Do I have a moral obligation to report this male massage therapist?
September 10, 2016 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I had a very intimate massage from a male masseuse that people are telling me was inappropriate and should be reported. Details inside.

I am staying at a retreat run by two people, a male and female partner. It is a wonderful place of relaxation and this has truly been one of the best weeks of my life in a long time.

However the male partner, who is also the on site masseuse, gave me a full body massage that was more intimate than I am used to. He worked everything and finally pulled the towel down to expose my breasts, which he then fully massaged. At the time I did not feel violated but other female guests avoided booking massaged with him as a result.

Throughout the week I have felt his eyes on me whenever I'm in the room, he hovers close to me often and managed to accidentally bumped into me earlier in a huge empty room. I instinctively felt he was attracted to me from the get-go and feel perhaps a boundary was crossed because of this.

When I compared notes with another woman who also received a massage from him (he did not touch her breasts) she got upset and said I should report it to the female owner (ie. The male masseuses partner). The female owner is really wonderful and I do intuitively think she has sensed something although it could all be in my head because of how I am feeling. Earlier he was staring at me hard while sitting with her eating a meal...

Anyway the woman I told is urging me to tell the female owner anonymously and saying she wants to if I do not! I would prefer to move on without saying anything, but would it be wrong of me to do this? I would like to return to this amazing place and feel a complaint would compromise this also.
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are the male and female owners of the retreat partners in business only or romantic partners as well?
posted by telegraph at 4:06 PM on September 10, 2016

Response by poster: Romantic partners as well. The woman used to work with woman and girls and therefore holds issues like this close to her heart but it's a difficult one. I am fine, but I know many women would not have been comfortable with this kind of massage without prior warning of what it would entail.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 4:09 PM on September 10, 2016

Oof. I do think you need to report it. This guy does not sound okay. I think you can find other retreats in the future which will be equally lovely without the creep factor. If I had a business partner (or romantic partner!) who was massaging women's breasts and then leering at them during meals, I would want to know about it.
posted by something something at 4:10 PM on September 10, 2016 [36 favorites]

Right now I'd do whatever makes you feel safest. For starters, can you avoid being alone with him? Could you leave if needed?
posted by smorgasbord at 4:14 PM on September 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

If a massage therapist touched me like this without prior consent I would consider it sexual assault and absolutely report it. You may feel fine about what happened, but clearly a lot of others wouldn't and I think you do have a responsibility to report it for that reason.

Is this person a registered massage therapist? If so, he's likely in violation of the ethical code of his professional body as well.
posted by bibliotropic at 4:16 PM on September 10, 2016 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Please report it to the female partner. I would say something to the effect of, "I wanted to let you know that during my last massage with [name] he unexpectedly pulled my towel down in order to massage my breasts. When I discussed this with the other women in our party, they were concerned and uncomfortable enough that they've asked me to tell you about it."

That's a pretty plain reporting of facts without any extras. She might ask you whether you said anything about it to her partner. I would say no, and that you would like to return to the retreat in the future with a better understanding of how retreat attendees should set boundaries in regards to massages and other body-touching activities.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:17 PM on September 10, 2016 [38 favorites]

There was recently a high profile case in my community involving inappropriate touching and other actions by a masseur. It seems that it took one person coming forward (to the police) to trigger an investigation which found many others who felt that he had been inappropriate.

It is possible that coming forward might prevent others from experiencing this behavior in the future, and could possibly identify others who were uncomfortable or felt violated / assaulted. Although you didn't experience the behavior in a traumatic way, others might, or it might escalate.

Is he licensed? If so you can make a complaint to the licensing board which is a less drastic step than going to the police but which might identify a pattern or at least allow an opportunity for coaching on what is professional massage behavior and what isn't.
posted by charmcityblues at 4:27 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

This was completely inappropriate, unethical, and illegal - I'm a woman who trained as a massage therapist a long time ago and you DO NOT massage breasts and not without prior consent at the very very least and this man should not be within a million miles of women who may be vulnerable or frankly anyone at all.

