Last month Attorney Danford Grant was sentenced to 25 years for raping five masseuses at different Asian massage parlors in Seattle and Bellevue. Articles on the web have gone back and forth between characterizing these women as massage therapists and masseuses, a distinction that is often lost on those outside the industry, but deeply significant to those within it.
In Washington State, massage therapists are licensed through the Department of Health. In order to qualify for licensing, therapists must complete 500 hours of education at an approved school, pass an approved exam such as the NCTMB and apply for licensing. Once this process is completed, they are licensed massage practitioners. (LMP's)
“Masseuse”, on the other hand, has often been the term used to describe those offering erotic massage. It can be argued that one of the reasons for licensing massage therapists was to distance massage therapists from those who are offering “happy endings.” To put it bluntly, a massage therapist is seen as employed in the health industry, a masseuse is seen as a sex worker. And massage provided by anyone who is not licensed by the department of health is technically illegal.
The reality is a bit blurry. Grant specifically targeted victims working in Asian massage establishments in Seattle, Shoreline and Bellevue. Were these licensed massage therapists? As the names of these victims are confidential and the businesses they worked at are not required to be registered with the Department of Health, at this point in time it is unknown.
Some of these establishments clearly offer erotic massage. Their ads flood websites offering adult entertainment. Others are not. In addition, the pathway to licensing for those who apprenticed or studied a form of bodywork outside the United States usually requires starting from scratch and attending massage school all over again. This is cost prohibitive and almost impossible for those with a language barrier. The larger question is: should it matter if these women were licensed or not?
If they were licensed- where is the outrage within the massage community as a sexual predator targeted several of their own? If they were not- should licensing be reviewed and revised to consider those with language barriers and training from other states and countries? And finally, can more be done to separate sex workers from massage therapists in a way that respects both professions?