Ms. Polley

Spas, Health & Wellness

Supporting Guest Service Position Employees Through Sexual Misconduct

By Magnolia Polley, Partner, The Green Team Project

Sexual misconduct happens across the board, in every profession, in every industry, at one time or another. Within corporate hotel entities, ethics and sexual harassment trainings are a mandatory part of yearly training schedules, especially for management. Most of the time, sexual misconduct refers to behavior that goes between co-workers or peers. Those who work in spas, quickly learn that they are a part of a therapeutic industry that is often confused with the "sex industry", on some level. Licensed Massage Practitioners are trained medically opposed to sexually, but because there is stigma that links the practice of massage to tantric massage, sexual release, or prostitution, a spa professional must be aware that someone may come to them with the intention of receiving something more than a general massage. Despite the "laws" that stand behind an employee that may experience misconduct, a strong presence of loyalty and integrity must be present and enforced from the top all the way down the proverbial ladder. It is the responsibility of the hotel and spa management to ensure that their practitioners know what to do and how to act under such circumstances.

When a facility brings on a wellness center or spa facility, they generally do so as an amenity or draw for their establishment. The target is relaxation, well-being, and general pleasure for the guests. The facility itself looks for expansion, more to offer, and revenue. Generally, these goals do not conflict with providing guests with an ultimate luxury hotel or resort experience. The training, encouragement, and permission to take personal initiative are paramount points when placing and educating the key employees that can help ward off sexual misconduct. In the spa environment these key employees are those who book appointments and make the initial contact with guests or clients.

The following information covers points for spa reception with the intention of these employees acting as the first line of defense in keeping an intentionally serene environment for their guests, their peers, and the establishment they work for:

  • Be aware of clients who ask questions about their therapist's personal features, ei. hair color, weight, eye color, age, ethnicity, etc.
  • If someone requests anything that sounds like "sex work", do not try to talk them into a massage. Let them know that there are places and people who do that work, but it is absolutely not available at this facility.
  • Have a list of establishments or web-sites available as reference if necessary for those mistakenly contacting your establishment for services outside of the "spa" bounds.
  • If a guest acts peculiar while checking in, let the therapist and at least one other co-worker know about your concern.
  • Know who to call on property when an incident occurs, ei. general manager, property security, or other trained and aware individuals, so if a therapist needs immediate assistance, there is always someone who is trained and capable of talking to the guest and potentially escorting them off the grounds, or who can talk with police in the case it takes more than one person to gracefully work through the situation.

Beyond prevention of sexual misconduct from within, it important that the spa lead, manager, or director is available to perform some immediate counsel for the therapist who has had the encounter. Although most people are aware and agree that sexual misconduct happens, prostitution happens, and indeed sexual therapies are relevant, it does not mean that the practitioners do not feel violated when put in these situations. It is no one's job to tolerate abuse or to be subject to the actions of someone misinformed or displaying predatory behavior.

alt textGonzalo Figueroa Landeros is an instructor at the National Holistic Institute, where he received his certificate as a Massage Therapist and Health Educator in 2003. He has worked at a resort spa in the Napa Valley and at a day spa in San Francisco's Union Square. He currently works and lives in San Francisco.

I have interviewed Mr. Gonzalo Landeros to help bring understanding and light to the subject matter of sexual misconduct within hotel spa facilities. His experience as an instructor as well as that of working as a massage practitioner in San Francisco, a city where there are no massage licensing requirements, only permits and entertainer's permits given through the police department, is an extremely realistic view-point on the reality of sexual misconduct and how it can be dealt with responsibly. California's state wide massage laws are different from county to county and as California is known for having some of the best spa facilities in the world, it also is known for having leniency towards sex businesses.

When students ask you how to handle inappropriate sexual behavior in the spa environment, what do you say?

