November 26, 2017
By Katie J.M. Baker
Across the US, people go to Massage Envy spas in search of a soothing, affordable escape. More than 180 people say what they got instead was sexual assault. But the billion-dollar company says that’s not its problem to solve. A BuzzFeed News investigation.
On May 2, 2015, Susan Ingram lay facedown in the dark at her local Massage Envy in West Chester, Pennsylvania, one of the franchise’s nearly 1,200 spas nationwide. It was her seventh session with James Deiter, a massage therapist whom the spa had enthusiastically recommended. By now, Ingram trusted Deiter, and she closed her eyes and relaxed as he worked her muscles. Then, without warning, Deiter ground his erect penis against Ingram’s body. He groped her breasts. He put his fingers in and out of her vagina.
Ingram lay there, frozen in fear and disbelief, until the session was over. After driving home sobbing, she called the spa to report the sexual assault. She was shocked when the manager refused to interrupt the session Deiter was having with a female client, Ingram said, or to connect Ingram with the spa’s owner.
“I said to her, ‘Nicole, he stuck his fingers in my vagina less than an hour ago,’” she later recounted in court. She begged the manager to get Deiter’s client out of the massage room immediately. “She said she could not do that, and she invited me in to talk about my services,” Ingram added.
Frustrated, Ingram called the police, who interviewed Deiter that afternoon. He quickly admitted to assaulting not just Ingram but other Massage Envy clients as well. “I need help,” he confessed. The next year, Deiter pleaded guilty to sexually molesting a total of nine women while working at Massage Envy from fall 2014 to spring 2015.
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