PR nightmare

Massage therapists face public and media relations problem
Don Quinn Dillon
January 09, 2017
By
There's been another arrest of a massage therapist charged with inappropriate or sexual touching. The year 2016 yielded a number of similar media reports regarding Canadian massage therapists. While the number of complaints against registered massage therapists are relatively small, we might be concerned about the quality of media coverage in these events, how they affect public perception, and the process by which the public are filing complaints.

Media images typically present an imposing close up of a police car, or badge on an officer's uniform. There is often little information about the allegations and no mention of the massage therapy profession as being regulated.

Have a look at these examples:
http://www.citynews.ca/2017/01/03/whitby-massage-therapist-charged-sex-assault/
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-police-massage-therapist-sexual-assault-1.3904220
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-massage-therapist-sexual-assault-royal-orchid-thai-spa-1.3907445
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-massage-therapist-sexual-assault-1.3884157
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/massage-therapist-charged-assault-1.3820910
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/massage-therapist-charged-voyeurism-queen-street-wellness-1.3636831

When the media responds in a style that is sensationalist, I'm concerned they exploit audience perception and emotions in an attempt to ramp up shock-value of a story.

It's understandable a distraught citizen feels violated by inappropriate practitioner behaviour and egregious acts should be acted on by police immediately. It's unclear, however, in the detail the media provides in several of these stories whether the regulatory process should have been exercised first. I wonder if the media gives sufficient attention to informing the public on the role of the regulator, or the training, education and ethical framework maintained by the vast majority of massage therapists.

While I'm in no way defending the actions of practitioners who defy standards and the code of ethics, I wonder about the public confidence and perception when the media contributes to subversion of the complaints process. The investigative process exists to provide a fair hearing to both complainant and practitioner. A RMT may be wrongly implicated before their case is heard, and the media coverage will have implications to the RMT's practice and indeed professional and personal relationships.

The regulator's role is protection of the public. It is within the mandate of the regulator to exercise investigative process and disciplinary powers should a member of the College violate professional standards and the code of ethics. It appears members of the public are insufficiently aware of the role of the College or the complaints process, and are taking their concerns directly to the police. This in turn triggers a media fest.

As a profession, I wonder if we can do more to maintain positive and informative relations with the media, as well as the gatekeepers in government, the insurance industry and health care. We rely on these very relationships to build credible trust relationships with the public.

Perhaps the rash of increasing media attention to these cases will galvanize a profession-wide focus on building positive media relations and public confidence while practitioners take steps in their practices to prevent such cases from happening.

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Donald Q. Dillon, RMT is a practitioner, writer and speaker. Find him at MassageTherapistPractice.com.

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