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Are massage schools responsible for protecting the public?

When should a massage school reject an applicant?

When is the confidentiality of a student’s background more important than his risk to the clinic clients of a school?

What is the school’s liability?

These are all big questions that deserve some very serious consideration by the administrators of this country’s massage schools. Recently, a very public case has become an embarrassing example for the entire massage school industry.  This is a subject that must be addressed or we risk ruining the reputation of an entire industry and undoing decades of work to legitimize massage.

The example:

A student in WA State had completed massage school and was applying for licensure. This student had previously been convicted of a Class C felony (1) for Child Molestation in the third degree (2) in 2003. This conviction was approximately 8 years prior to the application for licensure.

The Department of Health Denied the licensure based on the applicant’s prior convictions.

Disclaimer – Please read this

The applicant’s court records are not available to me at this time so I do not know the details behind the crimes or the conviction. I am not trying to make this individual an example nor am I trying to make him a villain. That was for the legal system to do and they have done so.

My biggest concern is with the school that accepted him as a student and let him work on the public.

If the school was unaware of the student’s prior convictions:

How is it possible that you would run a public clinic with students and not run a background check? A simple background check would have indicated that the applicant had a sexual assault conviction on his record.

If the school was aware of the student’s prior convictions:

How is it possible that you would accept this student into your program? It is completely unambiguous that the state will not license someone for any of the following reasons:

RCW 18.130.055 Section 1 a “ … Has been convicted or is subject to current prosecution or pending charges of a crime involving moral turpitude or a crime identified in RCW 43.43.830.”

RCW 43.43.830 section 5 “ … first, second, or third degree child molestation; …”

The school should be knowledgeable about laws regarding massage therapy in their respective jurisdictions and should be teaching those laws to their students. Therefore, ignorance of this law that would result in the student never being licensable brings to mind 2 very serious issues:

1 – The school is allowing a convicted felon to perform massage on the general public via their student clinic

2 – The school is taking the student’s tuition money knowing that the student will never be granted a license.

How are either of these legally, morally, or ethically acceptable?

I would like to think that this was an isolated, one time only case, but sadly, it isn’t. I teach ethics and, as a result, I get private emails from therapists and students alike asking about this sort of thing. Even when students approach the school administrators with concerns regarding a fellow student’s background, they are largely ignored and the issue is left to the state licensing department to deny the application.

Is it not the school’s responsibility to protect the public?

Is it not the school’s responsibility to inform the potential student that a prior conviction will make it impossible to get a license to practice and urge that student to spend their money pursuing another career?

What do you think? Am I being unreasonable? Expecting too much of massage schools? Too little? Let me know in the comments below.


RCW means “Revised Code of Washington”. WAC means “Washington Administrative Code”. All RCW and WAC for the state of Washington are available online at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/ and http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx, respectively.

1 – A Class C felony is the least serious in the state of WA.

2 – Child molestation in the third degree: the victim is between the ages of 14 and 16 and the perpetrator is at least 48 months older than the victim. It is a class C felony. RCW9A.44.089


12 Responses to Are massage schools responsible for protecting the public?

  1. When I went to my first Open House with my school, one of the things they spoke about was if you were convicted of a sex crime that to not even apply. I think it is up to the school to keep the public and classmates safe from a sex offender. If it was because of the tuition then the school should be at fault and be fined or have to pay back this person their money. Anyway that’s my 2 cents worth.

    • Colleen – I’m glad to hear that your school raised the issue at the open house. It’s good to get it out of the way early. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I don’t think that is asking too much at all. That’s gross. I don’t agree with your second point on the issues you feel it raises ONLY because I can’t assume that the school knew he had this conviction.

    However, it does raise an issue that I have had with some massage schools around here (hawaii). It seems that there are some schools that do not feel responsible for their students and their clinics to the degree that they should be. The goal is not to pump our students and new licensees. The goal SHOULD BE to develop these individuals as professionals. Maybe with all the effort that we (at least in Hawaii) have put into cracking down on prostitution under the guise of massage, we have over looked the institutions that are prepping these LMTs. Perhaps its time to turn our attention to the credibility of schools as well.

    I think its good that you posted this.

    • Matthew –

      thank you for the comment. You’re right, you can’t assume that the school knew he had this conviction. Perhaps that’s a question that should be added to the application, similar to a job application.

      I agree completely that the goal is to develop the students as professionals and not just pump them out.

  3. You’re right. Totally unacceptable, on both counts. Not to mention the fact that the school will probably be encouraging, if not requiring, fellow-students to trade massage with someone with a felony sex offense on his record.

  4. As a Owner/Director of a massage school … I let everyone know when they sign up about the backround checks…We have not had any person come through our program with a sexual preditor conviction… Drug Confictions are an other story..i.e getting busted for a joint at 17 years old…
    If a person has a felony sex offense we do not let them into the program…

    • Michael, that’s really good to hear that you give them the heads up. It’s best to take care of it sooner rather than later.

      I also agree that a drug conviction should not be automatic grounds for denial of license. I had a previous student with this exact problem and he was concerned that he wouldn’t get licensed. I told him to contact the dept of health and inquire. But, he was young, it was a possession offense, and he had completed all of his court order rehab & probation with no issues. That’s a good candidate for saying “youthful indiscretion”.

      Sex offenders are very different.

    • Jessica – Yes it is a good thing! The student may not have gone into massage to find another victim, but we have no way of knowing that.

  5. I agree with you Kelli, and here is another point.

    This is wrong because in my experience, clients don’t know anything about or care much about the licensing process. In fact, I think most don’t know that there is a licensing process. They only want to know if you are any good at massage. A person can say they went to (whatever) massage school and learned these techniques and the public assumes that’s all there is to it.

    • Barry – very true and an excellent 3rd point. If you read the laws concerning health care in most states, the primary purpose of them is ‘to protect the public’ because lawmakers realize that the general public does not know any of the details of the treatment they are seeking out. How could you? There are so many professions and so much detail that no one could be knowledgeable about them all.

      Thanks for commenting.

  6. Kelli I just accidentally discovered this information: at least in Ohio, private massage schools are permitted restrict enrollment based on previous convictions, but community colleges may not.

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