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‘It Stops With Me': Woman Says Massage Envy Worker Sexually Assaulted Her

More than 180 women have reported sexual assaults at Massage Envy locations across the country, a report says

A woman who told police a Massage Envy employee sexually assaulted her during an appointment spoke publicly about the alleged attack for the first time on Monday and said she came forward to help protect other women.

Tara Woodley expected a relaxing massage when she went to a Massage Envy location in Washington, D.C. in September. Instead, she says the massage therapist sexually abused her. She said at a news conference Monday afternoon that she came forward in part to prevent her alleged attacker from attacking someone else.

"He was on a trend. Basically, every month, he was targeting somebody," she said, with her husband sitting behind her. "It stops with me."

Woodley previously spoke and filed a lawsuit anonymously, using the name Jane Doe.

A day earlier, Buzzfeed reported that more than 180 women have reported sexual assaults at Massage Envy locations across the country. The billion-dollar company trains franchise owners to conduct internal investigations on reports of misconduct and does not require that they report alleged crimes to police, Buzzfeed reported.

Adam Horowitz, a lawyer who has worked on two dozen cases against Massage Envy, said the actual number of assaults is likely considerably higher.

NBC News has not confirmed all of the allegations.

Woodley said she "found strength" in watching women in Hollywood and in government confront sexual misconduct.

The man accused of attacking Woodley, 24-year-old Habtamu Gebreselassie of Silver Spring, Maryland, has been accused of sexually assaulting at least four massage customers.

A woman told News4 Gebreselassie touched her inappropriately at a Bowie, Maryland, location on June 20. She said management offered her a free spa day and told her he had been transferred to a location in D.C.

A 66-year-old woman told police Gebreselassie assaulted her at the chain's location in D.C.'s Tenleytown neighborhood on Aug. 28.

"I've never done this before. I don't know what got into me," she told police he said. 

Management wrote a report, gave Gebreselassie additional training and allowed him to stay on the job, a D.C. detective testified.

Then, Woodley said Gebreselassie attacked her three weeks later.

In a statement Sunday, Massage Envy — which has more than 1,100 franchises in 49 states, according to the company's website — said the incidents described in the report were "heartbreaking for us and for the franchisees that operate Massage Envy locations."

Woodley said on Monday and in a lawsuit filed earlier this year that she was getting a massage at the Massage Envy's Tenleytown location at 4926 Wisconsin Ave. NW on Sept. 17 when the massage therapist removed the sheet that was covering her pelvis. Then, he put his mouth on her genitals, she said.

She immediately pulled the sheet back up to cover herself and ordered him to leave.

"We're done here. We're done here," she repeated, raising her voice.

On his knees, he begged for forgiveness, Woodley said. 

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She said she went outside and called her husband. He told her to call 911, she did and police arrived quickly.

Gebreselassie has been charged in two claims: for sexual abuse in Woodley's case Sept. 17 and for attempted sexual abuse on Aug. 28 in the same location. 

In an alleged attack June 20, a woman told Massage Envy that Gebreselassie sexually abused her during a massage and the company offered her a free spa day when she told them what happened.

That woman, who asked News4 not to identify her, said Gebreselassie touched her inappropriately, bruised her and made her feel uncomfortable at the Massage Envy location in Bowie, Maryland.

She says she reported the attack to management the next day and asked to cancel her membership. She says she was told she could not do so but that she could have a free spa day, as a courtesy. Also, she says management told her Gebreselassie had been transferred to a location in D.C., so she would not see him again at the Bowie location.

The woman contacted News4 to tell her story. News4's Mark Segraves informed prosecutors, who declined to confirm whether they were speaking with her.

During a court appearance Gebreselassie previously had, prosecutors tried to enter the possibility of a third victim into the record. The judge denied the request because Gebreselassie has not been charged in connection to the alleged victim June 20.

In the alleged attack Aug. 28, a 66-year-old woman told police Gebreselassie tried to sexually abuse her.

She was getting a massage from Gebreselassie about 2 p.m. when he touched her inappropriately, court documents say.

She yelled at him, and he fell to his knees, she told police.

"I've never done this before. I don't know what got into me," she told police Gebreselassie said.

The woman told police she told the manager and owner of the Massage Envy location on Sept. 5 what happened.

Management wrote a report, gave Gebreselassie additional training and allowed him to stay on the job, a D.C. detective testified in court Thursday.

Diane Kelley, a co-owner of the Tenleytown franchise, refused to answer News4's questions on Thursday. Asked repeatedly why she allowed Gebreselassie to keep working, she hung up the phone.

A corporate spokesperson for Massage Envy said they could not comment on the franchise's "confidential employment matters."

"We can say that Massage Envy Franchising has a Zero Tolerance Policy on inappropriate conduct and requires its franchisees to conduct fair, thorough and objective investigations with respect to any allegation of inappropriate conduct," a statement said. "We are evaluating any additional information we receive to verify that requirement was met in this instance."

News4 was first to report on Woodley's case. The alleged victim in the Aug. 28 case told police she came forward after seeing News4's Mark Segraves' story.

Gebreselassie declined a plea agreement during a court appearance and was held without bond. If Gebreselassie is convicted, he faces decades in prison.

He was fired.

Massage Envy said the franchise owner conducted a background check on Gebreselassie.

"The therapist briefly trained at another location owned by the same franchise owner before joining the Tenleytown location once it opened," the company said.

At the Potomac Massage Training Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, executive director Tamera Gelman had these three tips for protecting yourself when you get a massage: Ask if your massage therapist is licensed, if he or she underwent a background check and how long he or she has worked for the company.

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