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Massage Envy partners with anti-sexual violence group after misconduct allegations

by Elizabeth Chuck /  / Updated 
A therapist walks through the entrance to the massage rooms at Massage Envy in a strip mall in Columbia, Missouri on Sept. 21, 2006.L.G. Patterson / AP file

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The largest massage franchise in the United States announced Tuesday it is implementing more stringent background checks for its massage therapists after dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct.

Massage Envy, which has more than 1,100 franchises in 49 states, also said it is partnering with Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, to review its policies after a BuzzFeed report last month uncovered claims from more than 180 people of sexual assault in its treatment rooms.

"Throughout Massage Envy’s 15-year history, safety in the treatment room has been — and always will be — paramount," Joseph Magnacca, the CEO of Massage Envy, wrote in a letter Tuesday. "The recent, heartbreaking stories of sexual assault suffered in Massage Envy franchise locations caused us to take a hard look at our business and at how we protect the members and guests who have placed their trust in the brand."

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The company shared a six-point plan, which includes updated background screening for all massage therapists annually, requiring franchisees to give clients contact information for local law enforcement if they come forward with an allegation of sexual misconduct, and having RAINN review their policies and procedures for reporting and investigating claims, plus provide support to survivors.

Related: Dozens accuse massage therapists at large franchise of sexual misconduct

RAINN said it looked forward to assisting with the review.

"RAINN has a demonstrated history of helping organizations examine their sexual violence policies and improve their education and response practices. We look forward to working with Massage Envy to identify improvements that will promote safe and healthy communities," said Kati Lake, the group's vice president of consulting services.

According to BuzzFeed, franchisees mishandled or ignored many of the sexual misconduct claims. NBC News has not confirmed all of the allegations.

One former therapist, James Deiter, pleaded guilty last year to three counts of aggravated indecent assault and six counts of incident assault against nine women at the franchise outside Philadelphia where he worked, according to court documents obtained by NBC News.

One of his victims, Susan Ingram, is suing Massage Envy. She told NBC News that she had seen Deiter multiple times before he assaulted her.

She reported the attack to the police after a manager refused to take her claim seriously, she said. Deiter was arrested and sentenced in May 2016.

Another woman suing Massage Envy, Danielle Dick, told BuzzFeed that she was assaulted during a massage in October 2015. Staff comped her the massage but told her they wouldn't be reporting the incident to police.

Dick started a petition to get Massage Envy to change their policies and garnered more than 60,000 signatures. In a victory statement on on Tuesday, Dick wrote, "By taking the drastic steps outlined in today’s announcement, Massage Envy leadership has finally demonstrated that they are taking this issue seriously, and that they are committed to establishing themselves as a leader in this area."

She added: "I could not be more excited that Massage Envy heard our voices, and responded with the changes we asked for."

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