Women sexually assaulted by massage therapists share their stories

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Women who were sexually assaulted by massage therapists have spoken out about their harrowing experiences as they called for greater regulation of the massage industry. 

Victims told BBC’s File On 4 how they were subjected to sexual violence while in the vulnerable position of being naked and alone in the room with men who they thought were trusted massage therapists. 

Most of the attacks took place in the client’s own home after the practitioner was booked via one of a growing number of apps and websites offering mobile beauty and wellness services at the click of a button. 

The programme also revealed how the industry is largely unregulated, with no licensing of practitioners. It means anyone, even individuals without qualifications or with a criminal conviction, could practise as a massage therapist. 

Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, is among those calling for greater regulation, saying: ‘We’re often talking about massages happening in people’s own homes. 

‘You get people in an incredibly vulnerable position with virtually no clothes on. If you are some sort of predator, it’s a great profession to get into. 

‘When we’re sending our pets to a boarding kennel they have to be licensed and properly accredited and insured and I think it is absolutely right that when we’re entrusting our own bodies to a therapist of whatever type, that there is some sort of regime, licencing, regulatory, brought in to protect people.’

‘I DIDN’T KNOW IF HE WAS GOING TO RAPE ME, KILL ME’ 

One woman, whose name was not given, was assaulted by Callum Urquhart, pictured, from Bristol, who was jailed for three years in September 2021 after being convicted of six charges of sexual assault following a trial at Salisbury Crown Court

One woman, whose name was not given, was assaulted by Callum Urquhart, from Bristol, who was jailed for three years in September 2021 after being convicted of six charges of sexual assault following a trial at Salisbury Crown Court.

The victim explained she booked Urquarht for a 90-minute massage at home and was initially impressed with his professionalism because he asked for consent before massaging certain areas of her body.  

She recalled: ‘He was touching my genitals and I said to him, “you’ve done that a couple of times now, I’m not happy with that”. He said, “I’m really sorry, I’m not doing very well at this am I? I’m really sorry”. 

‘By this point I was getting a little bit uncomfortable. Then it took a more sinister turn and started getting quite rough. It was very apparent by that point what was happening. I didn’t know if he was going to rape me, kill me.’

During the prolonged assault, the victim was able to reach her phone to text her boyfriend to send help. Urquhart took the phone off her and moved it out of reach. 

Eventually her neighbour came to the door and persuaded Urquhart to leave. The victim immediately phoned the police and later discovered Urquhart had no qualifications as a masseur.  

‘I felt anger that I had been tricked and lied to,’ she said. ‘It brought back the feelings of disgust and hurt and sadness.

‘It’s crazy. I naively thought it was regulated. I think I just assumed that because of what they were doing, that there would be regulation. I’m really shocked that there was not that.’

Urquhart was arrested and released on bail while police investigated his crimes. He continued to assault clients even after the victim made her complaint.   

She continued: ‘If there were regulations, I imagine he would have been under investigation or struck off. There would have been reprecussions for his actions. 

‘One of the reasons for me reporting it was to ensure it didn’t happen to anybody else. So to then learn he had gone on to assault several other women, I was heartbroken. I didn’t want him to do it to anybody else and he did.’

‘HE SEEMED PROFESSIONAL THEN PUT HIS FINGERS INSIDE ME’ 

One victim was assaulted by massage therapist Toshihide Nukui at Thames Lido in Reading. Nukui was jailed for five years last week at Reading Crown Court after admitting to sexually assaulting multiple women

One victim was assaulted by massage therapist Toshihide Nukui at Thames Lido in Reading. 

Nukui was jailed for five years last week at Reading Crown Court after admitting to sexually assaulting multiple women. 

She described how she initially thought he was ‘very professional, very respectful’ but that he ‘changed’ towards the end of the massage. 

‘He started touching my breasts and I just froze,’ she continued. ‘Then he got a bit more aggressive around my stomach and then he put my fingers inside me a couple of times and I just froze. 

‘He went out of the room and I got changed and then he came in and said, “You don’t have to pay me”. I just threw the money down and ran. 

