had happened. The manager, Nicole, who answered the phone, allegedly chose to not intervene in Deiter’s ongoing massage of another client after taking the complaint.
An Upper East Side Massage Envy location has had two complaints against it in recent years that the NYPD found to be inconclusive. PIX11 News asked the franchise, on East 63rd Street, for comment. An employee said that a representative from the company would contact PIX11 News directly. So far, that hasn't happened.
In response to the Buzzfeed investigation and other reports, Massage Envy has called the incidents "heartbreaking" and said they occurred over 15 years among 125 million massages given by the business.
"We believe that even one incident is too many," Massage Envy said in a statement, adding that any violation of its zero-tolerance policy by a therapist requires termination. But BuzzFeed says some franchises have kept massage therapists on staff despite multiple misconduct complaints.
Meanwhile, the latest woman to go public said she felt compelled to do so because the times call for her to do so.
"In the wake of all the Harvey Weinstein cases and politicians," Tara Woodley said, "I just was getting fed up. There's so many women who are being so brave and so strong, and I think I can be one of those too."