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BBC reports new sexual assault case on massage app startup Urban

The incident follows the conviction of another masseur from the platform last year.

By Freya Pratty and Eleanor Warnock

Photo: Adobe Stock.

A woman told the police she was sexually assaulted by a therapist booked through Urban, a British startup offering at-home treatments from self-employed massage therapists, a BBC News investigation reported. 

The incident follows the conviction of another masseur from the platform last year, who was jailed for five years for raping a woman who had booked a treatment from Urban. The case was reported on at the time. 

Urban is one of the largest massage booking platforms in the UK and has raised at least $14m in funding from VCs including Passion Capital, Felix Capital and Accelerated Digital Ventures.

The incidents

In the latest incident, the woman said she booked a male masseur through the app for an at-home massage in 2019, the BBC reported. She says the man then began to touch her in intimate areas without her consent, and then commit a serious sexual assault. 

The woman says she reported the incident to the police and to Urban, the BBC wrote. The woman said that Urban told her they would remove the man from the platform immediately, but she said she found his profile was still accessible two weeks later. The police later dropped their investigation due to a lack of evidence, the BBC reported.

Urban told Sifted that the therapist’s access to the platform was revoked from when the report was received, and that he was not bookable after that point. His profile has now been removed entirely.

In March last year, Cosmin Tudoache, another masseur on the platform, was jailed for five years over a separate 2017 incident where a woman was raped.

A spokesperson for Urban told Sifted that the practitioner was removed from the platform the same day that the police contacted them. 

Urban’s response

“Since our platform launched in 2014, only 0.02% of bookings have resulted in any complaint, which we take seriously and investigate. All our partner practitioners are required to undergo rigorous checks, including DBS before joining our platform. We welcome regulation of the industry that will build on the safety protocols we have already implemented,” an Urban Massage spokesperson told Sifted. 

Urban says it categorises complaints as “any reported event, and this includes reports by the client or the practitioner of suggestive behaviour or assault. Some of the incidents will be unfounded”.

“The majority of these incidents arise from suggestive behaviour from clients rather than complaints made against practitioners.”

When allegations are made which suggest that something of a criminal nature has occurred, Urban says it advises the complainant — whether practitioner or client — to report it to the police.

Urban’s spokesperson told Sifted that the platform also has an internal trust and safety committee and a trust and safety council that governs complaints. 

Sifted reached out to Felix Capital, Passion Capital and Accelerated Digital Ventures, the three VCs which backed Urban in its $10m Series B round in 2019. Felix Capital responded to say it was letting Urban respond to the claims. 

A representative from Passion Capital said: “It’s terrible when anyone is assaulted and even one victim is one too many.

“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.”

The BBC News investigation did not solely focus on Urban. It reported finding more than a dozen recent criminal cases involving offenders using the wider massage industry — which remains almost entirely unregulated — to rape and sexually assault clients in recent years.

Freya Pratty is a reporter at Sifted. She tweets from @FPratty and writes our sustainability-focused newsletter you can sign up here

Eleanor Warnock is Sifted’s deputy editor and cohost of The Sifted Podcast. She tweets from @misssaxbys 

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