The #metoo movement is on everyone’s mind. It is real and it is a problem that everyone in our society must take seriously, address and come up with a solution. One way to do this is to expose all of the ways that unwanted touching, unwanted sexual advances, and other types of violations are perpetrated in our society. A few years ago, a popular massage company that had aggressively expanded into Atlanta was in the news for instances of unwanted touching. The most common scenario: females being massaged by male employees of the massage company were being touched on parts of their body that were: (1) not what they wanted; (2) too intimate for a massage; (3) sexual in nature; and (4) beyond what they consented to when they agreed to the massage. The message that can be taken from this is: while this is the most common scenario, many types of unwanted sexual advances take place today. Many go unreported, others are reported but not taken seriously by the organization through which the sexual aggressor work, and still others are covered up by the organization (the very same organization that is responsible under the legal theories of agency, respondeat superior or joint venture for the acts of the perpetrator). While the act of unwanted touching is a crime in and of itself, putting someone in the position to commit this act (such as a massage therapist) when they are not sufficiently vetted and or trained, is an act of negligence on the part of the company and gives rise to a claim against that company for allowing this to happen.
Wide scale sexual abuse has been in the news seemingly all the time during this decade. The boy scouts, the catholic church, and national massage chains have all been associated with these claims of allowing sexual predators to operate within their organizations. However, the prevalence of these crimes is not restricted by any stretch of the imagination to these organizations. The following is an example of how unwanted touching can affect almost anyone in our society. How it can occur via a slippery slope and how the victim, many times remains quiet and “suffers in silence” because they somehow blame themselves, at least in part, for either allowing the unwanted touching to happen; or not stopping it once it happens; or not standing up for themselves and reporting it immediately; or not reporting it at all. Then again, this example exemplifies the suffering after the fact that is almost inevitable. The facts have been changed to protect the victim, but the moral of the situation is clear: This can happen to anyone, at any time. It does not matter if you are a woman, man, young boy, young girl, teenager, retiree, child, etc. It can happen to anyone and it can affect anyone. Just because we seemingly hear and read about woman and young boys being the victim of this crime, it is not limited to them. Here is one example that may be an eye-opener to many:
I took a vacation with my family. We were all excited to be headed to the beach and have a few well-deserved days off from the grind. My wife and I decided to spend the day together and we saw a popular massage place in the area. We wandered in and scheduled massages. They happily took us right away and we were in separate rooms. I lay on the massage table and the lady came in. I was getting a full body massage, and was naked under the sheet and towel on the massage table. I have gotten many massaged before and have always felt more comfortable removing all my clothes. Perhaps this was a mistake, I don’t know. The massage therapist came in and whispered “Hi Honey,” a bit unusual, but I did not think much of it as massage therapists usually talk very low and serene, as does everyone in a massage parlor, at least that is my impression. Was this a signal of things to come? I don’t know, perhaps it was, but I had no idea at the time.
I was working on very little sleep and the massage felt great, just what I needed to unwind and start my vacation, I thought. Soon, I was in and out of sleep. I knew that I was relaxed and I knew that the massage felt great. At different points, I was probably in a bit of a twilight as I was not really fully awake but not really fully asleep. I do remember that the massage therapist was massaging my inner thighs and buttocks and it felt good. I just figured that she simply wanted to give me a great massage and this “incidental” touching was fine. She did not seem to mind it and neither did I. I was awoken and asked to turn over onto my back. More massage and I was back into the twilight. Not really asleep, not really fully awake. I was enjoying the massage. Before I knew what was happening, I realized that a line had been crossed and the massage therapist had touching me sexually. As I said before, I was half asleep (or fully asleep, I don’t really know). Anyway, I came to full consciousness and it was too late. I was being touched in a way that I had not asked for, did not want and unbelievable to me at least, could not stop. I was frozen and allowed it to continue.
I finished the massage in a daze, paid a tip and left. It was surreal. I just couldn’t wrap my head around what had happened. I did not stop it. I did not report it. I did not complain. I did not tell anyone. Why? But I also did not ask for this, did not want this and did not promote it.
The above example is used to bring to the forefront something that might not be obvious to all: this type of victimization is something that can happen to anyone. It is not limited to women, not boys, nor girls. Anyone can be the victim of unwanted sexual touching and how we react after an unwanted touching is often inexplicable (we just can’t explain it, can’t rationalize it and can’t understand why we somehow feel guilty even though we are faultless). In addition, one can be victimized in just about any setting, while getting a massage, at a boy scouts meeting, girl scouts, church, on a date, at home, the possibilities are endless, but one thing is for sure, our society must stop blaming the victims and start understanding how traumatic this is and how, many times, the victims do not act in a way that one would expect. We can’t interpret that as an indication that the victim is not credible, but rather we should understand the many layers of implications of this type of assault.
Robert J. Fleming is a partner in the law firm of Katz Wright Fleming Dodson & Mildenhall, LLC in Atlanta and Decatur, Georgia. He is a personal injury attorney who has been handling wrongful death, dental malpractice, bus accidents, car accidents and premises injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of negligence for over 20 years. He practices in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area including handling lawsuits in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb and other counties in Georgia and nearby cities such as Alpharetta, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Smyrna. If you or a family member has been seriously injured and would like to discuss your case in complete confidence, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.