Two of the most common forms of trauma in our society include sexual and domestic violence.

Women experience sexual and domestic violence at alarmingly high rates.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 6 million women are beaten by their partners each year in America and rape is a regular form of abuse in 50% of violence relationships.

Because sexual and domestic violence have historically been seen as personal and private problems rather than issues of social concern, a high comfort level does not exist among health care professionals when dealing with these issues.

Because survivors of abuse will be seen in the offices of massage therapists and massage therapy can play a critical role in their healing process, it is important to evaluate whether survivors are receiving the care and support they need from professional massage therapists.

Due to the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence and the intimate nature of massage sessions, it is crucial for the massage therapist to be well informed about the issues of sexual and domestic violence and be educated about working with trauma survivors as massage clients.

Since body work is all about touch, it is possible that the therapist may encounter areas the victim doesn’t want anyone to see or touch. You may notice bruising marks or emotional issues in the client.

On average one in five massages therapist will encounter a client who is the victim of abuse.Thirty seven percent of women who suffer from abuse will tell their health care provider about it. Massage therapist are not technically health care workers, but are more commonly being used as a compliment to traditional health care. So it’s possible the client may look upon you as an authority figure.

In most states massage therapist are not required by law to report it if they discover abuse like medical professionals are. If the client reveals they are children are being abused, the law may apply differently and you may be responsible to report it.

If you do suspect that a client is a victim there is nothing wrong with asking indirectly but gently is something is happening. Frame the question so that she feels safe with you, not like your attacking her.

You can say that you’re asking all your patients as a new routine to combat violence in the community. You can also directly ask if her partner or husband caused her repeated injuries. Use your judgment to determine if she is open to direct questioning, or if she needs more guarded questions.

If the client does reveal she is being abused do the following:

  • Respect the client’s boundaries by not telling her to leave if she is not ready.
  • Try to emphasize the importance of documenting the abuse in your chart, in case she needs it for court. If she says no respect her decision.
  • Listen to the client without judgment. Do not blame anyone in the situation-it may just lead to her defending the abuser.
  • Don’t place yourself in the power or in control of the situation in any way. That’s the abuser’s job. The victim must take control herself.
  • Direct the client to a hotline or other avenues of assistant, if she refuse your intervention or help. Don’t push it, and don’t break her confidentiality. Domestic Violence calls are the most dangerous ones for the police and you’re not the police, so don’t confront the abuser for the client.

Other Resources

World Health Organization information sources
International Center for Research on Women information sources
National Online Center on Violence Against Women Information sources
United Nations' Secretary-General Campaign to End Violence Against Women information
United States Department of State Logo