I'm sorry you feel your return to this retreat may be compromised but I strongly feel you have an absolute duty to report him to his partner, and personally I'd also report him to his licensing body and the police but it doesn't sound like you would do that. Possibly consider how you'd feel if you found out this happened to a young female relative who did not feel empowered to say no to him and question whether this would trump your desire to return to somewhere for a vacation. Sorry if that sounds harsh but you should absolutely not let this go unreported in some form because good Christ I doubt you are the first woman whose breasts he has touched without consent but do your best to make sure you're the last.
posted by billiebee at 4:28 PM on September 10, 2016 [35 favorites]

Response by poster: I leave tomorrow. Should I report it via anonymous email or talk to her face to face before I go?
posted by Kat_Dubs at 4:30 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't know about reporting it to her at all: I think you should report him to the appropriate regulatory authority (if there is such a thing in your jurisdiction). What he did was sexual assault, and she is highly likely to protect him by not acting on your report.
posted by suelac at 4:36 PM on September 10, 2016 [36 favorites]

How you report it is your choice, but if it was me I would ask to speak to her privately and I would ask the fellow guest who you mentioned to accompany me for support and also as a witness (if they were OK with that). Consider your safety and what you feel comfortable with. There is every possibility she will not believe you, or will believe you but not act on the information, so I would consider some kind of anonymous Yelp review or something (taking care to adhere to libel laws) in order to warn others considering the retreat, but that's my personal opinion.
posted by billiebee at 4:37 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would post an anonymous review online and encourage the other woman do the same. You can say exactly what you said here, and can ask to make this post anonymous if you want an extra layer of privacy. If he belongs to a professional association, you can also report him there.
posted by smorgasbord at 4:47 PM on September 10, 2016

Response by poster: I cannot report it as I'm in a foreign country and don't generally speak the language. Also too much stress for me as a solo female traveller at present - only option I see is flagging it up to the female partner?
posted by Kat_Dubs at 5:02 PM on September 10, 2016

I would like to return to this amazing place and feel a complaint would compromise this also.

Even if this didn't bother you all that much, how many other people do you suppose he's done it to, and will go on to do it to?
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:11 PM on September 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

Are you in Thailand / Southeast Asia? Because massaging breasts is very common in Thailand (I've had the same happen to me by female and male massage therapists). Of course, you were uncomfortable and that's all that matters -- but cultural context may be a factor.
posted by pando11 at 5:31 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I am in Portugal. I have considered cultural differences but even so, this needs to be clearer surely...
posted by Kat_Dubs at 5:36 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

this needs to be clearer surely...

Definitely, it should be, but, in my experience, there is a wide range of cultural differences and expectations when it comes to this kind of massage. I would definitely have been taken aback by what he did, especially when combined with the other vibes you've been getting from him, but I have had my breasts massaged by European therapists who clearly assumed there was nothing to discuss. (Now I tell every therapist at the beginning of the massage where I don't want to be touched. Some of them just nod and others are taken aback, even saying "of course we don't do that!")

Since you want to return to the place and did not feel violated at the time, one possibility might be to raise it as an issue of cultural difference with the female partner. You could say something along the lines of, "hey, I had this massage, and I just wanted to suggest that you tell your partner that he should give more warning before he touches a client's breasts. It's unusual where I come from and some of your visitors might find it disturbing." You could also leave a review on Trip Advisor (or similar) warning others that they might get that kind of massage unless they specify otherwise. If the guy is up to something, this should put him on notice, and it also gives his partner a chance to call him on his behaviour if she wants to.

Of course, if he continues to follow you around and "accidentally" bump into you, that could be a different problem. At the end of the day it's your comfort that matters and you should trust your own instincts about the situation.
posted by rpfields at 6:39 PM on September 10, 2016 [16 favorites]

I suggest you just let it go. The female partner is unlikely to walk away from her romantic and business partner over this. Telling her may make her complicit in future bad behavior. She may feel forced to cover for him, and that will make victims in the future at greater risk of real harm. If you want to go back, reporting it creates trouble for you and will likely make you unwelcome.

I know people on metafilter like to advocate that you fight the good fight, but with language barriers, cultural doubts and you feel unharmed, I think your best bet might be to try to do something like leave a warning remark on a review website somewhere.

Sometimes, if telling is overwhelmingly unlikely to help, just keeping your mouth shut is the least worst course of action. Once people in a position to do something know of minor bad behavior such that they can't or won't address it, the perp gets bolder because they know they can get away with it.
posted by Michele in California at 6:47 PM on September 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is as true for you as it is in any other case of (possible) sexual assault: you do not have any obligation to do anything in response to what happened except what is right for you. You do not have to go to the police if that isn't what is right for you. You don't have to talk to the female partner if that isn't what is right for you. The responsibility for what he may or may not do in the future lies with the him. The responsibility for stopping him lies with the authorities. It is not your fault, and what happens to him from this point forward is not your burden to carry.

