A Therapist’s Protection Group within GCMT (the Council for Soft Tissue Therapies) recently commissioned a survey into sexual harassment within massage practice. It received about 600 replies from its membership (there are an estimated 10,000 practising massage therapists in the UK), and most of those prompted to complete the survey did so because they had experienced abuse and/or wanted something done about it.
It feels a bit despairing and certainly shocking to read some of their testimony; that sexual harassment is still rife and massage therapy still being conflated with sex work (not helped during the Covid crisis by the Government referring to our industry as ‘massage parlours’).
In terms of unsolicited attention, a significant number of respondents reported potential clients enquiring about ‘extras’, sending inappropriate texts, requests for sexualized or naked photos of the therapist, requests for the therapist to ‘dress up’, sending obscene photos taken by the client, etc. Therapists also reported assault – grabbing of their hand, leg, buttocks, etc; the client ejaculating or masturbating during the session and other abusive behaviour, including even stalking.
Therapists detailed pre-emptive strategies to minimize the eventuality of harassment and assault – including on-line booking systems, pre-screening questions, alarms, number blocking, self-defence training, and even keeping car keys handy as a potential weapon. Therapists still do not feel safe in their practices and go to great lengths to protect themselves.
GCMT is challenging the idea that sexual abuse is simply something therapists – both women and men, should have to live with. More should and can be done to stop sexual harassment in its tracks and minimize the amount of provocations and abuse that therapists receive.
The aim of this new initiative is to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse and to support and protect therapists more fully and effectively. Specifically:
According to the police, while soliciting for sexual services is not a crime (unless you are a sex worker in the street) it is highly recommended you report any instances of sexual harassment. The police can at least conduct background checks against the suspect and build up a case against them. The suspect could receive a visit or a warning from a member of the police if there have been a number of complaints. This information can also be revealed if this person applies for a DBS.
If someone touches or grabs an area of the body that the therapist perceives to be sexual, this can be considered sexual assault. If someone is sending inappropriate texts, photos and messages, this can be prosecuted as malicious communications. Indecent exposure is a crime regardless of whether it was committed in public or in private, if the intention is for someone else to see.
This new initiative is at an early stage but a launch is coming soon. In the meantime if therapists want more support on this issue a pioneering and brave website in the US is worth taking a look at in terms of helpful videos and other information.
With organized and officially sponsored support from relevant agencies and the police, we can do more to eradicate the abuse massage therapists receive and help us all feel safer in our important work.
Written by: Lindsey Nicholas, Chair ABMT