For massage therapists: Spotting a pervert

Hi, my fellow MTs.  I realized I hadn’t spoken with you in a while.  Sometimes I do get a little consumed with all this chiropractic stuff, but I never forget where I came from.  (I can’t call massage my “roots” because I did choose chiropractic first, before considering becoming a therapist, but I digress…)

To make it up to you, I thought I’d spend some assembly time (yep, that’s me–way in the back at the top with the laptop while yet one more rah-rah motivator yaps on about their experience…not that the miracles don’t happen–they most certainly do, but speakers like these are hardly the norm–we need someone a little more realistic, something we can actually use, but I digress again…)

Time to cut to the chase.  I logged onto a massage therapy-centered internet forum for the first time in a while, and I found a topic that is somehow like the Buddha – it gets revived again and again, never actually going away.

For a fleeting moment, I asked myself while we’re still discussing this topic, subconsciously assuming that everyone had already experienced a perv in their office by now.  I kept forgetting about all the new grads, or the veteran solo practitioners who had yet to experience one of these little bundles of joy.  We keep discussing it because we keep dealing with it.  We keep dealing with it because we keep having to.

I’ve had my share of being exposed to perverts throughout the years, but for every one that ended up in my space, there were many more that I had screened out in the initial phone interview.  Truth be told, most pervs that I encountered were at places where someone else handled the phone and scheduling; in my own practice, where I did my own screening, I encountered far fewer slimebags.

It all starts with your business name.  Avoid words like “Swedish” in the actual business name because it can be akin to the “Swedish Institute” chain that offered above and beyond therapeutic massage and they even had some slimy radio ads.  They finally got busted and shut down a few years back, but you don’t want any potential perv calling you thinking they’ve made a comeback. “Magic Hands” and “Amazing Fingers” are probably also not phrases you want to use. Some pure-intentioned, well-meaning, creativity-lacking therapists latch onto such cliches, but unless you want a bunch of panting dogs leaving messages on your voice mail at 2am wondering if you’re available right now, it’s probably not a good idea.

Be conscious about what you say when advertising yourself, because advertising how most of these people are going to find you.  (Your current clients, decent people, are usually not going to refer anyone dubious to you, even unconsciously.  I say usually, because there are exceptions to this.)  Any place you express yourself or describe your work, you have to accentuate the therapeutic aspect.  Avoid phrases like “feather light” or “light touch” or “root chakra balancing” or “tantra”, even if it’s white or right-hand tantra or chakra work, because these phrases are often barely-plausible pseudo-legitimate code phrases for Other Services.  If you’re in a licensed state and it doesn’t jeopardize your safety to do so, you may want to include your state license number on all advertising or listings.  If you do pain management/relief or pre-natal or pediatric work, by all means, say so!  Nothing kills a potential pervert’s libido like the thought of pregnancy massage.

A side note: be aware of not only what you say in your ads, but where you advertise.  Craig’s list can be good or bad.  It can be good, because not everyone who browses Craig’s list is a pervert; some are actually looking for a legit massage and you’ll get great exposure.  However, there are a ton of slimy people on there, looking for anything and everything.  If you advertise here, you’ll definitely receive some call volume–but are those calls from people you’d want?

Ah, yes–the calls.  I fielded a gazillion calls my first year, many of them from people with a dubious agenda.  Looking back now it’s because I listed on a website that had a mix of legit (the lion’s share) and Not legit (a noticeable minority) therapists and I listed my modalities, including “feather light” lymphatic drainage and “myofascial release”.  I was completely legit, but I didn’t know better.  Many people thought lymphatic drainage sounded barbaric and painful and I wanted to emphasis the utter gentleness aspect of it, and sometimes it does indeed feel like a feather.  But it perked up the pervs ears.  Myofascial release is quite legit, too–even clinical–but the prospective pervs saw the “release” part and looked no further.

So how do you spot one on the phone?  I admit, you don’t have the in-person opportunity to get a feel for the slimy creepy vibe yet, so how can one tell?  Listen.  Listen carefully, to what they’re saying and to what they’re not saying.  At the beginning, pervs are often quiet and embarrassed, sheepish or sly, or they talk real fast.  Some don’t want to leave a message but will call 4-5 times in a row.  Some will call at all hours of the night.  Often, they don’t volunteer their name or they mumble when giving it to you.  Sometimes they ask a lot of questions, especially pertaining to what areas you will and will not work, whether or not you work glutes, hamstrings, adductor muscles, abdominal muscles, or groin area, or whether or not you do prostate massage.  Many times, they’ll ask about draping – what you use for draping, whether it’s a sheet or a towel, what size or thickness the drape is, whether or not it’s required, or what the draping boundary is (i.e. what will you leave exposed and what must be covered up).  Many will try to keep you on the phone as long as they can, with the sole purpose of feeling you out, no pun intended.  They want to see if you’ll eventually leak any clues or key underground phrases that let them know you offer extras.  Your best defense is to screen, screen, screen.  And keep the focus on all things therapeutic.  Don’t let them forget about the “Therapy” in Massage Therapy.

I worked out of our home during my first couple years in private practice, and when a prospective male client had passed the phone screening, I still didn’t let my guard down.  When it came time to schedule an unfamiliar male, I either scheduled him for a time when my partner would be home, or if he was going to be at work, I at least turned on the TV, radio, or kitchen light to make it look and sound like someone was home.  Hell, I even went and opened or closed some doors in such a way that the client would hear it.  I also avoided same-day appointments whenever possible.

When it comes to outcalls, there’s no foolproof way to be 100% safe.  You can screen them on the phone and trust your gut (which I would advocate anyway–ALWAYS go with your gut instinct!) but there’s not much you can do short of taking someone else with you.  Often, I did.  But often, I didn’t. I just trusted that I would be safe.  I stuck to certain outcall hours (nothing too late, nothing on weekend evenings) and I worked on females or couples whenever possible, especially if there were children in the household, and if I was visiting the home of someone unfamiliar, I made sure to call my partner upon arrival and when I was physically pulling out of their driveway.  During the massage, I always kept my cellphone and keys in my scrub shirt pocket in case I needed to make a getaway.

While there is a great potential for danger in the massage therapy field, very little danger actually exists.  (That’s not to say that you shouldn’t always keep your guard up, though, because shit happens.). There are many more situations where something could happen, and very few situations where something actually does.  That said, there have been some tragedies.  But hopefully, I’ve been able to help minimize the actual risk with the tips above.

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