A survey about sexual harassment by the General Council for Soft Tissue Therapies found that therapists are still being made to feel uncomfortable by their clients or scared for their own safety in their place of work. It goes without saying that I think this is inexcusable – the onus for stopping sexual harassment falls solely on the perpetrators rather than the victims.
However, the sheer number of people I’ve spoken to in the industry who’ve experienced this shows that this problem isn’t going away soon. So, unfortunately, there are certain steps we have to take to ensure that we can keep ourselves safe and comfortable in our place of work.
There is a great deal of misinformation about massage services. Our work is intimate but not sexual, and people struggle with that idea. Sometimes our clients don’t know what is appropriate and what isn’t – we need to make sure that nothing is left up to their interpretation and that boundaries are in place. Seeing as many of us work on our own, this is especially important.
“Massage parlours” really do not do our industry any favours, and as many of these places advertise openly it can leave some people confused as to the services you offer. You can keep people informed about this by making sure that all of your images are professional, focus on your clinic and logo, and make sure that none of your descriptive sentences could possibly convey a double-entendre. Get a friend to look over this to make sure that there is nothing you’ve missed!
Be really careful with your personal information on your sites – sexual harrassment doesn’t just entail people confusing you for a sex worker. Sometimes, clients can form unhealthy attachments and confuse your professional service for a relationship, so don’t make it easy for people to find you. Keep your personal social media accounts locked down, and use a separate phone for your business and personal life.
When you’re speaking to your clients, although it can be tempting to be chatty, it’s best to keep things clinical and informal to avoid people getting the wrong picture. I’d recommend that you speak to every new client you take on about expectations i.e. cancellations, what the service entails. This will give you a chance to communicate exactly what you offer, stressing the health elements of the treatment. That’s hard to misconstrue!
You could also complete the medical screening while on the phone to hammer the point home. It will also be helpful to tell your clients that any inappropriate behaviour will result in treatment being terminated (with no refunds.) Telling your clients to wear “loose, flowing clothes” rather than “underwear” will also enforce the clinical nature of your services.
Keeping Safe During Treatment
While I think that people should be able to wear what they want without threat of harassment, unfortunately, people misread cues from clothing. So it’s a good idea to wear “non-inviting” clothing. Keep informed consent at the forefront of what you do, letting your client know exactly what parts of their body you’re going to be working with, always using anatomical terminology.
Try and avoid letting people ask probing questions. In short, don’t give away too much of your personal information – keep the conversation client-focused. Of course, this can be tricky if
clients become your friends, (this is a separate subject that Ihave spoken about before) but by this point they should be well aware of your boundaries. Be aware that your definition of flirting could be different to someone else a little more optimistic, so take care in this department.
If your client does say something inappropriate, break contact immediately. Depending on how severe their remark was, my response could range from telling them that “this is not a conversation I’m willing to have” to asking them to leave. I am not impressed when a client is fishing around to find out what the rules of the game are, don’t be afraid to enforce your boundaries – no one else is going to!
At The Workplace
It might be an option for you to have CCTV set up in any place that you work – either from a clinic or at home. I’m not saying that you should have it in your treatment rooms, as that would be a little invasive. However, people tend to behave themselves a little better when they know they’ve been recorded. A few signs dotted around the place remind people of that fact will be brilliant reminders! You do not even have to have them turned on, just their presence gives an obvious message.
If you work from your home, keep your setup as professional as possible. This means no personal effects, pictures of family members on display, and be mindful of keeping your keys in a bowl by the front door. If possible, have another person in the house, and if not, don’t ever tell the client you’re home alone. I have in the past told my client that while they get themselves ready I just have to run upstairs to let my partner know we are in session, this could be fictitious.
If at any point you’re fearful for your safety, LEAVE! It’s better to feel like you might have overreacted later than to be “polite” and remain in an unsafe situation. It’s a sad fact of life that many of us have to deal with creepy people and plan our work around diffusing their creepiness, but until they stop, we have to remain proactive to stay safe.