RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - More than 180 cases of sexual misconduct within the walls of the nation's largest massage chain, Massage Envy, have been reported. In a statement provided to KOLO 8 News Now, Massage Envy spoke on the allegations of sexual assault saying in part, "These occurred over a span of 15 plus years and 125 million massages. But, we believe that even one incident is too many. We will never stop looking for ways to help...provide a safe environment at massage envy franchise locations."
Making sure people feel safe while on the massage table is part of Sandy Anderson's job. She is the Executive Director of the Nevada State Board of Massage Therapy. The board regulates massage therapy in the state of Nevada by licensing massage therapists, ensuring that every therapist has adequate education, and that they pass a background check. People with a history of theft of sex crimes cannot be licensed in the state.
'We look for any criminal history," Anderson said. "Our task is to protect the public in making sure the licensees are qualified to practice, but also that they are safe. We have clients who are almost always naked on a table. Sometimes they may keep their underwear on, but frequently they are undressed and that therapist has to be ethical, has to practice massage without taking advantage of the client on the table."
Anderson says there have been complaints made against Massage Envy in Nevada, but they tend to be concentrated in one area.
"I have not seen any in the north for that company," she said. "In the south we have a few."
Anderson says population density is likely the reason. There are almost 700 licensed therapists in the Truckee Meadows and surrounding areas. In Las Vegas hat number is closer to 4,000. She also says there's more opportunity for inappropriate touching to happen in Las Vegas. Anderson says most clientele in Las Vegas are on vacation and looking to relax. In northern Nevada, many people use massage for therapeutic reasons and have built relationships with their masseuses.
"We don't see very many out of the spas on the Strip at all," Anderson said. "I have none out of the spas in Reno. In Nevada, I don't think it's an issue. Not like it is in other locations."
Still, she says, sexual assault does happen. In 2016 there were 8 inappropriate touching or sexual assault complaints across the state. This year, there have been 9. Most, she says, are complaints against small massage parlors or businesses in the south. There are currently two investigations open looking into sexual misconduct complaints against Massage Envy employees in Las Vegas. Anderson says two others were recently closed due to insufficient evidence.
According to Andreson, most complaints against men are for inappropriate touching or inappropriate draping.
"For the most part, the sheet should be over the body on every area except the area being worked on," she said. "So if someone is working on a leg, the rest of the body should be covered."
She says most females, especially in the south, are investigated for prostitution. But investigating the complaints isn't always easy. There are rarely witnesses to the alleged crimes.
"It's he-said-she-said," according to Anderson. "He says I draped her, she says he didn't. It's tough. We try to find out is there validation? Because we also have a certain amount of people who are trying to get out of paying for a massage."
However, Anderson says about 98% of the sexual misconduct complaints the board deals with turn out to be valid. She also says, there could be even more cases than are reported.
"It's possible," Anderson said. "Statistically they say we have more rapes than are reported, so it's possible there's more inappropriate touch [cases]. But it's not reported "
Anderson says Massage Envy locations go a step further than other massage businesses in the state. In April 2016, the massage board created an agreement with Massage Envy that the business would report any complaints immediately to the board. So other business is required to do the same.
"The business may or may not notify us," Anderson said. "They aren't obligated by law to do so. Massage Envy does do that; it's huge. It is a huge step. It's a great step."
In the past two years, Anderson says the board has revoked 4 licenses across the state. One was a man accused of digital penetration. She says he lost his license for 10 years.
"We are considered one of the strictest in the nation," Anderson said. "Our board consistently disciplines. If someone misbehaves, they get in trouble."
If there is one lesson to be learned, Anderson said she hopes it is that more people will come forward if they are victims of sexual misconduct.
"Complain," she said. "Fill out the complaint form and be willing to testify. That is the only way we can go about getting that individual out of the treatment room. We need that woman to testify because if you're being inappropriately touched, chances are someone else is too."
Anderson says the board can hold closed-door hearings so testimony can remain private. However, disciplinary actions against massage therapist are listed on the Legislative website. The Massage Board is also working on listing disciplinary actions on its website. Anderson says that will likely be up and running by February 2018.