Practitioner Safety Measures in the Wake of ‘Masseuse’ Murder

Philip Markoff, accused of robbing, assaulting, and murdering Julissa Brisman on April 14th, has been arrested and held without bail, pending an investigation that provides enough evidence to bring him to trial.  Amongst the other items found relating to his alleged crime in his home was a semi-automatic pistol that may have been used during the crimes he’s been accused of committing – another victim, who survived his alleged robbery and assault by Markoff, has come forward with her story.

Read more about the current state of the case here (on MSN.com news).

The common thread in Markoff’s suspected attempted robberies and assaults, and in the last case: murder, is the method of contact for the claimed ‘masseuses’ he was contacting for services: Craigslist.  Thus, he has been dubbed the “Craigslist Killer” by the media – and massage therapy is involved, as well.

It is unclear to authorities at this time as to which section of Craigslist that he obtained contact information for the victims, but contact was initiated through email first, then by phone.  All reports indicate there was a massage table, set up, in the room in Boston, but it was also indicated that Brisman rented the room in the upscale hotel under her name.

In a recent email sent to members of the AMTA, they explain that, in response to many questions coming into their organization from members about the murder and assaults; they are “continuing to research means to have Craigslist remove all advertising that links massage to illegal activity.  This includes ongoing contacts with national, state and local law enforcement agencies.”  AMTA also states that in November 2008, 40 states’ Attorneys General came to an agreement with Craigslist site owners to “clean out prostitutes and posters of other illegal activity.”  The efforts and results of the site owners have a long way to go.

Law Enforcement is encouraging any victims of assault or robbery through Craigslist or any other means of contact with a massage therapist or person that’s been a victim of crime to come forward, make their complaint, and allow law enforcement to do their job of protecting citizens from violent crimes.

As a concerned MT in an industry that is constantly fighting the battle for its own identity, disassociating itself with illicit behavior and prostitution, I STRONGLY encourage massage business owners to be aware of their surroundings, situation, and who their client really is (to the best of their ability), and act on your gut.  Intuition is often neglected or ignored and can be a driving mechanism that keeps an MT out of harm’s way…if acknowledged AND acted upon.

How do I ‘know’ who my client is?safety01-588x400

I get new clients by referral from people that are already clients or whom I already know.  It never hurts to talk about what you do or start a conversation about massage with someone (a friend, family member, or co-worker) who will ultimately remember you as an MT and refer new clients to you regularly.  Offer an incentive to referrers to ‘help’ their memory remember you as an MT when the time is right.

I do not advertise on Craigslist or in the yellow pages, so my risk is not as high for getting in touch with people I do not know.  But I was almost a victim of fraud (that would have cost me thousands), almost been in a situation where I would have worked and not been paid, and almost been assaulted, several times.

Here are a few of my suggestions for how I know to follow my gut AND end a session when I felt it was needed (for my own personal safety):

Before The Session

How did you get your call? In spas and places of business, it’s a little easier to see them coming.  Listen for requests for a specific type of therapist:  Blonde, a particular nationality, even gender are some signs to make an MT aware of potential misconduct.  In private practice, asking “how did you hear about me?” should be answered immediately and without hesitation, as most calls are made soon after trying to find an MT by conventional advertisement means.

Do you ‘walk the talk?’ Making your client aware of your intent for the session prior to (like on the phone, talking about what they want out of the massage or what areas they want worked on) and immediately prior to (like on an intake form) the session.  Many therapists also state that it is a ‘non-sexual’ massage:  I really cringe at this statement, because if there is a question or the MT has had experiences in the past with [attempted] sexual assault or innuendo, then part of the problem could be that there may not have been effective communication prior to the session, either through advertising, conversation, or other written forms of informed consent about the session.

Do you confirm your appointments? Restating your intent by verbally recognizing the massage needs of the client on the phone the day before the appointment reaffirms your intent and the fact that you’ve ‘got their number.’  If you are responding to a call the same day, you may verify their number by calling back, something you might make a habit for every client, but especially those of whom you may be suspicious.  Remember: the gut never lies.

Do you take credit cards? Another way to identify the person with whom you are doing business is to take credit card payments…and require them for everyone whom you do not know initially, or maybe for everyone in general, or for only outcalls, or for whomever you think needs to have their identity bolstered a little more.  The cost of taking a credit card varies, but I think the cost of doing business will pay for itself if you have even 1 fraudulent or non-payment per year.  Credit cards require the person holding the card to be the cardholder and to actually have the card in their hand.  Further verification of cardholder information is open to you as a merchant and requires you’re asking for their ID and the credit card used to verify identity of the cardholder to the purchase by way of codes on the card, signature, and embossed names.  I use Paypal: free, effective for encrypted purchases (from the client’s standpoint), and secures information about the purchaser – a paper trail.

During The Sessionsafety02-588x400

Got Buddy? If you are not communicating with someone that you know or whom is outside of the actual session, you may consider harnessing the power of the ‘buddy system’ when going to outcall massage sessions.  Call your Buddy while you’re in the room:  let your client know you have to check in with your Buddy/spouse/friend/etc and that the phone call/text will just be a moment.   You can do it while you’re washing up, but it is important to let your client know that you are in contact with someone who knows where you are and what time you are to be done with the session.

Especially for those going to hotels where environment is not as under control as the client you are meeting for the first time (or subsequently), checking in with the front desk or concierge may be your best buddy, as they are a direct line to help when you need it.  By them knowing you are there and what time you should be down to check in with them again after the session, they can be the fastest and most secure way of assuring that assistance is close by.  Also, if you confirm the guest name on the room (that you were told by the client), then that could be another way to dispel any suspicions.  The agent will not tell you what the room is, in case it is not the same, so be sure to ask the client PRIOR to asking the front desk in whose name the room is listed, in case the client’s name is not the same on the room.

Mobile Phone as luggage. Take your cell phone with you – in a spa, this is not possible for liability reasons…but, if you are a private practitioner, it is a necessity for safety reasons.  You may ‘appear’ to be confirming your location and attendance in the session, in front of the client, as part of your process when you go to a hotel room by calling or texting a buddy – or you may [i]actually[/i] be calling/texting someone of your location.  In case of emergency, it may be the only/fastest way for you to get in contact with someone.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign. The client is showing signs of committing or commits the act – STOP THE SESSION!  Go outside your Self, Go outside your ego, practice doing this outside the situation by having the conversation with another professional or confidant.  When it happens, STOP THE SESSION!  If you are in imminent danger, flee.  If you are not sure of the intent of the client, pack up and leave.  If you decide to ask for or wait to collect your money – if you haven’t already collected it – you are taking an unnecessary risk – your safety is worth more than your fee for one massage session!

These are just a few things that you can do to help keep you safe and practicing without risk of mental or physical harm.  If you have any things that you use to assure you peace of mind when working with clients whom you do not know (or even know), post them here – it’s sure to help out someone to see many different successful ways of being safe.

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