When Massage is Inappropriate

                It has recently come to my attention that a certain nation-wide massage clinic has come under fire at multiple branches, multiple times throughout years for employing or continuing to employ massage therapists who have been accused of sexually assaulting clients. I also know that a few massage therapists have lost their license after being falsely accused of sexual assault.

                I think part of the problem is that some people just are not familiar with massage, what parts of their body will be massaged, and are too afraid to speak up when they feel uncomfortable. Obviously there are cases in which the therapist has acted inappropriately, and maybe their clients are just too afraid to say anything, or maybe they just don’t know who to report the therapist to.

                Part of my job as a massage therapist is to educate my clients, make sure they understand what their experience with me will or will not entail, and to encourage them to speak up if they feel uncomfortable for any reason. Maybe part of the problem is that massage therapists are just not educating their clients as to what to expect, and how to find a legitimate massage therapist at a legitimate place.

                It’s incredibly distressing to massage therapists to hear that clients didn’t have a good experience somewhere else, or that someone is too afraid to get a massage because of the stigma surrounding the field. This blog entry is aimed at educating clients on how to find a good therapist, what to expect from their massage, and how to report a therapist they feel has been inappropriate.



                Within the massage therapy field, we are very careful to use specific terminology in order to stray away from any confusion as to the legitimacy of the massage or the therapist. Any credible therapist will aviod the use of words like:

  • Massage parlor
  • Masseuse
  • Calling the table a bed

                Instead, we call it what it is. Our official title is Licensed/Certified/Registered Massage Therapist/Practitioner, depending on the requirements of the state they practice in. In Maine, our title is Licensed Massage Therapist. A therapist may also be nationally certified, at which point their title would become Nationally Certified Massage Therapist. No one who has gone through the schooling for massage therapy and obtained their license or certificate will ever call themselves a masseuse, as this kind of terminology has largely been taken over by prostitutes using massage therapy as a cover.       

So how do you distinguish between a legit place of business, and a prostitution house? Characteristics of a not-so-pure business include:

  • Advertising beautiful/sexy girls/men
  • Scantily clad employees
  • Call themselves a “massage parlor,” or advertise “Oriental massage” or “sensual” massage
  • May have no windows, tinted windows, or something blocking the windows
  • Employ therapists who are not licensed or certified
  • Advertise with adult websites

A legitimate massage business will:

  • Include no reference to the therapist’s appearance or gender in advertising
  • Professionally dressed employees
  • Call themselves a spa, salon, or practice
  • Employ therapists who have gone to school and received their license or certification
  • Is welcoming and well-lit (save for dim lighting in the massage room to provide a relaxed setting)

At least in Maine, it is state law that any licensed professional display their license at their place of employment, and it is illegal to practice without a current license. If you do not see a license displayed, you may look up any professional licenses at www.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing



                Okay, so you’ve found a legitimate massage therapist. But you’re still uncomfortable. It’s natural to feel this way in this situation. You’re about to get on the table, as close to naked as you are comfortable getting, and you are at the mercy of the person who will be doing the bodywork. It can feel scary, but in the hands of a professional, you will be okay!

                Before the session, your therapist will conduct an intake with you. She will ask you questions about your pressure preference, health history, and experience with massage. This is your chance to ask any questions you may have, and let her know what you are and are not comfortable with.



An example of inappropriate draping.


                Most massage therapists tell you to dress down to your comfort level, but some will ask you to at least keep your underwear on, and this is for their own safety. Massage therapists are subject to sexual assault as well, and take varied precautions to protect themselves. The therapist should leave the room while you undress.

Most massage sessions include:

  • Face and scalp
  • Upper chest
  • Neck and shoulders
  • Hands and arms
  • Legs and feet
  • Glutes
  • Back

You may ask the therapist to skip any parts of your body that you do not want massaged, or ask her to only massage certain body parts. The therapist will keep you appropriately covered at all times.



                Is it ever okay to touch genitals or breasts? A massage therapist can get special certification which would allow them to touch these areas in patients with certain illnesses like cancer. However, she should ask before touching you in those private areas. It is my personal opinion that massage in these areas are not necessary regardless, but if you have not indicated that you have an illness and your massage therapist still touches you there – especially if she has not asked or does not have certification – then you should speak up. At that point, it’s probably best for you to end the session.

                Still, sometimes it’s hard to tell if sexual assault has taken place. I have heard many people state that they had a massage where the therapist got too close to their genitals for comfort. While this may feel awkward, it’s not necessarily abuse. Massage therapists are trained to massage as high up on the thigh as possible without touching the client inappropriately. This ensures that you get as thorough of a massage as possible and avoid that aggravating feeling of only having half of your leg massaged!

                For women with larger breasts, it’s practically inevitable that they will get in the way during massage on the chest. In this case, the massage therapist will use the back of one hand to gently push the breast tissue away from the upper chest and massage with the other hand.

                In any event, if you feel uncomfortable with how your therapist is touching you and where she is touching you, you should speak up. If she doesn’t listen, you should end the session.



            Unfortunately, even if you find a licensed massage therapist who seems nice and professional, sexual assault can still happen. It is very rare that a therapist comes under fire, but it does happen.


Sexual assault can have serious emotional consequences for the victim.

Sexual assault can have serious emotional consequences for the victim.


               There are many reasons a client may choose to forgo reporting their therapist. Maybe the client isn’t sure sexual abuse actually took place, or they’d rather just forget about it. Dealing with the aftermath of reporting a predator can be an exhausting, extensive experience.

                It is important to remember that the situation is much bigger than you. If you have been assaulted by your therapist, it is likely that someone else has too, or will be. The best thing that you can do is report the therapist to prevent him/her from hurting someone else.

                Report the therapist to the police department in the city which the abuse occurred. If you know that the therapist is a member of a massage association, such as Associated Bodywork and Massage Practitioners (ABMP) or the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), you should report him/her to the association as well. You can find their contact information through Google.


About Tonya Sapiel, LMT

My goal with The Wellness Seeker blog is to educate the general public on the benefits of massage therapy, why it is an important addition to their health care routine, and what they can do to help themselves in between their massage therapy sessions. I welcome feedback and questions. I also accept requests for post topics. For more information about me or my practice, please visit www.tonyasapiel.massagetherapy.com

One response to “When Massage is Inappropriate

  1. Pingback: One Year of The Wellness Seeker! | The Wellness Seeker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: