Forest Grove councilor sues Massage Envy over alleged sex assault
Forest Grove City Councilor Donna Gustafson is suing a local Massage Envy, saying she was sexually assaulted last year by one of the company's massage therapists.
The lawsuit — filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court against a Massage Envy location in Beaverton that is now closed, as well as the national chain — alleges that while Gustafson was a client in July 2020, a therapist masturbated during a massage, pushed his erection against different parts of her body, and touched her breasts and pelvic area.
The therapist is not a named defendant in the suit.
"In Oregon alone, at least 15 women have filed lawsuits against Massage Envy locations for sexual assaults by their massage therapists," Ashley Vaughn, Gustafson's attorney, said in a statement.
The Hillsboro Police Department investigated the incident, but the Washington County District Attorney's Office declined to pursue charges.
"We reviewed all the law enforcement evidence, and there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt," said Stephen Mayer, spokesperson for the Washington County District Attorney's Office. "Each case is its own. We review all the details and speak with witnesses, the accused and law enforcement."
Vaughn asserted that the state often fails to prosecute sexual assaults for lack of evidence.
"Most sexual assaults happen in secret when there is no physical evidence and no witnesses," Vaughn told the Pamplin Media Group. "More often than not, the (district attorney) will decline to prosecute that because they don't think they can win. That shouldn't be the standard, but it is."
Massage Envy's corporate communications department did not return calls and emails for comment Monday.
According to a Hillsboro Police Department report, the alleged assault took place around 4 p.m. and Gustafason spoke to police that night. A detective reached the accused therapist, a seasonal employee who also lives in Sweden, by phone, and he denied the assault.
"When the (district attorney's) investigation came back and said they weren't going to press charges, that made me feel like I don't matter as a person," Gustafson said. "This is a trend. Companies need to be accountable for who they hire, and I hope more women know it's okay to step out and say 'this happened.'"
Oregon State Board of Massage Therapists compliance and licensing manager Jeff Van Laanen said the organization does a full criminal background check into all license applicants, including taking fingerprints for FBI and state police databases.
"It's pretty thorough background check that's above the standard of a lot of other state licensing," Van Laanen said. "I'm not sure what else they could add to try to keep bad apples back."
Sexual assaults by male massage therapists against female customers is a well-reported problem in Oregon and the rest of the country. According to The Oregonian, 33 of 37 male licensed massage therapists who lost their license between 2012 and 2017 did so due to allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse.
Oregon court records show three women filed similar civil suits against Massage Envy in 2014 and settled out of court before trial.
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