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Complaints on the rise about sex assaults during massage therapy

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Complaints on the rise about sex assaults during massage therapy

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Feb 13, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Getting a massage is supposed to be all about relaxation and serenity. But reports of sexual assault by massage therapists are on the rise.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has been working with the state to help give victims a voice.

"It's affected everything." Audra has a hard time believing what happened to her, "I don't see myself as a victim and yet I don't know how to ignore it."

We normally don't show victims of alleged sexual assault and we're not using her last name, but she wants to tell her story.

"I felt violated. I know I was violated. And I don't ever want to feel that way again and I don't think anyone else needs to feel that way."

It was May 8, 2011, when she went to Massage Envy for a Mother's Day massage. The therapist they gave her was Limmie Young.

"I was hurt by this person. I was touched in a way that makes me re-live it every time I close my eyes."

According to a complaint filed against Young by the State Board of Massage Therapists, Young grabbed Audra by the armpits and shook her to make her breasts jiggle. 

He also exposed her breasts and genitals, lifted her leg and "pressed his groin to hers" and placed his genitals in her hand.

"It just makes you realize how vulnerable we all are, no matter who we are or what we do or how hard we try, that we're all susceptible to those kinds of circumstances."

State records show she abruptly ended the massage, notified front desk staff of what happened, and left, "Whatever it was he was doing, I felt at the time that he had done it before."

Turns out, he had. In the state's complaint, Young's history reads like a rap sheet. He was hired at Massage Envy on South Grand Canyon starting Jan. 25, 2010, before he was even licensed.

Within one month, three female clients complained to management that young "was very inappropriate."

The details were all strikingly similar to Audra's experience.

So what did Massage Envy do about all those complaints? 

State records show various responses, from giving a refund, to requiring Young to watch a training video, to promising the client a different massage therapist in the future. 

Eventually, they fired him.

But shortly after that, Young was hired by another Massage Envy, the one on Centennial Center, where Audra encountered him.

"People that knew what he was doing allowed him second and third and fourth chances."

Audra filed a lawsuit.

And so has another woman, who saw Young at Massage Envy after Audra.

That second lawsuit calls him a "sexual predator" and says Massage Envy was "negligent" in "hiring, training and supervision."

"What are you hoping your case will help you do? asked Darcy. 

"Help people understand and be wary," said Audra.

Contact 13 left multiple messages for Limmie Young through his attorney but never got a callback.

Massage Envy wouldn't go on camera, but sent a statement which says:

"Massage Envy Spa and its franchisees take all customer issues very seriously and have a zero tolerance policy on inappropriate conduct. Each franchisee is required to employ only licensed massage therapists who have graduated from an accredited massage school, meet all state and local licensing requirements and have undergone a criminal background and reference check prior to hiring. Licensed massage therapists are also required to complete a training and orientation program prior to employment, which specifically covers our zero tolerance policy on inappropriate conduct.

Unfortunately, the local franchisees that employed Mr. Young did not adhere to these policies. Once Massage Envy Spa learned of this issue, we launched an internal investigation into why the policies and procedures were not followed and intend to address accordingly.

Related to the re-hiring of Mr. Young, this was an isolated incident that occurred more than two years ago before Massage Envy Spa instituted a nationwide policy leveraging its proprietary technology to prevent this type of incident from occurring again.

Massage Envy Spa is a national franchiser with nearly 1,000 franchised clinics across the United States. Each franchised location is independently owned and operated. Massage Envy Spa averages more than 1.6 million massages and facials on a monthly basis and is committed to providing high-quality service to our customers in a safe and comfortable environment."

Young's case was scheduled for a hearing before the state board last October, but he voluntarily surrendered his license to avoid that.

"It's kind of the same thing as a plea bargain," explained Lisa Cooper, executive director of the Nevada State Board of Massage Therapists in Reno. "It's not unusual that an administrative agency will move forward with a case where a law enforcement agency might not be able to take it to the fullest extent."

Limmie Young is not facing criminal charges.

But others have.

Dwayne Thurmond's case started with a complaint to the state board and ended with Thurmond in prison.

He was sentenced in October, 2013 for attempted sexual assault and secretly photographing his clients' genitals during their massages.

And though complaints are on the rise, Cooper said they should be hearing more, "I know that for every victim we get, there's at least 20 people out there that are being victimized."

In the years 2011-2013, there were just 12 sexual assault complaints filed with the state. 

But in just the last four months, the board has received five complaints. 

Four were for "engaging in or soliciting sexual activity during massage." 

The board is working to put out public service announcements so victims know they have a voice.

Darcy is following another case where criminal charges have been filed.

She'll have details on that as her story continues Friday on Action News Live @ 6.

If you believe you've been the victim of inappropriate conduct during a massage, the state board wants to hear from you.

Their contact information is:

Board of Massage Therapists
1755 E. Plumb Lane Suite 252 
Reno, NV 89502 
Phone (775) 687-9955 or (702) 486-2212 
Fax (775) 786-4264 
Email: nvmassagebd@state.nv.us
Web Site: www.massagetherapy.nv.gov

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.