‘He ran after me and ran down the street. I shouted, “stop following me” and eventually he did. I got to my car.

‘I drove a bit and then I stopped and started sobbing. I was just in absolute shock that it had happened in that context. 

‘The amount of trust I gave him. The vulnerability. People who carry out crimes like that, there isn’t one sort of type. He seemed so professional and respectful.’

The victim explained she had put ‘trust’ in the Lido and trust in the therapist. 

Thames Lido said it had conducted a full review of their policies and procedures as a result of the case, including the process around employing and vetting staff before they start work.

Emma added: ‘It’s completely changed me as a person. It made me fearful, it made me really jumpy in public because he was on bail for two-and-a-half years… It’s affected relationships I’ve had in my life. It has an absolutely massive, far-reaching effect. 

‘I think it’s really scary that so many people can set up a business where they have access to someone’s body. I think it poses a massive risk.

‘I’m not the sort of person who wishes a lot of harm on someone. All I want is for him to realise the seriousness and the far-reaching effects his crimes have had. I never, ever want him to work as a masseuse again and I never, ever want him to assault someone again [sic]. 

‘The sentencing will bring some closure. I would love to see a change in the whole system because there are a lot of vulnerable women out there who could still be assaulted and that’s a scary thought.’

‘IT DESTROYED MY LIFE’

The programme read out the victim impact statement from a woman who cried as she was raped in her own home by Cosmin Tudorache, pictured, after she answered to his advert on urbanmassage.com

The programme read out the victim impact statement from a woman who cried as she was raped in her own home by Cosmin Tudorache, pictured, after she answered to his advert on urbanmassage.com

The programme read out the victim impact statement from a woman who cried as she was raped in her own home by Cosmin Tudorache after she answered to his advert on urbanmassage.com. 

MP Caroline Nokes leads calls for greater industry regulation 

More rules needed: Tory MP Caroline Nokes

More rules needed: Tory MP Caroline Nokes

It is estimated there are between 6,000-10,000 massage therapists working in the UK but there is no legal requirement for them to hold a licence. There is only one accredited industry register, and even that is voluntary. The vast majority of therapists are not signed up. 

There are a number of professional organisations that have guidelines and codes of practice but you don’t have to join any of those. 

Some of these professional organisations are among those calling for greater regulation. Conservative MP Caroline Nokes said there was a lack of awareness of the severity of the issue. 

There are no official figures recording sexual assaults carried out by massage therapists.

Ms Nokes said: ‘Across a range of therapies and treatments, it is very obvious that there is not just a lack of regulation, there is zero regulation at all. When it comes to massage, what customers need to know is the person who is treating them is properly qualified, trained, accredited by a professional body. 

‘What’s not good enough is leaving customers potentially vulnerable. We’re often talking about massages happening in people’s own homes. You get people in an incredibly vulnerable position with virtually no clothes on. If you are some sort of predator, it’s a great profession to get into. 

‘When we’re sending our pets to a boarding kennel they have to be licensed and properly accredited and insured and I think it is absolutely right that when we’re entrusting our own bodies to a therapist of whatever type, that there is some sort of regime, licencing, regulatory, brought in to protect people.’

She continued: ‘One of the big challenges that we have is that nobody is talking about it so this is something that is going unnoticed, unremarked upon and no action is being taken. That’s a question the Government and Ministers should want to answer: what are they doing to keep customers safe? 

‘It is really important that there is more understanding across Government. The findings of your investigation, the scale of the problem, how serious it is. This too should be a priority and action should be urgent.’

The Complimentary and Natural Healthcare Council runs the only accredited regiter of therapists in the UK.

Its chair Ian McKinnen believes the lack of regulation is down to the lack of perceived risk. 

He explained: ‘It is related to the element of risk attached to the therapy or treatment. That’s not about the behaviour of the individual therapist, but it’s about the element of risk – how high the risk is – of massage therapy. The Government has deemed the risk not significant.’ 

Yvonne Blake, General Council for Massage Therapies, warned of the danger this presents, saying: ‘The Government consider us an industry isn’t a danger to the public. We have tried for chartership, we provided all the evidence they required, but they still didn’t approve chartership of the industry.

