Massage Envy says reports of sexual misconduct at its franchise spas are "heartbreaking" and that it is strengthening screening and reporting procedures.
The release of a six-point plan by the national company based in Scottsdale, Ariz., follows an investigative report last week by the BuzzFeed News website.
Massage Envy is committed to providing good care for its clients and keeping them safe, CEO Joe Magnacca told reporters during a conference call Tuesday. "It has shaken us and we're looking for ways to do more," he said.
Magnacca said the company has a loyal membership but has seen a "relatively moderate drop-off of membership" since the BuzzFeed report. "From a business perspective, we have certainly seen the impact."
Message Envy's plan includes bolstering background screening of all message therapists and requiring that franchises provide law enforcement contact information to clients making an allegation of sexual assault, officials said.
According to BuzzFeed's report, more than 180 people across the United States have filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports and other sexual misconduct complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees and the national company.
Massage Envy operates more than 1,200 spas across the country, including Chattanooga outlets on the North Shore and in Hixson and East Brainerd. The local outlets are owned by independent franchisees and were not included among those identified in the Buzzfeed report.
Buzzfeed reported that many of those who complained believed their claims were mishandled or ignored by employees and owners of individual Massage Envy spas and by the national company.
Dozens of women reported digital and oral penetration. More than 100 reported that massage therapists groped their genitals, groped their breasts, or committed other explicit violations.
Along with providing victims contact information for law enforcement, franchises will provide victims a private room to make that phone call, Magnacca said.
Magnacca said no franchises should discourage clients from reporting sexual misconduct but that the company is not requiring franchises to report clients' allegations of sexual misconduct to law enforcement. "We believe that should be a victim's choice," he said.
Melanie Hanson, Massage Envy's general counsel, declined to comment on litigation stemming from alleged sexual misconduct but said the company "at this point" has not considered setting up a compensation fund.
Magnacca said Massage Envy's next steps include forming an advisory council to develop, maintain and implement strong standards and creating a new corporate department to oversee safety policies.
"We realize that for us, it will never be enough," he said.