NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - An analysis by News4 Investigates shows despite multiple complaints of inappropriate sexual behavior and even being convicted of sex crimes, massage therapists have kept their state licenses for several months and even years afterward.
The analysis came in the wake of Tuesday’s arrest of Tarek Mentouri, who has been the subject of multiple News4 Investigations that uncovered how many women accuse him of sexually touching them or himself during massages or job interviews.
The massage therapist at the center of a year-long News4 Investigates series, accused by more than 15 women of sexually touching them or himself during massages or job interviews, was arrested on Tuesday by Metro Police.
After uncovering that women began to file complaints with the state board of massage licensure about Mentouri in 2017, but the state did not revoke his license until August 2020, News4 Investigates analyzed five years worth of disciplines of massage therapists by the state.
Fifteen women have come to News4 Investigates with claims of similar, troubling stories of inappropriate sexual behavior by a massage therapis…
The state, however, would not release all complaints against massage therapists, and the only complaints available were about those masseuses who were disciplined or had their licenses revoked.
Our analysis found cases where massage therapists were accused of sex crimes and continued to give massages for months afterward before the state board revoked their license.
In one case, a massage therapist was accused of sexually violating a woman during a massage. The woman described freezing in shock during the abuse.
The therapist was fired on July 20th, and it took the state board three months to revoke his license. In those three months, his disciplinary file shows he continued to practice massage therapy.
In another case, a massage therapist was accused of sexually violating a woman in her home in January 2018. It took the state board eight months to revoke his license.
News4 Investigates found repeated cases of massage therapists charged with sex crimes in 2014 by police, only to have their licenses revoked two years later.
Faith Fairhope, a former member of the state massage licensure board, said the length of time between complaints or criminal charges and actions by the board is unacceptable.
“It feels more like, in my opinion, the perpetrator is the one being protected,” Fairhope said.
Fairhope said when she left the board in 2012, she filed a complaint on a massage therapist.
Despite being a former board member, she said even she could get no updates on the case.
“It took forever. You couldn’t get an update on it. And when it was resolved, you didn’t know how it was resolved. Because they didn’t tell you and they said they couldn’t tell you. It was really frustrating,” Fairhope said.
For five months, News4 Investigates has requested an interview with members of the board and the commissioner.
Among our questions: is the state not getting timely data from the police? Are businesses not reporting terminations of employees for sexual reasons on a timely basis? Do they not have enough investigators?
Our requests were repeatedly denied, saying none of the board was available. We then asked to speak with the commissioner herself and are awaiting a reply.
In an email, a spokeswoman for the department of health wrote, “Complaints resolve at different speeds depending on the length and complexity of the investigations and the disciplinary process.”
“It’s got to be so frustrating for the public that are supposed to be protected,” Fairhope said.
That frustration is certainly shared by Kelly Cochrane, one of the first to file a complaint against Mentouri.
This year, she received an email from Mentouri’s email address, reading in part, “
Sorry to keep bothering you, but what other cyberstalker can bring the world so much entertainment?”
“I haven’t gotten a massage at an establishment in Tennessee since then because you don’t feel safe and that no one is going to take the complaint seriously,” Cochrane said.
Several of the women who say they were sexually abused by Mentouri said their frustration lies with the state database itself, as even if a sex crime complaint has been filed with police and the board, the public does not know about it until the board makes its decision.