National News

Woman says she was sexually assaulted at Massage Envy

Posted November 28, 2017 2:03 a.m. EST

— A woman in Washington, D.C. says she was sexually assaulted while getting a massage at a Massage Envy in September.

Tara Woodley spoke publicly about the alleged incident a day after Buzzfeed reported that more than 180 people have "filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state board complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees, and the national company," the Buzzfeed article said.

Woodley filed a civil lawsuit against Massage Envy in September under the pseudonym Jane Doe, but publicly identified herself to reporters on Monday.

On September 17, Woodley said she was having a 90-minute massage at a Massage Envy in the DC neighborhood of Tenleytown. Near the end of the session, she said, she felt the sheet covering her lower torso being removed and the massage therapist started performing oral sex on her without consent.

She reported the incident to police and the licensed massage therapist, Habtamu Gebreselassie, was arrested.

Gebreselassie has entered a not-guilty plea for second-degree sex abuse and first-degree sex abuse of a client pertaining to Woodley's case. He is also accused of attempted second-degree sex abuse and attempted first-degree sex abuse of a client in another incident dated August 28 at the same spa, court documents say. He maintains his innocence, said his attorney, Sweta Patel.

"At this time, defense counsel will not be making any statements regarding defense strategy," Patel said, when asked for comment about the allegations.

Woodley's lawsuit also alleges that Gebreselassie sexually assaulted another female customer at a Massage Envy in Maryland, and that the company and the DC franchise "arranged for Defendant Gebreselassie to be transferred" to the DC location "with full knowledge he had committed a prior sexual assault."

CNN emailed Massage Envy's media department to ask if the company was aware of allegations that Gebreselassie had assaulted another customer at a different location. A representative responded by saying the company could not "comment on open legal cases."

Woodley told reporters on Monday that she felt "angry" learning that "it just wasn't me... I found out it was an epidemic."

Massage Envy said in a statement: "Each of these incidents is heartbreaking for us and for the franchisees that operate Massage Envy locations, and we will never stop looking for ways to help our franchisees provide a safe environment at Massage Envy franchise locations."

"The article [referring to Buzzfeed's report] references 180 reported incidents. These occurred over a span of 15 plus years and 125 million massages. But, we believe that even ONE incident is too many, so we are constantly listening, learning, and evaluating how we can continue to strengthen our policies with respect to handling of these issues."

Woodley's civil lawsuit accuses Massage Envy, which has nearly 1,200 franchises, of negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent supervision and infliction of emotional distress, among other allegations.

"In wake of the Harvey Weinstein cases and politicians, I just was getting fed up," Woodley told reporters on why she decided to speak out. "I felt there are so many women being so brave and so strong I am channeling their courage."

More than 60 women have accused Weinstein of rape, sexual assault, and harassment since the New York Times and New Yorker detailed allegations against the movie producer. Weinstein has repeatedly denied "any allegations of non-consensual sex."

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