That said, you absolutely have the right to report him to whomever you see fit: informally or formally, in person or not, now or later. If it feels better to wait and do it from a slight distance, in a situation where you feel safe, that's 100% okay. And you also don't have to define it for yourself immediately - if you want to take some time to let it all settle, you can do that, too.

As you think through about how you want to define it - uncomfortable or not, cultural misunderstanding or violation - I'd just say that all the discomfort, confusion, fear, worry, guilt and responsibility you may be feeling now are part of why this was such a negative experience: it's not just about what happened in the room; it's about the position he placed you in afterwards, trying to sort through what happened and figure out how you're supposed to deal with the other members of the retreat, and with his female partner. That's a really hard place to be, and it fucking sucks, which is partly why it was wrong for this to happen to you.

I'm sorry this happened. What a stressful thing to have happen when you're traveling alone! Take care of yourself - we're all here for you.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:52 PM on September 10, 2016 [36 favorites]

Ugh. I used to live in Portugal and feel confident saying this was not cultural, it was just him. He's a creep. (They are universal.)

You don't feel violated, and that's completely fine (but I feel compelled to add: if that really is how you feel about it, and not just how you really really want to feel so that this won't tarnish your otherwise lovely experience). There are many of us here who for various reasons haven't reported our assaults even when we did feel violated, and that's a valid choice. You're under no moral obligation.

I'd bet my favourite hat that he's a repeat offender, though - the casually callous way he did it while hiding behind his role as a teacher/mentor/guide of sorts speaks volumes - so trying to thwart his MO in any way could be a kindness to future participants he may be inclined to assault. People are so open and vulnerable at places like that... Preying on them is hideous (and yet, unfortunately, not uncommon in these kinds of scenes).

That said, my first and second hand experiences with Portuguese law enforcement and other local authorities would frankly leave me very reluctant to report this to any of them. Time-consuming, possibly unpleasant, not very likely to yield results. YMMV.

And yeah, I bet his partner has noticed. Most women with creepy, handsy, cheating spouses quickly develop a sixth sense about it (and then often spend ages trying to discredit their own instincts). But I assume she's fully aware of his massaging activities, which means if you report this to her directly you'll risk running into a mountain of denial, or worse, blame shifting. I would personally tell her anonymously afterwards, just to save her face/avoid an ugly confrontation. But most likely, she will probably know it was you anyway if he's been gawking at you all week.

It's a good thing you told the other women, btw, so they'll at least know to watch out for the missing stair. However, I doubt having them intervene on your behalf would be enough to ensure the bridge won't get burned to the ground. As I said, she'll know who's behind the complaint. But I would also seriously consider whether the retreat is really as wonderful as you think if there's this kind of ugliness underneath the surface. Maybe you brought the wonderfulness of your experience along with you there, you know. And that means you'll find it elsewhere, too.
posted by sively at 6:53 PM on September 10, 2016 [24 favorites]

I can't speak for this specific situation or cultural context but you obviously felt uncomfortable enough to post about your experience. It seems like reporting his actions to a Portuguese or EU massage therapy licensing board, hotel association, or trade association could help prevent predation on other women in the future with little risk or effort on your part. Leaving a paper trail can be immensely helpful for other people who end up being victimized, making it much easier to prosecute or prove a pattern of inappropriate behavior.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:43 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been in your position of being a foreign woman who was sexually harassed while living abroad in Europe. I had a college instructor touch me inappropriately on the last day of class because 1) he was a jerk and 2) he knew he could more easily get away with it since I'm a foreigner. It's such a horrible feeling, I'm so sorry. I felt so horrible and helpless and was about to leave so I didn't report it. Frankly, I didn't know whom I could even report it to because the system for reporting such things was so unclear. I, like you, was also afraid of how it'd affect my future changes there. (I know it's ridiculous but that's exactly the power dynamic at play.) Do what your heart and gut tells you. If you want us to help you look up any resources, we can.

