WASHINGTON — Since filing suit against Massage Envy after she said a massage therapist sexually assaulted her, Tara Woodley was known only as Jane Doe on court documents.
The D.C. woman decided that she will no longer remain anonymous and went public Monday with her story about what she claims happened to her on Sept. 17 at the Tenleytown spa.
“I hope that by sharing my story and my real name, that I will encourage other women to speak out as all of us join together to create change in our country and our communities,” Woodley said.
With both her attorney and husband by her side, Woodley recalled the day she made plans to reward herself with a massage. The new D.C. resident said after a positive experience at a Massage Envy location in Los Angeles, she booked an appointment at the location on Wisconsin Avenue.
Woodley said a few minutes into the massage, she became concerned about her massage therapist, 24-year-old Habtamu Gebreselassie, because he was young and allegedly admitted to her that he was new to the business.
“I even asked him, ‘How long have you been doing this?’ And his response is, ‘Not very long, but I am a very good therapist,'” Woodley said.
It was near the end of the massage that Woodley claims Gebreselassie committed a sex act on her without her consent.
“I lifted my head and removed the eye pillow and saw him; I covered myself and I shouted ‘What!’ I didn’t even know how to respond to that situation,” Woodley said.
She said as she urged Gebreselassie to leave the room, he grabbed her left hand and begged her not to talk about what happened. “He said, ‘I’ve never done this before; I don’t know why I did this.'”
Woodley said once Gebreselassie left the room, she got dressed, went outside and called her husband. He then told her to call the police, which she did, and Gebreselassie was arrested.
“It is almost impossible for me to find the right words to express how violated I felt and how scared I was,” said Woodley. She is one of four women who allege that Gebreselassie sexually assaulted them while giving them massages. He is charged with two incidents at the Tenleytown location.
“Massage Envy can’t comment on a franchisee’s confidential employment matters or on open legal cases,” the corporate office of the spa told WTOP in a statement.
The Tenleytown location is operated by ME DC, LLC and WTOP has reached out to the franchisee for comment. Both the corporate office and franchisee are named in Woodley’s lawsuit.
Woodley said she garnered the courage to tell her story from the many other women around the nation who have spoken out about alleged sexual harassment at the hands of politicians, celebrities and others.
“There are so many women who are being so brave and so strong, and I can be one of those, too,” she said.
Woodley’s attorney, Kim Brooks-Rodney with the Cohen and Cohen law firm, said the goal of the lawsuit is to make day spas safer. “No woman should have to worry about paying for a massage and she is assaulted while she is having a massage,” Brooks-Rodney said.
Woodley added that she is taking the bad with the good as she tries to move forward.
“Basically, every month, he was targeting somebody, and I was September. So, I thank God that it happened to me, that my husband encouraged me to call the police, and that it won’t happen to a November woman or December woman,” Woodley said.