As a massage therapist, it is important to learn everything you can about possible ways clients can and will challenge your boundaries especially around sex. The massage profession is so entagled with sex work, it makes our role as a therapeutic massage therapist to separate our work from that of sexually oriented businesses.
Setting Up Your Business
Every aspect of your business will be about creating a safe place for clients and protecting yourself from having to deal with everything from simple jokes about “happy endings” and being a massage therapist to sexual assault in the massage room.
Business Name: Your business name and website domain will tell people more about you than you think. Unfortunately, you have to think like a perv when creating a business name for yourself.
Policies and Procedures: Creating policies of informed consent can go a long way to ensure people know what you do and what will happen in a session. Policies on draping, behavior and informing them on what massage does sets the stage for you being able to enforce policies and know when to report to law enforcement.
Website and social media presence: Having a content rich website that shows that YOU are the EXPERT On massage therapy can help show that massage is therapy. Search engines focus on sites that are the authority on subjects. Here is how to do it from www.massagepracticebuilder.com
For employers: When you employ massage therapists, you have the added responsibility of keeping your employees safe from harm and also running the business. You will need very clear policies for everything and especially on how to handle possible scenarios of sexual solicitation. Dealing with these issues immediately shows your support for employees and your business.
Establishing, Communicating and Enforcing Boundaries
While your policies, procedures, website, social media presence is the beginning of setting boundaries, when the time comes it is often very challenging to handle difficult discussions. When your boundaries are clearly stated and the consequences of what happens when boundaries are crossed, puts the ball in the client’s court as to whether or not they want to continue seeing you as a client. Firing clients will be the last resort and will be very uncommon.
Online scheduling software can help screen clients by adding a simple or complete intake form asking questions about their health and needs.
If you are in very vulnerable locations such as a mobile massage therapist or work in a home office where there is more risk, screening clients by taking phone calls to set up appointments can help.
Knowing the signs of potential troublesome clients can help and planning your response to questionable emails/texts can help to differentiate yourself from sexually oriented businesses. Many people are still uniformed of correct terminology and do not know that asking for a full body massage or calling you a masseuse is no longer acceptable and is often code language for hobbyists (people seeking sexual services). See more on screening clients to rule out pervs.
The Big “E”
We all learned about this in massage school, but when it actually happens on the table in a room where the lights are low, the soft music is playing and most people behave properly, it can come as a surprise and catch us off guard. We all know they are a normal part of being touched and can happen innocently or purposefully. The thing is knowing what to say, when to say it and how to share what the boundary is and what to do when you have a true pervert on the table.
When to Fire Massage Clients.
Firing clients really is the last resort when you have set the boundaries and clearly communicated them to the person and stated the consequences. “I just want to let you know that this behavior is unacceptable and if you do it again, your session will be terminated and you will not be able to come back.”
The boundary setting needs to begin at the first sign of transgression. This is often very difficult to do especially when talking about sexually oriented topics.
It is unfortunate, yet a reality that we have to always be prepared to call law enforcement or deal with physical/sexual assault in the massage office.
When/how to report to law enforcement.
When you start your massage business, start a relationship with law enforcement. Find your local police/sheriff and attend their community events like neighborhood watches, coffee with cops or other events they may be offering. Get to know how they work in your community.
The Big Picture
It is actually very unfortunate that we have to learn these things and worry about protecting ourselves in our work space. Massage therapy has been entangled with prostitution/sex work for over 128 years that we can track and most likely longer.
Currently the media, legislators and even massage boards are referring to massage therapists as working in massage parlors and illicit massage businesses. Using these terms is a very big part of the problem. Using these terms has put the blame on massage therapists. When people hear these terms they think it is a Massage therapist running the parlor when they are not. They think its a massage therapist gone bad and running an illicit business when it is clearly not.
If they would call them what they are : Massage Parlor = Sex Parlor; Illicit Massage Business = Brothel disguised as a massage business, communities would take notice and get more involved in the problem. This is really a societal issue that has become the problem of the massage profession.
The Media plays a big part in the problem by incorrectly calling places massage parlors or illicit massage businesses. We can gently start correcting it when we see it on news stories and start directly contacting the news sources involved in the messaging.
Our legislators are often misinformed and also use the terms incorrectly. Creating local networks of massage therapists who get together regularly for support and advocacy can help change the narrative.