NISKAYUNA — Of more than 180 complaints of sexual abuse and assault filed against Massage Envy franchises across the country, none appear to have involved the Niskayuna location, according to local authorities.
In response to the wave of allegations, Massage Envy's national corporate office on Wednesday issued a “six-point plan to drive additional meaningful change," which will be implemented in “the coming weeks,” according to the company's website. There are 1,170 Massage Envy franchises across the country.
The company's directive includes enhanced background checks for employees, providing clients with access to contact information for local law enforcement and a private space to phone the authorities, should a client want to report an assault. Additionally, Massage Envy’s corporate office said it has partnered with RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization.
Neither the manager nor the franchisee of the Niskayuna Massage Envy branch in Mohawk Commons were available to discuss the newly released plan. Employees said they would pass a request for comment to the firm's corporate office, which did not answer questions but sent a copy of an open letter issued by company CEO Joe Magnacca.
That letter summarizes the newly released plan, which can also be read on Massage Envy's website.
Niskayuna police said they have not received any reports of abuse or assault at the Niskayuna location.
Dale Perry, director of institutional development at the Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy in Colonie, said the code of ethics for massage therapists is crystal clear from the start of training.
“The students go through professional development, including ethics, and are tested on them,” Perry said. “The school stands behind those codes of ethics and follows the state’s lead on the scope of practice.”
Not only is any kind of sexual contact during a session unethical, but any romantic relationship between a therapist and a client is considered out of bounds by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.
Point 14 of the board's 18-item code states:
“Refrain, under all circumstances, from participating in a sexual relationship or sexual conduct with the client, whether consensual or otherwise, from the beginning of the client/therapist relationship and for a minimum of six months after the termination of the client-therapist relationship, unless an ongoing current sexual relationship existed prior to the date the therapeutic relationship began."
The Center for Natural Wellness is nationally and state accredited.
As in any profession, bad actors and miscreants will find their way in. Perry said that, over the years, the Center for Natural Wellness has expelled students who did not abide by codes of conduct. New York state’s code of conduct is called the "scope of practice."
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of students abide by the scope of practice and are not a problem,” Perry said.
Currently, the state does not require background checks on incoming students. Perry said his office verifies application information and has resources to dig deeper if something appears suspicious. He said instructors and staff also keep a watch on students as they progress through the program for signs of trouble.
“It is incumbent on the practitioner to follow the ethics,” Perry said. He went on to acknowledge the particular vulnerability of massage clients — in a state of undress, alone in a room. Despite that, Perry said, clients should immediately end a session — at any point — if they are "uncomfortable about anything."
Perry said he has stopped a massage because the therapist was talking too much and talking about her personal life.
Perry said the client can and should take control. If a client does not feel comfortable or get a good feeling in the lobby of a massage parlor, Perry advises them to leave. He said a therapist should talk to a client and explain up front what will happen during the massage and why that treatment is appropriate for the client’s condition.
Finally, Perry advised clients who have been victimized to call local law enforcement immediately.