ABMP is aware of the serious allegations outlined in the recent Gizmodo article “‘They’re putting People at Risk’: Sexual Misconduct, Harassment, and Inaction at Zeel, the Top Massage App.”
Massage therapist safety is paramount, and incidents such as those described in the article have no place in a professional massage setting. In an effort to help educate therapists and employers, ABMP is making our webinar “Maintaining Sexual Ethics: Part 3-Protecting Practitioners” available on ABMP.com free to the profession until November 1. The webinar is available at www.abmp.com/members/continuing-education/online-learning/courses/webinar-maintaining-sexual-ethics-part-3-protecting-practitioners. This offering is one segment of a four-part ABMP series addressing sexual ethics in general, client considerations, practitioner protections, and student considerations. ABMP is dedicated to helping the profession at large better deal with unsafe situations.
ABMP reached out to Zeel for comment, and we are sharing co-founder Alison Harmelin’s response below.
Last week, an inaccurate and misleading story about Zeel appeared on the internet. We sincerely appreciate those therapists who have reached out to us to express their concern about the allegations in the article. We firmly believe that we are leaders in the industry when it comes to the safety of the massage therapists in our network and of our customers. We constantly evaluate how we can improve our policies and procedures, and as a result, the protocols we have in place today are different than what we have had in the past and will be different than what we will have in the future, as technology evolves and we learn more from experience.
The therapists in the Zeel network are at the very core of our business, and their safety, security, health, and welfare are of the utmost importance. While even one instance of inappropriate behavior is unacceptable, the unfortunate reality is that this sort of behavior is part of our industry, whether on the Zeel platform, in private practice, at a chiropractor’s office, at the spa or hotel, or anywhere else. But we believe we do as much as is reasonably and technologically possible to reduce the risk. We are proud of the fact that our policies far exceed the industry standards. Here is where we are today, and where we are headed:
- Trust & Safety Team: In 2018, we hired a Trust & Safety director and started building a team around her. That team now has 10 employees and consultants, including current and former members of law enforcement. Their sole responsibility is to ensure the safety of our customers and the therapists in our network. The team continually updates safety and security protocols as well as develops and implements new programs, software, and technologies that have enabled us to strengthen and enhance these protocols.
- “No Tolerance” Policy: Late in 2018, we established a policy that states that when a therapist reports inappropriate behavior by a client, that client is automatically and immediately removed from the platform, no questions asked. No manner or form of disciplinary action or reprisal has ever or will ever be taken with respect to a therapist who makes a complaint or files a report of inappropriate client behavior. Any suggestion otherwise is simply and patently false.
- Background Checking Customers: Some of you have asked what Zeel can do to research a client’s background. It is not ethical or practical, and it’s potentially legally challenging, for Zeel to perform a background check on every Zeel client or potential client; nor are the results of a Google search necessarily factually accurate. We rely on ID and mobile phone verification, anti-fraud software, and most importantly, feedback from the therapists in our network. Notwithstanding these challenges, and the fact that no other company in the industry, to our knowledge, performs such checks on consumers, we have been researching alternatives (even before the article on Zeel was published) and will get back to the community as soon as possible with our findings.
- Response to Complaints: So far in 2019, after nearly 300,000 appointments completed, our therapists have lodged 387 reports of inappropriate behavior, resulting in every single one of those clients being removed from the platform. In addition, 12% of all potential clients fail our ID verification systems and are therefore blocked from even one appointment.
We value therapists and the incredible work they do. Therapists on the Zeel platform make the highest pay rate per massage hour in the industry ($81 vs. the industry average of $43) and have collectively earned close to $100 million in base pay and gratuities since we launched the platform. Their earnings represent over two-thirds of the money flowing through the platform. Many of these jobs would never have happened without Zeel, as 55% of in-home work is “on demand,” meaning it is requested 1–4 hours from start time. At least 90% of the spa, hotel, and workplace bookings the platform provides is through contracts with enterprises who have never offered massage as a service before.
What we do is new. We are revolutionizing the massage industry. We are part of a new economy, much like car rides on demand and home rentals through an app. Thank you for your trust as we embark upon this journey together to create job opportunities for therapists, embrace an industry-leading, uncompromising approach to safety, and bring wellness to the world.
Please feel free to reach out to me personally should you have any questions or comments.