Massage-booking platform Urban responds to stories of alleged sexual assaults by some therapists – Thealike

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Urban, a preferred UK-based startup that permits clients to seek out self-employed therapeutic massage therapists who will be booked to attend clients’ properties, has been named in an investigation into alleged abuse by unlicensed freelance therapists.

The startup has raised $35.7M from buyers that include the likes of Felix Capital, Passion Capital, the London Co-Investment Fund, angels from a community of Harvard Business School alumni, and others. Originally launched in 2014 “Urban Massage,” the startup has ridden the wave of Uber-like, gig-economy providers the place a service supplier may very well be booked by way of an app and they might magically arrive.

But final week, the startup was cited in a BBC story that described the observe of alleged sexual assaults by home-visit therapeutic massage therapists. Specifically, the news report doesn’t counsel that Urban is complicit within the assault, however it cited two completely different instances — one which has resulted in a conviction in court docket — the place the therapists in query marketed and had been booked by Urban.

In a kind of instances, the BBC report particulars how the platform was sluggish to reply to the grievance: three years after the client filed a report with the police and reported the therapist in query to Urban, the BBC might nonetheless discover his profile on the location. (It has since been eliminated.)

These don’t seem to have been remoted incidents. Separately, Thealike has additionally spoken to a different girl who alleges she was assaulted by an Urban therapeutic massage therapist. She too stated she might nonetheless see the therapist on the platform, regardless of her reporting the incident to Urban. (She selected to not element her expertise for this story.)

Urban is in no way the one approach that buyers can discover and ebook therapeutic massage therapists. The BBC stated it “heard from dozens of women who have been sexually assaulted by massage therapists in their own homes.” But with two of the instances cited within the story originating from classes booked on the Urban platform, it highlights an issue that persists throughout a variety of gig-economy marketplaces: too typically the platform operators are getting caught out with unhealthy actors utilizing the platform, elevating questions on how efficient its screening processes are.

It additionally highlights issues particular to the wellness business within the UK, and particularly round masseurs and the way they’re regulated. Under present UK rules, therapeutic massage therapists don’t want a licence, nor any formal coaching, to start out training therapeutic massage. There is one accredited register of practitioners, however the listings are voluntary, which means many therapists don’t seem on it.

Additionally, just some native councils require premises providing therapeutic massage remedy to have a enterprise license, which will be revoked in instances the place there could be complaints lodged towards its practices. In any case, this could not cowl gig-economy therapeutic massage therapists who may go to a house. In easy phrases, within the UK at the very least, anybody can declare to be a skilled therapeutic massage therapist.

The BBC report outlines how a girl known as Taylor — not her actual title — alleged she booked an at-home therapeutic massage on the Urban app in October 2019. Unable to discover a feminine therapist who was obtainable, she booked a male therapist with tons of of optimistic opinions.

Taylor informed the BBC the therapeutic massage therapist dedicated a severe sexual assault on her in the course of the session, which was subsequently reported to each Urban and the police – who later dropped their investigation attributable to an absence of proof.

Urban stated it could take away the therapist from the platform, however the girl claimed the therapist’s profile was nonetheless accessible two weeks later.

BBC News then discovered his profile was nonetheless seen three years on from the incident. It was solely eliminated after Urban was contacted by the BBC.

Urban says clients usually are not capable of ebook a therapist towards whom a grievance has been made, regardless of their profile being seen.

A spokesperson for Urban informed Thealike: “The [BBC] article refers to a long delay before a deactivated therapist’s profile was removed from the app. While the practitioner’s access to the platform was revoked immediately upon receiving the complaint and delivered no further appointments, their profile was still visible if you had their name or unique link. This was our mistake and falls below the high standards we set for ourselves at Urban. On 21 June we revised the app and website so the entire online presence of a practitioner on Urban is removed on deactivation.”

Urban informed us therapists are required to bear rigorous vetting – together with a DBS verify which was launched in 2019 – and demand solely a tiny fraction of their bookings have resulted in a grievance. The agency stated all complaints are taken critically and investigated.

So why did it take so lengthy to introduce this DBS verify, since Urban was began in 2014?

The Urban spokesperson stated in response: “We continuously advance our trust and safety protocols in the absence of regulation. This has improved the trust and safety protocols of the industry and we’ve seen other platforms following our advancements.”

Thealike requested Urban about what safeguarding is put in place in a state of affairs the place a male therapist’s profile might have tons of of optimistic opinions just because the ladies are too afraid to return ahead.

A spokesperson for Urban informed Thealike: “Users are not required to leave a rating, and should anyone wish to make a report in confidence, our team is here to support them.”

Although in principle one doesn’t want any license to observe therapeutic massage remedy within the UK, Urban stated they undergo different kinds of vetting:

“All professionals who join our platform go through a rigorous vetting process including a DBS check, assessment, qualification checks to the min standard of level 3 UK recognized qualification (BTEC, ITEC and the like – we do not accept anyone with short courses), insurance check, ID & right to work check and COVID compliance,” stated a spokesperson. Users can request {qualifications} for any therapist booked on the platform.