And, just so you hear it, this all is not your fault. Hugs!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:39 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Job one is to get the hell out of there. I'm sorry because I know this advice will make you sad.

As an owner, he has a key to your room. Keep your door locked and also move a piece of furniture in front of it when you sleep. Don't go places alone. If he drives the shuttle to airport, then make sure someone else rides with you. I know this seems like an overreaction. It's not.

He is without boundaries, and you are vulnerable.

I wouldn't bother with talking to his partner. I would get the hell out of there. Once you are safely away from his reach, then you can consider other options.
posted by 26.2 at 10:10 PM on September 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

To add a slightly different data point, I have been part of a massage community (in northern CA, US) where breast massage as part of a full-body massage was a thing--a nonsexual thing. That said, even within that community, I can't imagine a massage therapist of any gender massaging someone's breasts without asking for and receiving explicit permission to do it.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:19 AM on September 11, 2016

Response by poster: I have an update.

I decided to leave a note on the feedback form saying an issue arose and that she could contact me if she wanted to, which she did 1 hour after I left. I related what took place and also the discomfort other female guests felt about it.

She agreed that it was most likely a cultural issue but that the important thing to take on board was that I felt uncomfortable. She then said breast massage is normal in ayurvedic massage. She then apologised and said this would be taken on board going forward.

I still feel upset and somewhat unfulfilled by her response though. I got to my next hotel and burst into tears. I am meant to be doing a diving course tomorrow but am feeling quite distressed and stupid for reporting it, gI've her reaction. I fly home in a week.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 7:07 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also she says this was normal but then he did not touch the other woman's breasts? Or is that because each massage varies....
posted by Kat_Dubs at 7:09 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

You are not stupid for reporting it. This man did not have your consent to touch your beasts. There is no excuse for him. Please be kind to yourself.
posted by Chrysalis at 7:14 AM on September 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

It's not normal. But of course she is telling you that it's normal because she's afraid that she will lose her whole business if this gets out. She's probably pulling her hair out right now.

You have done nothing wrong. Not one thing. If these new friends of yours go back knowing that there is a person there who's not afraid to commit sexual assault, that's on them. There are plenty of beautiful retreats and great people in the world that will not leave you crying in your hotel room afterwards.

None of this is your fault.
posted by Chrysalis at 7:29 AM on September 11, 2016 [19 favorites]

If it were a normal part of ayurvedic massage, that would have been explained to you in advance as most people would be expecting a breast-free massage. Clearly other people were as shocked as you were. For what it's worth, I've looked up ayurvedic massage centres just now and it is not mentioned anywhere.
posted by Chrysalis at 7:31 AM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your only obligation right now is to treat yourself with the compassion you'd show a good friend. I believe you, and I'm sorry this happened to you.
posted by Chrysalis at 7:34 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. Kat_Dubs, we've talked a number of times before about threadsitting and at this point I'm going to gently ask you to step back from commenting in the thread. I'm sorry you're going through this, and hope you've gotten some helpful responses here.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:46 AM on September 11, 2016

This also happened to me in Italy years ago. I'm sorry it happened to you too. Female massage practitioners only for me since then. You did nothing wrong
posted by ibakecake at 8:57 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

You have to report it. I don't have a resource on this, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the rate of sexual abuse in retreat/healing/religious situations is very high, and the social structures and implicit rules surrounding that kind of place end up protecting abusers. Please say something. Imagine this triggering or seriously damaging someone else, the next target he chooses, who doesn't have the defenses you do.
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sively...and other Portuguese natives/residents do you know what the local feminist/ sexual assault orgs are?
posted by brujita at 10:45 AM on September 11, 2016

Don't feel stupid. You did the right thing. I'm sorry you're going through this and that she tried to minimise the experience you had. Hopefully she will ensure it doesn't happen to anyone else.

I had my breasts fondled by a creepy disgusting cardiologist one time and reported it to another doctor, but I couldn't prove that what happened wasn't part of an ordinary examination so the guy didn't get punished for it. I'm just telling you this in case it helps to know that you're not alone and there are others who have been through something similar and understand. Being a woman and being so bloody powerless makes me really angry and sad sometimes.
posted by hazyjane at 11:35 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's not normal, it didn't happen to the other women. Your instinct is 100% correct. She is gaslighting you because she's scared to lose her business and confront the fact that her husband behaves inappropriately. I'm sorry you feel crappy- please know that her statements that made you feel ineffectual and overblown in your legitimate complaint were part of a deliberate (even if unconscious) tactic being deliberately used on you, to shut down your effectiveness in a potential pursuit of justice. She doesn't want you to follow up on it so she's trying to make you feel mistaken and guilty. You're correct though.
I hope you will feel up to the diving class tomorrow- I bet it will help. Best wishes to you.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:21 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm a licensed massage therapist.

