Virginia Beach, VA, August 27, 2021 –
The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) has been troubled by recent national news reports of human sex trafficking being enabled by accredited massage schools.1.2. COMTA keeps a close watch on schools it accredits, as well as the professional education landscape in general. As a major stakeholder in massage and esthetics entry-level education, we are pleased to report that the schools referenced in the news article are not at all representative of massage schools in general but do indicate the harm that can come from outliers appearing as institutions.
COMTA was pleased to participate in several recent teleconferences with other organizational leaders in the massage therapy profession to brainstorm some potential workable, effective, solutions to a longstanding co-option of our profession’s good work. The result of the teleconferences is a statement of purpose and action steps appropriate to further delineate the profession from organized crime attempts at infiltration. COMTA joins with these organizations in support of the following statement:
Joint Statement from
Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE)
Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP)
Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB)
Massage therapy is an allied health and wellness profession; massage therapists are found in hospitals, long-term care facilities, medical clinics, integrative health centers, hospice care, spas, and wellness centers, as well as in their own independent practice settings. As such, massage therapy education includes anatomy and physiology, ethics, manual soft tissue techniques, business and professionalism, sanitation, and basic research literacy. Annual continuing education and current competency generally are required in order to maintain licensure to practice, and professional society membership.
The profession has long struggled with attempted infiltration by actors trying to hijack the term and settings of massage therapy for illicit activities such as human trafficking and prostitution. For the general public, the focal point is often stories about prostitution taking place within massage “parlors” directed by organized crime. Their avenues for infiltration include establishing illegitimate schools, taking steps to enable non-professionals to cheat on profession entry exams, and presenting individuals as massage therapists who lack proper training and ethics.
While the vast majority of the 900+ massage schools are lawful institutions of postsecondary learning, a number of massage schools have recently been identified as “diploma mills,” purporting to teach massage therapy but simply providing certificates for a fee to facilitate fraud and illicit passage into the profession. These so-called “schools” are eroding public trust in the profession, creating confusion for students who want a legitimate education, and generally perpetuating the conflation of the sex trade with massage therapy.
Illicit massage businesses pose a risk to the public and the massage profession—practitioners, students, instructors, and schools. Illicit activity does not come from the massage profession; it comes from organized crime. To make it increasingly difficult for these businesses to pose under the guise of massage therapy, enacting the measures below would serve to protect the integrity of the massage profession and its stakeholders. In combatting these issues, the massage profession itself must take an active role in the fight. A multi-pronged approach would be most effective, including the following elements:
- Rapidly accelerating the adoption of massage-specific programmatic accreditation by massage schools nationwide; state boards of education and massage therapy alone are not adequate and not sufficiently funded to police fraudulent schools
- Enabling pathways toward more robust teacher qualification and training/certification for every teacher in massage training
- Requiring continuing education on human trafficking and ethics, to empower professionals to better support and protect their chosen field
- Establishing an education campaign to aid/instruct law enforcement and state authorizers on what constitutes legitimate massage therapy, and what does not
- Educating regulators and law enforcement on the purpose/role the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) plays in licensure
- Encouraging states’ participation in the Massage Therapy Licensing Database (MTLD)
- Exploring the merits of regulatory oversight of massage establishments
- Helping schools, students, and therapists recognize and report illicit activity in their communities
- Establishing language that helps authorities easily identify those with appropriate education and practice standards
- Identifying and eliminating loopholes that allow “schools” to sidestep licensure rules
- Enforcing laws for practicing massage therapy without a license
- Eliminating laws currently on the books that treat massage therapists as presumed sex workers (adult entertainment)
- Requiring schools to keep accurate and complete student records on all students
- Requiring state disclosure of approved schools and current status
These aims are by no means all-encompassing, and each of the participating organizations will have their own priorities and beliefs. However, collectively we feel strongly that the massage profession has been unfairly maligned for too long, and what we do as a profession can make a difference. We endeavor to collaborate to achieve these aims to ensure a more vibrant, healthy, safe massage profession for the public and for the individuals who have chosen this noble career choice.
COMTA’s mission is to elevate and uphold standards of excellence in massage therapy, bodywork, and esthetics through specialized accreditation, benefiting students and schools, practitioners, and the public. COMTA is the only accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education as specialized in massage, bodywork, and esthetics.
Contact: Dawn Hogue, Executive Director – firstname.lastname@example.org