More than 50 million people get massages every year and in these stressful times more and more people are having them to relax. But just how safe are you during a massage?
An Inside Edition investigation has uncovered a disturbing trend of women who say they were sexually assaulted while on massage tables.
Jaime Wolfthal was getting a massage at a Massage Envy franchise in Boca Raton, Fla., when the unthinkable happened.
“It was absolutely shocking,” she told Inside Edition. “Here I am, probably the most vulnerable situation you can ever be in as a female. I'm lying on a bed naked under a sheet with a man in the room. The door is closed. No one’s around.”
The next thing she knew, she was touched in an inappropriate place.
“I literally froze," she said.
The massage therapist pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching a client and Wolfthal is now suing Massage Envy for negligence. They deny any wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, it's not the only case of its kind. Inside Edition’s investigation found instances across the country of massage therapists being busted for sexual misconduct with female clients.
Pro motorcycle racer Elena Myers says it happened to her too. As she talks about it, the fearless speedster is reduced to tears. She says a massage therapist sexually assaulted her in a spa at the Philadelphia Loews Hotel in 2014.
“I was terrified," she said. "I was frozen right there on the table and he was just continuing to keep doing the same motion at the top of my leg where like this part of his hand was rubbing up on parts that should not be even close to being touched at all."
The massage therapist, Jerome McNeill, was never charged in her case, but just three weeks later, he was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting another woman at the same spa. He has pleaded not guilty.
Inside Edition producer Charlie McLravy tried to speak to him as he was leaving court.
"Did you take advantage of women while you were giving them a massage?” he asked. But McNeill did not answer.
Myers is now suing McNeill, Loews and the spa. They all deny wrongdoing.
“I felt so incredibly angry. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Florida attorney Adam Horowitz says he's handled more than 50 massage assault cases nationwide. “It is widespread. It’s happening far more than people realize,” he said.
Inside Edition wondered if a massage therapist who's been charged with sexual assault would still be giving massages to unsuspecting women. So Inside Edition’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero decided to book a massage to find out.
The massage therapist she hired to come to her hotel room was 54-year-old Marc DeTomaso.
Last February, at a MassageLuXe near Naples, Fla., one of his clients accused him of performing a sex act on her. He was fired and arrested for sexual battery.
But Guerrero discovered he's still giving massages.
For safety reasons, she kept a sports bra and shorts on during the massage. Before DeTomaso could finish, she excused herself and went into another room to change.
When she returned, she asked: “I'd like to know if you think it's appropriate to be doing massages on women right now?”
“Yes, it's appropriate,” he replied.
“Haven't you recently been accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was your client?” she asked.
“Yes, I was accused,” he answered. “Falsely accused.” He has pleaded not guilty.
So what can you do to stay safe during a massage?
Massage therapy expert Felicia Brown says proper draping is crucial to ensuring a safe and relaxing experience.
“It should be draped just to about halfway up her inner thigh and tucked in where it's secure,” she told Inside Edition. "If the therapist is working underneath the drape at all that's definitely a red flag.”
She says you never have to get fully undressed and you can always choose the gender of your massage therapist.
“If something feels wrong to you, it doesn’t matter whether it is wrong or not, it’s up to you to say 'you know what, I’m done with this,'” she said. “Get off the table.”
Massage Envy and MassageLuxe both say they have a zero tolerance policy for any inappropriate conduct to [e]nsure their clients have a safe experience.