Woman says lack of regulation leaves Minnesotans in danger

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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live): A Minnesota woman says she was raped by her massage therapist and she wants the state to be accountable and start licensing them.

"It makes me angry, and worried and scared for everyone else. I brought my own kids to this place," said the Anoka County victim.

The woman asked asked for her name and identity to be concealed as it is an ongoing case and Valley News Live doesn't name sex assault victims.

Minnesota is one of four states that do not require their massage therapists to be licensed. Valley News Live told you just months ago the state leaves it up to the cities to keep you safe from the person touching you. The state tried passing a voluntary license last session but it failed.

Massages can be a time when you unwind but one woman from Anoka County, Minnesota says her relaxing moment went to terrifying.

"He went past my stomach then started massaging, well it's not really massaging, he stuck his fingers inside me," said the victim from Anoka County.

"Did you stop him right away?" asked reporter Ashley Bishop.

"I pushed him away," said the victim.

The victim says the encounter happened quickly, leaving her in disbelief.

" I was shaking so bad," stated the victim.

The Anoka County woman left the business and called police. She learned after filing the police report, the state has no protections and those practicing massage can roam free even if they have previous sexual convictions against them.

"I wouldn't have went to a massage therapist if I would have known that, I thought they were registered like a nursing assistant, a realtor, loan officer, nail tech, so I trusted them with my body," explained the victim.

"Right now, we don't have a stop gap, we have nothing," said American Massage Therapy Association Minnesota Chapter Vice President, Rachel Romanelli.

Massage therapist Rachel Romanelli has been in the massage profession for over 20 years. She's worked in Minnesota and two other states which had licensing. She says the organization she represents is for the licensing which would make people go through background checks and have education requirements.

"We need to go forward with full licensure to protect the public and it is elevating the legitimacy and status of our profession" stated Romanelli.

"The process is not broken and it works very well," explained President of the Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform, Leo Cashman.

But not everyone agrees that licensure is the way to go.

"Fundamentally we think the over-regulation is a mistake in any case and the point really is what we have now is working fabulously and we don't not need an extra layer of regulation," stated Cashman.

He says there are already laws on the books that protect the public. The Law he's referring to is state statute 146-A, "Complementary and Alternative Health Care Practices." It allows massage therapist to practice as long as they post their credentials and don't engage in sexual contact with clients.

"There is no magic answer in eliminating all inappropriate behavior from the world we live in, but from what we see in the registration bill is special interest legislation," said Cashman.

"146A is a buyer beware program," explained Romanelli.

The Anoka County victim says massage is an intimate profession which is why Minnesotan's deserve protection.

"Do you think that people out there know that this is happening?" asked reporter Ashley Bishop.

"I think there is more victims and they are just terrified to come forward," said the victim.

"Why do you think that?" asked Bishop.

"I didn't know what to do," stated the victim. "I didn't know that it was considered rape,"

Since there no state wide license, it's hard to know how many people are doing massages in the state now.

Romanelli's organization does have a bill prepared to introduce in the fall legislative session. She adds they will not give up until regulation is passed.

The Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform group says they continue to oppose the bill.

As stated earlier, Minnesota leaves it up to the cities to regulate massage therapists.

Moorhead has a lengthy application process requiring numerous things including a criminal background check, live within 100 miles of the city, hold a membership or certification through a national massage organization and have a minimum of 500 hours of education.

Click the link to see the full story on other city regulations.