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N4T Investigators: Massage industry oversight changes after dozens of sexual misconduct reports

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TUCSON (KVOA) - There has been significant changes made to the oversight of licensed massage therapists in Arizona. A new board is now in place after Governor Doug Ducey decided to replace every member the end of September. He made the decision after the state received more than 100 recent reports of sexual misconduct involving licensed massage therapists.  

Gov. Ducey also added a third “public member” position to the five-person board, meaning they are not professionals in the industry, and filled those positions with people experience in human trafficking and sexual violence victim advocacy. 

“Many times, when people are put in trusted positions, they sometimes violate that trust and that can lead to sexual violence,” said Jenna Panas, CEO of the Arizona Coalition to end Sexual and Domestic Violence. 

Panas said she believes the move from the governor is a step in the right direction. 

“By acknowledging those problems and directly addressing them it’s the first step for a solution,” Panas said. 

The News 4 Tucson Investigators requested any reports the Massage Board has on sexual misconduct cases in Tucson. Its senior investigator sent us the following response: 

“The board has no duty to create documents for a public records request. The board is required to turn over only documents that it is required to or does routinely keep as part of its everyday business. We regulate licensees not establishments. Establishments where incidents happen is not something the Board routinely keeps.” 

On the Board’s website we could see several cases where the board took action against a therapist's license, several cases detailing disturbing allegations of massage therapists groping women beyond what was agreed upon for the massage and verbally describing sexual fantasies. 

Governor Doug Ducey’s Senior Advisor Christina Corieri tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators the old board failed to properly look into the complaints of sexual misconduct. 

“The board which was largely made up of other massage therapists had really not taken these complaints seriously as they deserved to be taken, sometimes taking 8 months to hear a complaint and often being dismissive of complaints,” Corieri said. 

The News 4 Tucson Investigators spoke with Mlee Clark who served on the old board and said she planned on spending many more years on the board. Clark said she believed the Governor’s decision was done “hastily” and believes the old board didn’t do anything worthy of being replaced. 

“We had counsel in every session to make sure we didn’t do anything that was against the law,” Clark said. 

She said sexual misconduct is certainly an issue across the industry but said that when it comes to suspending someone’s license a thorough and sometimes long investigation is needed. 

“Sometimes you're stuck between a rock and a hard place what do I do was it the client's perception of what happened that made them feel uncomfortable there for they made the complaint, did something actually happen?” Clark stated.  

She said she is skeptical that the new board will be able to do anything differently than they were able to do, “They are going to come up against cases like we did where they won’t be able to handle the situation like they would like to because they still have to follow the law they have to follow the statutes. 

The N4T Investigators reached out to each member of the new board but received no responses.  

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.  

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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