‘At the moment we are looking into licencing, where a therapist would be licensed to practise. That’s something that happens in the US. We’ll just keep plugging on, we’ll just keep providing as much evidence as we can. 

‘Even though a massage therapist isn’t a danger in their own right, a fully qualified one, the industry is so unregulated that it can be unsafe for many reasons, not just a therapist hurting a member of the public.’  

In her first statement, dated March 5, 2020, she read: ‘I was a happy, social individual but I am no longer that person. I often blame myself for not fighting back. I don’t understand why I just lay there. I started to hate myself. 

‘I did not feel safe at home. I moved out and live in a place with full time security. I trusted him based on the company website. 

‘This trust, this professional trust, which he took advantage of to rape me and turn me into a rape victim… 

She continued: ‘It has caused my relationship with my then-partner to break down. Given the stigma associated with rape I found out I could not trust some of my closest friends. Many of my friends shared the details with others and I felt betrayed.

‘This incident has destroyed my social life.’

Urban, which was founded in 2014, said Tudorache was immediately removed from the site once the allegation was made. 

The company said he was fully qualified and there had been no previously complaints about him, and no previous convictions. 

Urban added all therapists are now made to undergo rigorous qualification and criminal record checks before joining the platform. 

It added 0.02 per cent of their more than 1million bookings have resulted in any complaint and these are taken seriously and investigated.

Urban told the programme: ‘We welcome regulation of the industry that will build on the safety protocols we have already implemented.’

ATTACKED AT HOME AFTER BOOKING THROUGH AN APP 

Another woman, who was given the psyeudonym Taylor, was attacked by a therapist she booked via Urban. 

The victim had booked several sports massages via the app in the lead up to the assault in 2019. On the day of the assault, she decided she wanted on purely to relax and booked an appointment via the app. 

Although she had previously had only female therapists, she chose a man who had a host of five-star reviews.  

‘I thought it was a fairly safe bet with someone who was clearly trusted by a lot of people and trusted by the app, so I booked this guy to come over and do my 60-minute long treatment,’ she explained. 

‘[But] I just got a sense about 20 minutes in that the way he was conducting his massage didn’t feel right. 

‘It’s really hard to explain what it is but when you have a really professional masseuse, you never feel like any part of your body is particularly exposed [sic]. 

‘This guy pulled the towel off the entire lower part of my body while I was lying on my front and started to feel me all the way up my thigh, my inner thigh, all over my bum. He then decides to soak his hands in this oil and my legs and my bum. 

‘Then he puts his hand in between my legs and starts rubbing me and trying to put his hand inside of me. And then successfully did that. At that point I froze.

‘I let him carry on for a couple of minutes but in my head it was hours. I had no idea how to react because every inch of me wanted to get up and yell at him and hit him and push him out of my flat but I had no idea what this person was capable of.

‘I was alone in my flat and I was so scared that if I stopped or reacted, or did anything, maybe he would go further and try and rape me. I’ve never felt fear like that.’

The therapist later told her that ‘some people find this relaxing’. 

‘I was like, “I don’t find this relaxing. Can you stop”,’ she continued. ‘At the end of the massage he was like “right, I’m done, I hope that was okay”. 

‘I didn’t speak, I didn’t say anything. I just sat on my sofa, silent, looking down, counting down the seconds until he got out of the flat. 

‘The second he was out of the flat I collapsed in tears in the hallway on my own, closed the door and locked it from the inside.’

The woman reported the assault to the police but the investigation was later dropped due to lack of evidence.

Taylor also reported the assault to Urban, which says it immediately removed the therapist from the app. But when BBC journalist Hannah Price checked the app during her research for the programme, she found the massage therapist’s profile still online.

Urban told the reporter it appeared to be a technical issue, that the therapist wasn’t bookable, and that he had been immediately removed from the site on the day the complaint was made. 

The app also claimed he was fully trained and had a criminal record check. The profile has disappeared completely from the app since the BBC enquiries.  

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