A physical therapist was cleared yesterday on a charge of sexually assaulting a woman by allegedly rubbing her breasts for 15 minutes during deep tissue massage for a lower-back injury.
Seán Blake, aged 56, with an address at The Mews, Rushbrooke, Cobh, Co Cork, denied ever touching the woman’s breasts in any way during the therapy session at the Regus building, City Gate, Mahon, two years ago.
A jury agreed with him and yesterday told Judge Patrick Meghan at Cork Circuit Criminal Court that they found Mr Blake not guilty of sexual assault. The defendant wept at the verdict.
The complainant injured her back in a crash when her car skidded on ice at Christmas 2013 and she went to a number of specialists for treatment, including a physiotherapist, chiropractor, osteopath, and acupuncturist.
Her personal trainer later recommended going to Mr Blake for deep tissue message.
She had three sessions, at €60 each time. At the third session on May 22, 2015, she alleged she was sexually assaulted: “I went along, there was the usual chit-chat about how my back was. He left the room. I took off my clothes down to my underwear, my panties. I had a towel.
"He worked on my back as normal. He finished with me on my back, with me facing upwards, the towel over my chest. He did work on my neck. He was doing that. His hands started going lower, and lower. I said, ‘if he goes lower I will say something’.
“He started massaging my breasts. I couldn’t move. I remember hearing him breathing, massaging my breasts for (what seemed like) hours but it was for about 15 minutes.
"I was afraid. He is a lot bigger than me. He finished after a while. I went straight home. I said to (my partner) what happened. I was asking him was it normal for massaging your breasts for a back injury.”
Mr Blake did not give evidence from the witness box but an account of his interview with gardaí and a statement he made to gardaí was put before the jury. He said the complainant was incorrect and that it did not happen, he did not massage her breasts.
He said she was wearing underwear and had a towel to keep her warm and for her modesty. He said he could have massaged her upper chest/outer shoulder area but not her breasts.
Asked if he was shocked by the allegation, he said: “All I have is my name, all I can see is my name going down the tubes — trial by media… I refute categorically all the allegations made by her against me.”
Orla Crowe, defending, said that between the woman’s statement of complaint to gardaí, her direct evidence, and her cross-examination, the word used to describe what she alleged happened changed from ‘rubbing’ to ‘touching’ to ‘massaging’ to ‘groping’.
She asked the complainant if she didn’t see a difference between the words.
She replied: “His hands were on my breasts, that is all that matters.”
Ms Crowe replied: “You never said to him to stop? You never said you were uncomfortable?”
The complainant said: “I was in shock. I couldn’t say anything… He just finished and left the room and I got dressed. I paid him and I left. I don’t know what I was thinking. He is a little bigger than me. I was helpless on the bed.”
Ms Crowe said this was the first time the woman had suggested she was in some kind of fear.
“I have to put it to you that that is an elaboration. You are putting in that for extra colour, to impress on the jury the plight you found yourself in. Something as significant as fear is not something you would forget [until now]?”
The complainant replied: “Trust me, I did not forget.”
Ms Crowe said the woman was mistaken and that the accused did not touch her breasts during the massage.
The complainant said: “No, that is not true. Why would I come up here?”
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