In addition to that, it additionally offers help providers, the spokesperson added. “We have a robust support system in place. This includes both internal and external trust and safety committees that inform our processes and complaints procedures as well as a quality assurance team. We work closely with the police and our partnership with The Survivor’s Trust provides us with education and guidance on prevention policies.”

Urban stated the variety of complaints referring to any inappropriate habits is a at 0.02% of all of bookings traditionally, giving it a notional ‘safety rating’ of 99.98%.

On Google Ads, Urban claims to have taken over a million bookings. Simple maths present that 0.02% of one million is 200, though there isn’t a suggestion that that is an correct variety of severe complaints and doesn’t mirror the character of a grievance.

On the the 0.02% complaints price, Urban’s spokesperson commented:”We categorise “complaints” as any reported occasion, and this consists of stories by the consumer or the practitioner of suggestive behaviour or assault. Some of the incidents will probably be unfounded. The majority of those incidents come up from suggestive behaviour from shoppers quite than complaints made towards practitioners.”

Urban stated it doesn’t enable therapists to message shoppers off-app. “This is against our policy. We encourage all users to communicate via the app only,” stated the spokesperson.

The firm additionally famous that it has additionally put in place inner coaching course of for customer support group members round what’s and isn’t a sexual assault.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards any behavior that makes anyone feel distressed, uncomfortable or intimidated, even in subtle or ‘small’ ways,” stated the spokesperson. “We are a silver-accredited Trauma Informed Employer, which recognises the training we have in place to make sure incidents are handled sensitively and employees are supported.”

Urban says it could “welcome” extra regulation of the therapeutic massage business, however it begs the query of what that may seem like.

“With physiotherapy and osteopathy, there are central governing bodies such as HCPC and GosC whereby complaints are registered industry-wide which can lead to disqualification of a practitioner. We support such measures for the massage industry,” stated a spokesperson. Urban added it’s “continuing our dialogue with government and minister on the topic of introducing regulation for the industry. Urban is the only commercial organisation pushing for this.”

Controversy

This shouldn’t be the primary time Urban has attracted controversy.

In 2018, Thealike reported that it had leaked its whole buyer database, by leaving its Google-hosted ElasticSearch database on-line with no password.

This allowed anybody to learn tons of of 1000’s of buyer and employees information. Anyone who knew the place to look might entry, edit or delete the database. Urban pulled the database offline after Thealike reached out.

The leak uncovered greater than 309,000 consumer information, together with names, e mail addresses and telephone numbers. One consumer, who didn’t need to be named, stated the information publicity was a “huge violation” of her privateness. Among the information included 1000’s of complaints from employees about their shoppers, referring to sexual misconduct.

At the time, chief government Jack Tang stated in a press release: “Urban is looking into this as a matter of utmost urgency. We have informed the ICO and will take all other appropriate action, including in relation to data and communications.”

Urban’s buyers

Thealike contacted the buyers in Urban to ask for his or her feedback on this story.

Passion Capital despatched us this assertion:

“It’s terrible when anyone is assaulted and even one victim is one too many. As investors in Urban since 2014, we’ve always been proud to back the company in its mission to deliver wellness to more people at their place of work or home — but especially because of the company’s industry-leading trust and safety protocols for customers. Any professional on the urban platform has to undergo a DBS check, assessment and minimum standard of level 3 UK recognized qualification, among other criteria. While there’s still more work to be done (particularly across the sector at large) and we’re always looking for further improvements, the company’s incident rate of 0.02% is a testament to its commitment to customer safety.”

A spokesperson for Firestartr despatched Thealike the next assertion: “As early seed investors in Urban with Passion Capital, we always encouraged the company to implement best practices to ensure the safety and wellness of both therapists and clients at home. However, we cannot comment further because Firestartr did not hold a directorship in the company and was not involved in any board-level efforts to address this topic.”

A spokesperson on behalf of ADV stated: “Sexual offences are horrendous crimes and we are saddened to hear about these allegations. As a business we take any allegations of this nature incredibly seriously. We also expect our investee companies to take these matters with the same seriousness.”

We additionally requested for remark from different Lead Investors in funding rounds for Urban. Felix Capital is referring media to Urban’s statements. BNF Capital had not responded by time of publication.

A former Urban masseur, Cosmin Tudoache, was final 12 months jailed for 5 years for raping a girl who had booked his providers on the Urban app.

The girl we spoke to who alleges a sexual assault by an Urban therapist (Urban denies the assault came about) informed Thealike that as a consequence of her expertise she not permits males in her residence with out another person being there: “I no longer do 121 training sessions with my male fitness coach and my home cleaning company has an alert on my account to say I cannot have male cleaners. It has fundamentally affected my life for the long term,” she stated.

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