MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The nation’s largest massage spa chain is facing allegations of sexual assault.
After five years, Kandice Martellaro says she can’t shake the anger over what happened to her at Massage Envy and how it was handled.
“It terrified me. I froze up,” said Martellaro. “He pulled my underwear down to my ankles…I was fully exposed and he started massaging my butt with his hands.”
She says it happened while she was making minimum wage, working as a receptionist at a Massage Envy in Glendale, California, and getting a complimentary massage.
She says she told her manager, but the therapist kept his job.
This not an isolated story.
Susan Ingram says her masseur turned into a sexual predator during her seventh visit with him at another Massage Envy location in 2015. She says it started when James Deiter began rubbing his groin against her.
“He lifted up my body, groped both of my breasts roughly and aggressively. Put his hands down to the lower part of my body,” said Ingram.
Too disturbed to report the assault immediately, she called the manager after she got home.
“She said in a very apparently scripted response, ‘We invite you in to talk about your services.’ And I said no, no, no you don’t understand,'” said Ingram.
In 2014, two other women said they too were sexually assaulted by different therapists at the same location.
Even more troubling there were reports of assault at Massage Envy franchises from California to New Jersey, but now the online outlet BuzzFeed says it found more than 180 reports at the chain across the nation.
“It’s awful to be assaulted when you’re in a very vulnerable position, but I think that for some women it’s even worse to go and report what happened to you and not have it taken seriously,” said BuzzFeed reporter Katie Baker.
After Ingram filed a formal police report, Deiter pleaded guilty to sexually molesting a total of nine female clients and is now behind bars. Citing court records, BuzzFeed says, “two of those women had tried to warn the spa about Deiter before Ingram had.”
Many victims say the company’s response was insulting. Some say they were offered their money back or told not to file a police report
Last month, a Richmond, Virginia woman, who herself was assaulted, started a change.org petition calling on the company to support individuals sexually assaulted at their stores.
“I think there needs to be a serious audit of the company and protocol has to be immensely changed,” said Martellaro.
According to BuzzFeed, Massage Envy only requires franchises to conduct internal investigations of abuse claims except in the few states that require notification of local law enforcement.
As for Ingram, she is suing Massage Envy and taking other steps to make sure spa companies do the right thing.
She helped draft federal legislation that would require massage spas to report sexual assault allegations to police.
The franchise where Ingram says she was assaulted declined to comment.