Where was this? Did you see a licensed professional? Massage therapy regulations vary by location. In most states in the US, it is illegal to expose and/or massage the areola and nipple. It would be against the agreed upon ethics of all professional organizations I am aware of. Even massaging the pectoral muscles, which is legit, should only be done with permission.

If this was in a US state and this man is licensed, you should report it to the state governing body.

If he is not licensed, report it to the police. Practicing massage without a license is illegal in almost all US locations.

If he's in a professional organization like ABMP or AMTA, he's violating his professional ethics and should be reported as well.

YES, it would be wrong of you not to report it. Your being ok with this behavior puts you in the VERY clear minority of women. Most women would feel very upset by this. You have a chance to ensure that this person does not molest anyone else.

Also, please use the term "massage therapist". "masseuse" is a pejorative term implying that the person gives happy endings. Unless you intended to get a happy ending and went to an illegal massage parlor, the person you saw was a massage therapist.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 8:59 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ooookay nevermind. Hadn't read enough of the thread to know this was in Portugal.

Breast massage isn't par for the course in ayurvedic massage, though.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 9:27 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Whether or not this individual was a creep, there certainly are occasions where this is common. I know a couple of italian massage therapists who had a shock coming to the uk and not performing breast massage.
posted by fizban at 8:08 AM on September 12, 2016

If it had been normal, he would have massaged the other women's breasts, too. In stead, he only massaged OP, whom he also stared at, hovered near and "accidentally" bumped into. Enough said. (Except, ok, I also want to add that IME, attitudes towards sexuality in Portugal tend to be considerably more conservative than in many other European countries. I can't imagine my Portuguese acquaintances reacting to a surprise breast massage with anything other than utter shock.)

Sively...and other Portuguese natives/residents do you know what the local feminist/ sexual assault orgs are?

The Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights would probably be able to suggest who to turn to.
Tel.: +351 21 362 60 49
Skype: plataforma-direitos-mulheres
Facebook page

Also, The Portuguese Association for Victim Support has a handy May I Help You? website precisely for tourists who've been victims of a crime while in Portugal.

I still feel upset and somewhat unfulfilled by her response though. I got to my next hotel and burst into tears. I am meant to be doing a diving course tomorrow but am feeling quite distressed and stupid for reporting it, gI've her reaction.

Of course you do, because you were brave and honest, and her response sucked! She minimized the incident and made you doubt your experience - basically gaslighted you. She may be in denial, protecting her business, saving face, or all of those, but it's nevertheless bullshit, and she let you down. Don't let that get to you, just leave their bad karma to them, and look for support elsewhere. And enjoy the diving!
posted by sively at 2:04 PM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your support. I made the difficult decision to go home (I've previously been told I am permitted to post a final update so I assume that's still the case).

Although I didn't feel violated at the time, I found myself mentally reassuring myself often and breathing my way through the massage to stay calm. I had never been touched so intimately before (not just breasts, but lower stomach, inner thighs - at one point he even took out my hair tie to run his fingers through my hair - and did not leave the room when I undressed) by someone I wasn't sleeping with. I did not really feel that he massaged my breasts, as much as he squeezed and fondled me in a way that I could not separate from the way a lover touches me.

Things escalated before they got better - a person I confided in anonymously emailed them to complain about the sexual assault of a young woman. In the end I explained to the female owner that I believed the incident to be completely unethical and upsetting (and that consent should always be sought for future guests) .I did not receive a response after this, which is fine. As pretentious illiterate said, so much of the stress came from having to figure out how to respond to other guests and the female partner when it seemed wrong. Also coping with responding to him daily.

I think what upset me most of all was feeling a lack of control. A few months ago, a man threatened me in a way that shook me up and threatened my safety. I went to the retreat for respite and did not think I would have to deal with feeling u
posted by Kat_Dubs at 3:10 PM on September 15, 2016

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