As a massage therapist, you are faced with the added risk of dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault. In massage school and in CE classes you probably learned many things that you can do to name your business correctly, screen clients and what to do if you a client gets an erection on the massage table and what to do if someone asks for a happy ending. The thing is that we should not have to be doing these things if our professional associations were doing their job of untangling massage from sex work.
It is important to contact your local police department as an individual business owner and as a profession and ask them for advice and help on what you can do in cases where people are just emailing or texting you and make them aware of the prolems we are having within the profession. Some states/counties are working on creating task forces to investigate issues of illicit massage businesses and human trafficking. It is important to start or find a local network of masasge therapists to help untangle massage from sexually oriented businesses.
Understanding the Problem
It is important to first really understand the problem and learn the history of what has been happening within the massage therapy profession that keeps us being confused for sexually oriented businesses (SOB’s). It is very complex and confusing. In general, the massage profession started with creating state massage licensing as a way to give more credence to being a massage therapist but that did not stop the SOB’s from using the words massage and massage therapy. The American Association of Masseurs and Massueses was started in 1943 which was supposed to help with untangling massage from SOB’s. It was a very grassroots organization that started in people’s living rooms at the time and later changed it’s name to the American Massage Therapy Association. Here is a more detailed historical look at the problem.
The Language That is Used.
The language that is used is part of the problem with this continuing problem. Many licensing laws still say the words “Massage Parlor” when massage parlor is being used by the media and legislators to describe brothels disguised as massage businesses. Getting the words “Massage Parlor” removed from licensing is the first step and then start correcting the media and legislators, one by one. Masseuse and Masseur are words that also are outdated and need to be removed from licensing language as they are used more in conjunction with a massage parlor.
The Polaris Project coined the term “Illicit Massage Business” which is troublesome to the massage profession. These places are NOT any sort of MASSAGE Business. They are Brothels/Sexually Oriented Businesses disguised as massage businesses. If the media and legislators started calling them what they are, the local communities would get more involved in the fight to close these businesses down or to make them call it what it is – Sex Work.
Call them what they are!
The Laws That Have Been Created
Every state has created laws and rules that try to separate massage therapy from sex work, making it illegal to work on private areas and requiring that massage therapists have background checks and also hang their massage licenses on the office walls. Since our massage licensing laws are civil laws, it is nearly impossible to investigate and prosecute these places disguising themselves as massage businesses.
More states are creating Massage Establishment Licenses which we don’t really know if they work or not. The Federation of Massage State Boards and the Polaris Project wrote reports in 2017/2018, suggesting and claiming that establishment licensing was the way to go except for AMTA and ABMP spoke out against them. Read the full story and read the reports to understand this complex issue.
Massage Therapy Awareness Programs.
Our associations have Massage Awareness weeks yet lack cohesiveness in their messaging. I have often thought that they would be more effective if each time they said do this one thing:
- Create awareness campaigns about the language that is being used. Call Massage Parlors/Illicit Massage Businesses what they are- Brothels Disguised as Massage Businesses.
- Contact your local legislative representative and/or city council member and take them out for coffee.
- Write to your city mayor and have them announce it is massage therapy week.
- Work with your local law enforcement agency to educate them on the problem and brainstorm ways to deal with these places in your communities.
- Write to your health insurance company and ask why they are not covering massage therapy.
- Use one hashtag on every post you make like #massageistherapy #massagechangeslives
Massage therapy involves touch and touch is sensual and intimate. Knowing this and understanding how to deal with the body’s response to touch by creating professional boundaries can help guide your practice. It is normal to get an erection on the massage table. The problem occurs when the person asks to have something done about it. This is easily remedied by saying No, Massage therapists don’t do that. I don’t do that and educating the person that only Sex Workers do that and saying it in a professional way.
Get Involved and Take Action
The massage profession has been used by Sexually Oriented Businesses/Brothels as a front for prostitution for way to long. The best way to start working to get massage the respect it deserves is to promote massage therapy in your local city/county community.
Starting your own local group can be a great way to supplement your income. As an organizer of a group, you can create monthly in person or online CE classes and charge a membership fee. It doesn’t have to be a non-profit but it could be. The local group would connect with other local groups making it a state wide effort. Dealing with things in your local community and working to change the profession from the ground up, you will be able to create policy and awareness rather than having to fight for recongnition.
Learn how to start a local group.
Find a local Group by clicking on your State and looking in the resources. -coming soon.
See also: Zero Tolerance: Creating a safe space for YOU and Your clients.