9 Investigates: Massage therapists crossing the line

9 Investigates: Massage therapists crossing the line

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Getting a massage is supposed to be relaxing, but do you know who is working on you?

Jodi Pope said she couldn't see exactly what was happening during her massage in 2017 at a Massage Envy in Ballantyne, but having had massages regularly for years, she told Channel 9 that she could feel something was wrong.

"He was only massaging me with one hand and that was not the norm," Pope said.

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She said she sensed the therapist was doing something inappropriate with his other hand.

"I was so petrified. I didn't know what to do," she said.

Pope said at first she froze, but then she had to do something to stop it.

"I jumped up and told him to get the blank out and I covered myself with the towel and I just screamed, ‘Get out, get out, get out,'" she said.

She filed a police report after the incident, describing very graphic "inappropriate behavior."

Licensed massage therapist Tom Archer told Channel 9's Britney Johnson he's heard it all.

He posts online about his work in specialized therapy and what massage therapy professionals can do to prevent sexual harassment.

Archer told Channel 9 part of the issue is a misuse of power.

"As a client or patient you are putting yourselves in a very vulnerable position, most of the time you're undressed, under towels or sheets and you're asking someone to help you," he said.

Archer suggests that people search for a therapist who focuses on their specific needs, ask for recommendations, let the therapist know which body parts to avoid and look up the therapist's license on the state's website.

He said people with bad intentions should be weeded out in massage therapy school.

But sometimes, they make it through.

State records show that from January 2018 to June 2019, 39 therapists in North Carolina had their licenses revoked -- roughly half for inappropriate sexual contact.

Some were reported multiple times for inappropriately exposing and touching clients.

Board documents show that one therapist contacted a victim on LinkedIn telling her not to tell her anyone he had exposed or massaged her breasts.

Some complaints led to criminal charges.

In Pope's case, no charges were filed.

"He knows what he did to me and because I didn't physically see what he did and his body parts and because I froze, he gets away with it," she said.

Not only did Pope file a police report, she also told management. But she worries he could still be in the industry.

She said she has worked hard to move on and hopes to empower others to speak up.

"They have every right to fight if something makes them uncomfortable," she said.

Channel 9 learned dozens of therapists also lost their licenses for allowing people who don't have licenses to give massages in their businesses.

There are currently 9,785 licensed massage and bodywork therapists in North Carolina.

Since 2018, there have been roughly 60 complaints to the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy.

You can find a licensed therapist or file a complaint here.