Warning: This story contains disturbing details. Discretion is advised.
A woman who was raped by a former Nova Scotia massage therapist wants to see more regulations in the industry after he was able to continue practicing for three years after being charged.
A sentence that doesn’t come close to healing the pain he caused, said the victim.
“This has been almost nine years of my life that have been completely destroyed by him,” said the woman, who Global News will call Claire, in a recent interview. Her real name and identity are protected by a publication ban.
“(Four years) doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem like a fair exchange for anything that he’s done so far.”
Stevens, a 35-year-old from Dartmouth, N.S., has yet to face another 16 charges related to sexual assault allegations from four separate massage therapy clients.
In early August, he was charged with allegedly sexually assaulting a person during massage therapy appointments between 2017 and 2019. He was also charged with aggravated assault.
Later that month, he was handed 12 more charges for incidents that also allegedly happened during massage therapy appointments during the same time period.
In September, he was further charged for alleged sexual assaults against two separate people during massage therapy appointments, one in January 2013 and the other in April 2016.
Those charges have not been proven in court. He is scheduled to make his next appearance in Dartmouth Provincial Court on Jan. 26, 2022.
Reported to massage association in 2017
Claire, who was not a massage therapy client, says she was raped by Stevens at his home in Dartmouth in either late 2012 or early 2013.
During the violent assault, Stevens slapped her, pushed her on a couch and covered her mouth, nose and throat to the extent that she had difficulty breathing at times, according to the facts laid out during his sentencing hearing last month.
Claire said at first she didn’t report the attack to the police because she was fearful of retaliation from Stevens. But, concerned for the safety of his clients, she gathered the courage to contact the Massage Therapists’ Association of Nova Scotia (MTANS) in 2017.
She was told she would need to report her assault to the police in order for the complaint to proceed – something she didn’t want to do due to the “horror stories” she had read about other people who faced challenges within the legal system after reporting their assaults.
“I never would have gone to the police if I didn’t have to, and I had to because that was the only way the association was going to do something about him,” she said. “And then they didn’t.”
The situation was further complicated by the fact that the assault didn’t happen during a massage therapy appointment, which was outside of MTANS’s mandate. As well, the association provides the names of the complainants to the person being complained about, which caused her to be concerned for her safety.
For those reasons, Claire didn’t proceed with a formal complaint through the MTANS complaints committee, but followed up with the association in 2018 to let them know that Stevens had been arrested and charged. However, it would take another three years for Stevens’s membership with the association to be suspended.
“That whole time, he was able to keep (allegedly) assaulting people,” said Claire. “There’s no reason that he should be allowed to continue to practice while he was charged for these crimes.”
Massage therapy is an unregulated industry in Nova Scotia. Claire wants to see that changed to protect clients.
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“If we’re not making sure these practitioners are capable of behaving ethically at the very least, then you’re setting people up for some very horrible victimization,” she said.
Joel Pink, Stevens’s lawyer, declined comment for this story.
Massage therapy is regulated in British Columbia, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, according to the National Health Practitioners of Canada website. Last year Saskatchewan passed legislation to regulate massage therapy.
Greg MacDonald, the executive director of MTANS, said there was little the association could do to prevent Stevens from practicing after he was charged.
“Because massage therapy is not a regulated health profession in Nova Scotia, it limits what MTANS can do as an association,” he said.
MacDonald said the association received a formal complaint about Stevens in April 2021, which led to his membership being suspended the following month under the association’s new interim measures policy.
The policy, which was adopted the same month Stevens’s membership was suspended, defines serious risk and urgency as reasons to suspend a membership.
While massage therapy is unregulated, there is a Massage Therapy Title Protection Act, which prevents people from identifying themselves as a registered massage therapist if they are not a member in good standing of one of the province’s massage therapy associations, of which MTANS is the largest.
The other associations are the Massage Therapists’ and Wholistic Practitioners’ Association of the Maritimes and the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada. The Canadian Massage and Manual Osteopathic Therapists Association is not named in the title protection legislation but is trying to be added, said MacDonald.
But “even with title protection, we can’t prevent them from practicing,” said MacDonald, who said the association is pushing to implement practice protection as well.
“We do understand that there is a risk to the public in this profession, and that’s why we’re cooperating with the Department of Health and Wellness and the provincial government to see improved regulation over massage therapy,” he said.
To that end, MacDonald said the association has created a joint working group on regulation with other massage therapy associations in the province.
Regulation would ‘take time’
He said they’ve had multiple “productive” meetings with the provincial government to implement more regulations, which would include establishing a college of massage therapy. The college would have authority over the profession in the way the associations do not, said MacDonald.
“We would like to see that happen as soon as possible,” he said.
MacDonald also added that MTANS is working to develop a more robust complaints process, noting that their complaints committee has seen an increase in complaints, and more serious complaints, about massage therapists in recent years.
“Our current complaints process is a three-page document, we are looking at approving a complaints process that’s 43 pages,” he said.
In a statement, Health and Wellness spokesperson Marla MacInnis said the department is reviewing a submission from the associations regarding self-regulation.
“No decision has been made to date. It’s important to note that self-regulation would require further legislation, which would take time,” she said.
MacInnis said Nova Scotia has many good massage therapists and encouraged people to consider the following when choosing a practitioner:
- People need to meet educational and insurance requirements, as well as be a member in good standing with a massage therapy association, to use the title “massage therapist.”
- The associations can suspend a member who faces serious criminal charges and that suspension means they can no longer use that title.
- Nova Scotians should check with an association online to ensure the massage therapist they want to use is a member in good standing.
- Insurance providers in Nova Scotia only provide coverage for registered massage therapists.
‘I would really like there to be hope’
Claire said she’s glad to see some movement in further regulating the industry, though she noted, “there’s a lot of work to do still.”
Meanwhile, with her attacker behind bars, she said she is doing “as good as can be expected.”
“I have my good days and bad days. Now that he’s in jail it’s a lot better,” she said.
While she originally hesitated to come forward with her allegations, and while the process to get Stevens tried and convicted was long and daunting, Claire said she has no regrets.
She said she wants other people who have been sexually assaulted to know that even though the reporting process might seem scary, they’re not alone.
“The best thing I did was actually coming forward, and it was the last thing in the world that I ever wanted to do, and it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” she said.
“I would really like there to be hope. I would like women to know … that it’s not as horrifying as you’ve probably been led to believe. And to just try.”
Survivors of sexual violence in Nova Scotia can contact the Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line at (902) 425-1066 for support, 24-7. The phone line is operated by the Dalhousie Student Union. They can also contact the Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors program by calling 211 to get free legal advice.