Gonzalo Figueroa Landeros: I first make sure my students understand the difference between feelings and behavior. A mentor and colleague once told me to have compassion for clients that have misunderstood my scope of practice and to communicate to them without judgment. It's what the client and the therapist do in response to arousal that is key. I teach students that if a client becomes aroused they can change the direction of their strokes , Invite their client to do a stretch, deep breathing or visualization. Regardless of client expectations, our job is to assess what the client's needs are and then determine if we can meet those needs. I see no difference between telling a client that I do not offer sexual/sensual/erotic massage and telling them that I do not do spinal adjustments, neither are within my scope of practice. One example of addressing sexual behavior, instead of saying: "You are making me feel uncomfortable", and thus focusing on our feelings, I suggest saying: "Please do not grind your hips into the table", or "It is not appropriate for you to touch me during the massage. This is a therapeutic and non sexual massage would you like to continue". If we name the behavior then we focus on the behavior without making our clients feel uncomfortable.

In your experience, are the people who bring sexual misconduct to therapeutic facilities, mistaken on where to seek the services they are seeking? Or, are these people predatory?

Gonzalo Figueroa Landeros: I think it's probably more often the first than the latter. I would also first say that the misconduct happens because it has been allowed, either in a violation to the establishment's policies or because it is commonly known that it occurs. It only takes occurrence to prejudice the rest. This also applies to the predator types, It only takes one of them to makes us think they're all going to be the same.

I've had clients openly ask me if the massage will be sexual and I've gladly referred them to local magazines and online sites that offer those services. In that same way it is good to have a list of professionals on hand that offer modalities other than the ones we are trained to do. I think it's a good idea for all massage therapists to know where to refer clients who are looking for sexual massages. I think that if as a massage therapists, we still feel unclear about our clients intentions then we should remind them; "This is a non sexual massage". If they weren't thinking it was, it might make them think of why the MT said that, if they where expecting it, it's yet another opportunity from the staff to have had that disclosure and to create that boundary.

Sexual misconduct and predatory behavior are a part of our society, whether individual establishments recognize this, or not. It is mandatory for luxury spa employees to be customer service orientated, to serve, and down-right pamper their guests. Generally, hospitality employees working at the luxury level are so used to being in service that there can be the concern that they may be afraid of being punished or losing their jobs, because they sacrificed revenue thinking that a guest was acting suspiciously or inappropriately. The point is to educate your employees, especially teens and young adults in support of therapists, to not be afraid to approach management for help in such cases. It is the goal of the establishment to create comfort within their facility. Taking precautions will overt the chances of a therapist being abused and quite possibly needing some level of professional counseling, avoid the general ambiance of the spa being disturbed, loss of revenue, and having to contact the authorities, all of which create a negative buzz on hotel facility property. In the Spa Industry high standards, knowledge and forethought, employee support and great hospitality are the keys to longevity. defines sexual misconduct in the following way:

  • Intentional touching without consent;
  • Exposing his or her genitals under circumstances likely to cause affront or alarm;
  • Having sexual contact in the presence of a third person or persons under circumstances likely to cause affront or alarm;
  • Having sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse in a public place in the presence of a third person;
  • Soliciting or requesting another person to engage in sexual conduct under circumstances in which he knows that his requests or solicitation is likely to cause affront or alarm;
  • Forcing a victim to touch, directly or through clothing, another person's genitals, breast, groin, thighs or buttocks;
  • Vaginal or anal intercourse;
  • Fellatio or cunnilingus;
  • Sexual penetration with an object without consent.

Magnolia Polley comes from a creative background that includes elements of journalism, verse, and is the author of The Diamond Path: A Guide to the Art of Healing. She began writing for her local newspaper publication at the age of 15 years old; she was awarded and gained recognition through the Washington State Newspaper Association in 1994, being the youngest writer awarded from the association. Ms. Polley has been a student and professional of the healing arts and hospitality for over15 years. Her unique experience within the luxury spa industry offers a unique and cutting edge approach for progress and the incorporation of authentic healing into the forefront of public interest. Ms. Polley can be contacted at 509-393-1810 or Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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