Police officer tells massage therapist sexual harassment is to be expected in her line of work

A registered massage therapist reportedly said she was told by a Montreal police officer that encountering sexual harassment is part of her job, and that she shouldn’t get “emotional” about it.

The CBC reported last week that Claudia Cavaliere, 20, said she was massaging a client when “he started grinding his pelvis on the table. She said he then turned over and masturbated in front of her. He said nothing to her except to demand a tissue.”

She is quoted as saying, “I didn’t know what to do. I just froze.” She left the room and found a colleague who took her to another room. The colleague then went and told the client to leave.

“I couldn’t speak. I was hyperventilating. I was crying. I was sitting on the floor in the corner of the room, panicking,” Cavaliere said.

They learned that the man gave a fake name and phone number.

Police didn’t take her seriously

Cavaliere says that when she went to the police, the officer with whom she initially spoke told her that this sort of thing is to be expected in her line of work, and not to get “emotional” over it.

“He was like, ‘Well, you know, you have to get ready to appear in court. Do you really want to do that?'” Cavaliere told the CBC. “Of course I want to do this. My safety is at risk, and other massage therapists’ safety is at risk, and other women’s safety is at risk.… Nobody is safe if people are walking in the streets thinking it’s OK to have this kind of behaviour in a public space.”

When she started to feel the conversation was going sideways, she began recording it with her phone in her pocket. On the recording the officer is heard describing a lengthy, complex complaint and judicial process. He also tells her that it will be virtually impossible to identify the man, that there will be no investigation if he cannot be identified, and that encounters like these are “part of the business.”

As well, he is heard saying that the incident isn’t considered a “sexual offence” because he did not touch her, and that a conviction would result in nothing more than a $500 fine. He appears to be trying to talk her out of pursuing the matter further.

“It’s scary to think that when someone is crying for help, no one is doing anything,” Cavaliere told the CBC. “They’re just putting it off, saying, you know, it’s part of your job. They’re kind of allowing it to happen.”

Wondered whether to bother pursuing the matter

The officer sent her home with a form on which to write her statement. But she was left wondering whether to do so.

“There was a part of me that said, ‘No, I shouldn’t go back. What’s the point of going back?” she told the CBC. “They’re never going to catch this guy. I should just try to forget it.'”

She learned afterwards that the spa had surveillance images of the man, so she did return and file a complaint. This time, she spoke with a different officer who was more helpful, says the CBC.

“All he had to say was, ‘This is not your fault,'” she said. “He took the time to ask me questions.”

Officer was out of line

To be fair, the officer might genuinely have been trying to dissuade her from spending her energy pursuing something he thought would only end in disappointment (one should not make assumptions about motivation). Regardless, Cavaliere felt that he wasn’t taking her seriously, and this is exactly the sort of experience that discourages people from reporting such incidents, and creates an environment in which perpetrators can act with impunity.

Montreal Police spokesperson Ian Lafrenière told the CBC that the officer’s response was “completely wrong” and Cavaliere should lodge a formal complaint with the police ethics commission.

And Andrew Lewarne, executive director of Registered Massage Therapist’s Association of Ontario is quoted by the Guardian as saying, “Nobody should be subjected to sexual harassment in the least.” He adds that massage is therapeutic treatment, “not an open invitation.”

How to handle harassment in your spa

The spa itself appears to be handling the incident commendably. Not only did they offer up surveillance images, but they will also require photo ID from new massage clients going forward.

Sexual harassment has been front and centre in the news for the past few months, and it’s important to remember that spa employees are particularly vulnerable; they work in close quarters, alone, and make physical contact with clients. And when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, prevention is everyone’s responsibility.

Here are 5 ways spa managers can help prevent sexual harassment and assault in their spas.

Take a stand. Have a statement available on your website and/or in your terms of agreement that sexual harassment of your team will not be tolerated. Outline what constitutes unacceptable behaviour, so there are no later claims to lack of clarity.

Have a protocol in place. Discuss sexual harassment in your training sessions. Outline a zero-tolerance policy, as well as the steps to be taken in the event of an incident. Make the protocol part of your onboarding.

Have your team’s backs. Staff should feel 100% comfortable coming to management with any issues and should know that you have their backs.

Have courage. One of the main reasons sexual harassment is so rampant in so many industries is because people are afraid to speak up and call out offenders. We are afraid of confrontation, of making a wrong decision, of losing business. This fear – along with dismissive attitudes – allows offenders to operate fearlessly. Take action. Go to the police if it is warranted.

Keep records. Note what has happened with the guest, and that they are banned for reasons of sexual harassment or assault.

Creating safe spaces is everyone’s responsibility. We can all do our part.

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