ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation into a popular massage chain revealed a trend of alleged sexual abuses by massage therapists in metro Atlanta and nationwide.
Investigative reporter Aaron Diamant talked to one woman who said while she was receiving a massage at the Massage Envy franchise on Windy Hill Road in Cobb County she was molested. She also told Diamant she learned her alleged attacker had previous complaints of misconduct against him.
"You're putting people at risk every day and you're not doing anything to stop it," Victoria King told Diamant.
King was a receptionist at the Windy Hill Massage Envy in 2011 when a manager asked her to receive a massage from state-licensed therapist Brandon Knox. King said it was common practice to have employees give each other massages during slow points of the day.
During the massage session King said Knox molested her.
"I just completely froze,” King said. “The world just stopped moving."
King said she wanted to share her experience to keep other people from putting themselves at risk.
"If it happened to anyone else and I knew something and could have stopped it I would never be able to forgive myself," King said.
Knox pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal battery. King is currently suing the franchise and Knox. According to the complaint, this wasn't the first time Knox was accused of inappropriately touching a client.
"Once I heard that he had previous complaints, I was like, you've put so many people at risk," King said.
Her case is far from unique.
Last March, William Stringfellow was sentenced to 25 years in prison for assaulting a client at the Massage Envy Spa on Camp Creek Parkway. Before Stringfellow was indicted, he continued to work at the spa. Court documents confirmed an earlier accusation at the same Massage Envy location.
Channel 2 Action News compiled court records and media reports that documented more than 50 allegations of sexual assault by Massage Envy therapists in 13 states, including seven in Georgia.
King's lawyer, Davis Currie, said corporate policies, which do not require spa managers to call the police after an accusation of assault, protect the Massage Envy brand, not the clients.
"And it's that philosophy which put us in the situation where that particular therapist was still there when Victoria got her massage," Currie said.
According to court records and media reports, at least nine of the therapists accused nationally allegedly assaulted more than one client.
"Our incident isn't an isolated event, certainly," Currie said.
Channel 2 Action News spent weeks negotiating an on-camera interview with Massage Envy’s corporate office to ask about their policies and the allegations against their employees. They ultimately declined an on-camera interview, but sent Diamant the following statement:
We find reports of inappropriate conduct as appalling as anyone. The 45,000 guests who visit our more than 1,000 franchised locations every day expect to enjoy a wellness experience in a safe and comfortable environment. Our stringent hiring requirements, along with the industry’s most comprehensive therapist training program, and our industry-leading policies and procedures (including our zero tolerance policy against inappropriate conduct) ensure that’s exactly what is delivered.
Over the last several years, we have invested millions of dollars in personnel, programs, policies and procedures that are aimed at getting to zero incidents of inappropriate conduct. We have also terminated 15 franchise agreements in the last two years for violation of our policies surrounding inappropriate conduct. We will not rest until we get to zero. To that end, we are in various stages of development on some exciting and innovative programs that we believe can change the landscape for the entire industry. Read more here.
Diamant asked the ABC affiliate in Phoenix to contact Massage Envy CEO Dave Crisalli to answer specific questions he had about the company’s corporate policy and allegations of assault. Crisalli declined to comment to ABC reporters in Phoenix.
In Atlanta, Roark Capital is the owner of a number of franchises, including Massage Envy. Diamant requested an interview with a member of their executive board about the allegations against Massage Envy, but they declined an interview and sent Channel 2 the following statement:
Roark Capital Group takes inappropriate conduct very seriously and stands by Massage Envy Spa’s statement on this matter.
King said she continues to be haunted by her ordeal with Massage Envy. She told Diamant she believes this problem is much bigger than what is being reported.
"Do you think that's anywhere close or are we just scratching the surface?” Diamant asked King.
“I think it's just scratching the surface," King said.