Victims of sexual assault at mid-Missouri massage businesses raise questions

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COLUMBIA- An increase in the national conversation about sexual assault has more victims of inappropriate behavior speaking out about mid-Missouri massage therapy businesses.

KOMU 8’s investigation began during the fall of 2017 after it was announced the Relax Station massage parlor in Columbia was facing a lawsuit due to an employee being charged with sexual assault. The employee did not have a license to perform massage therapy in Missouri, nor in Florida where there is a cease and desist order against him for practicing without a license.

The US does not have a national regulator for massage therapists or massage therapy businesses. There is, however, a Board of Therapeutic Massage in the state of Missouri that licenses therapists and businesses. Missouri’s Professional Registration website features a search tool allowing anyone to search for active licenses of therapists and businesses.  

Angela McPike, a Columbia resident, used to frequent Relax Station in the Columbia Mall, and has been to other massage businesses, often with coupons to save money.

McPike, who has been enjoying massages her whole life, reached out to KOMU wanting to tell her story about her experience with a Groupon coupon that led her to a man’s home.

“Whenever I pulled up to the address, it turned out to be a house and I was just kind of sitting there in the driveway and thinking, "Oh, this is kind of weird,'" McPike said.

The therapist came outside in scrubs and waved McPike in. 

“It was just the normal thing to do. Like, I will admit that whenever I pulled up and it was a house and then it turned out to be a man I felt like pulling away but, it just, you know, it seemed like the normal thing to do,” said McPike. “Like I would have to explain myself, why did you just pull off with no reason you know, we had an appointment set.” 

Due to the way Groupon functions, McPike had already paid for her massage when she printed the coupon. 

McPike said the interaction inside home seemed normal and the space was clean. She saw the therapist’s license posted on the wall, so she went into the massage room. She said it was not until about halfway through the 60-minute massage that she knew something was really wrong.

“It started off pretty gradual because I didn’t feel like the draping was quite appropriate but it was kind of a small thing so I didn’t think too much of it at the time,” said McPike. “I was just like, ‘he’s no good at draping.’ But it wasn’t really until halfway through that it got to the point where I was like, this is incredibly inappropriate and there’s you know, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is on purpose.”

McPike said the inappropriate touching continued escalating during the second half of the massage but she did not feel she could move. 

“I definitely thought about leaving a million time a second, it seems like. I was just like, ‘okay if I get up and leave’…and and I just had all these thoughts going through my head of ‘Will he hurt me?’ ‘Will I have time to put my clothes on?’ ‘Will I be able to get my keys?’ You know, and I was even thinking, ‘I’ll leave my purse here, I’ll get a new phone,’ McPike said. “And I did at one point think ‘I’ll just run out there naked and someone will stop.’ And I just couldn’t do it. I just felt like I was frozen.”

Once the massage was over, McPike said the inappropriate behavior stopped. 

“He just said we’re done and then he left and I put my clothes on and I was just like shaking. And the minute I walked out of the door, I was like ‘Oh my god, I made it.’”

KOMU reached out to the man who gave McPike the massage. He declined to comment on the record about the incident.

Using the massage license number he gave KOMU and his full name, a quick search on the Missouri Professional Registration website showed the man has an active license through the beginning of 2019.

If you’re searching in Columbia, the man’s company is one of the top searches on Groupon with dozens of reviews and a five star rating.

“I have not had a massage since then," McPike said, "But I like massage, I hope to be able to go back and what’s so sad about it is it’s supposed to be something you’re doing for yourself to try and cope with things. It’s self care to make yourself feel better and we just need to be safe.”

Buzzfeed’s national investigation into Massage Envy showed 180 women have filed sexual assault reports against the company.

KOMU tried to find out how many of those reports are from Missouri. Missouri’s Board of Therapeutic Massage denied the request for reports against Massage Envy but told KOMU in the past five years, 104 complaints were filed regarding massage therapy businesses and 38 complaints regarding massage therapists. 

Next, KOMU looked at court cases filed by defendants against Massage Envy. Of the four KOMU found, one case was dismissed by the parties involved, another dismissed by the court and the other two cases are still ongoing. One of those cases started as a sexual assault allegation from a St. Louis location.

Another woman who was willing to share her story was a victim of an inappropriate massage at Columbia’s Massage Envy in February of last year. She said she didn’t know she could file a report with the Board of Therapeutic Massage.

“I had no idea that I could even do that. It never crossed my mind it would be ultimately kind of a government issue,” she said.

Through a phone call with Massage Envy, the victim verified in December the man who gave her the massage is no longer employed at Massage Envy in Columbia. 

Through another quick search using the Missouri Professional Registration website, KOMU verified the victim’s therapist still has an active license in the state of Missouri proving individuals may have a license, but that doesn’t mean the therapist is performing appropriate massages.

The woman with the alleged sexual assault at Massage Envy summed up the sentiment from all the victims KOMU spoke to.

“Do what you need to do to make sure that you’re safe and not worry about how it’s going to be perceived by other people if you insult someone by thinking that they’re a creep, it’s better to apologize for that than to live for the rest of your life knowing that you have been assaulted by someone,” she said.