Massage therapists are vulnerable to harassment, assault and solicitation—but there is something proactive every massage therapist can do: Reach out to your local police department and build a relationship before problems occur.

The Prevalence of Harassment

Recent surveys confirm that harassment of massage therapists is an ongoing issue. One survey conducted by Morgan E. Richard, a doctoral student in experimental psychology at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, found that out of 143 massage therapists, 107 reported being subjected to sexual harassment by a client. In another survey, about 64 percent of female and 56 percent of male massage therapists said they had experienced unwanted sexual advances or behavior from their clients.

Such incidents primarily involve verbal harassment and solicitation, such as requesting a sexual act from the massage therapist or making inappropriate comments about the massage therapist’s appearance.

Physical acts of sexual harassment or assault were reported in some cases, such as the client exposing themselves to their massage therapist, inappropriate touching or trying to grab the therapist.

Your Local Police Department Can Help

The primary duty of a police officer is to protect people and property. Examples of police departments include local police, county police, state police, local township or city police forces. Most familiar are the municipal uniformed police patrolling the streets of our towns and cities. Police officers are usually assigned to a specific patrol area where they would be responsible to enforce the law.

To begin a positive professional relationship, understand how the local police department functions. Look up the website for your local police, learn about the department and identify local officers. Schedule a time to visit your local police department to educate yourself. Ask for advice and help about what to do to prevent harassment and what to do if an incident occurs.

You can also educate police about massage therapy. Create a document to explain massage therapy, including licensing and professional practice. Describe the problems massage therapists face. Explain how massage therapists can be harassed by clients.

Describe your massage therapy business and invite officers for a tour. Be polite, and respectful and professional. Pay attention to your appearance, how you speak and generally represent the massage therapy community as an important and positive health-and-wellness service in your community.

Even better, cooperate with multiple massage therapists and massage therapy employers in the area and work together to create a working relationship with the local police department or precinct. Regular, yearly contact with the police department will sustain a positive relationship.

What this Looks Like in Real Time

Over the years I have made a point of making sure the local police knew who I was and how I practiced.

The chief of police in the small city where I was located was one of my first clients. When I opened a massage therapy school, I invited all the first responders to the student clinic. When my family opened a franchised-based, massage therapy center, the local police were invited to drop by and we gave them a gift card.

Recently we had an issue with teenage boys yelling inappropriate remarks at some of my students from the park adjacent to the school. I called the non-emergency number and within minutes two police cars were in my parking lot and the officers had a very focused and intense talk with the teenagers, reported the behavior to their parents and one of the boys apologized. 

Remember: Harassment, Assault and Solicitation are Illegal.

It is unlawful to harass a person. Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct that annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms or puts a person in fear of their safety.

Harassment can include sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

The definition of assault varies by jurisdiction, but is generally defined as intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. Physical injury is not required. Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior, often physical, that occurs without consent.

Solicitation occurs when an individual asks, encourages or convinces another to commit a crime. This can take the form of a request, suggestion or encouragement to complete the crime. It can also involve commanding, forcing or inducing a person to commit a crime. As soon as any of these occurs, the crime of solicitation has occurred. For example, if a client offers money for a sexual act that client has committed solicitation.

How to Report an Incident

If an incident occurs, don’t hesitate to report harassment, assault or solicitation to the police by filing a report at your local police station.

Police reports are official documents that describe claims the police officers handle. A police report will open an investigation into the claim and allow police to begin taking action. Police reports are generally categorized as either emergency or nonemergency.

Generally, you can file a police report by visiting the nearest police department or precinct or calling the non-emergency number for the dispatch office. In some metro areas, you also may be able to file a police report online. You can also call the police and have them come out to you. Do not call 911 unless there is an active crime in progress or people’s lives are endangered.

To assist law enforcement in investigating and preparing a case collect and document as much information about the incident and the individual committing the acts as possible. A typed or written list of all relevant individuals, including their names, telephone numbers and addresses will help law enforcement locate and interview all relevant witnesses.

If you took incident-related photos or video on your phone, take your phone with you to the police station. The police can download your photos or video to their computer system.

When you file your report, you’ll need to provide a name and address to the officer who takes your report. A government-issued photo ID serves to prove to the officer that you are who you say you are. Find out when the full written report will be available and how you can get a copy for your records. Reporting issues is important even if charges are not filed. The report begins to build a file on the concern.

Raise Awareness

Finally, you are not helpless. There is something we can all do to bring awareness of massage therapy professionalism and the value of the health and wellness services we offer. Develop a positive relationship with your local police before problems occur.

About the Author:

Sandy Fritz is a founding member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education and the author of massage textbooks including “Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage”; “Mosby’s Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage: Anatomy, Physiology, Biomechanics, and Pathology”; and “Sports & Exercise Massage: Comprehensive Care for Athletics, Fitness, & Rehabilitation.” Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Old Myths Die Hard: The Truth About Toxins,” and “The Massage Profession Needs to Face the Future—United.”