UPDATED: Vancouver masseur charged with sex assault

A woman alleged she was assaulted by a man after booking massage through an online app

A Vancouver man has been arrested and charged after an alleged sexual assault last week.

Vancouver police media relations officer Const. Steve Addison said 33-year-old Alexander Varfolomeev allegedly assaulted a woman who booked him for an in-home massage on Aug. 14 through an app.

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Addison said Varfolomeev was arrested Tuesday, Aug. 20 and is facing one count of sexual assault.

“Investigators believe Varfolomeev was self-employed and used an internet app called Soothe to book clients,” he said. “He then visited them in their homes to provide service.”

Addison said investigators have been in contact with Soothe, and the company is cooperating with police.

“They are no longer working with this individual,” he said.

"We are deeply concerned about the alleged actions of Alexander Varfolomeev," Jeff Bishop-Hill, vice-president of operations at Soothe, said in an email.

"Soothe has a zero-tolerance policy regarding assault and any form of harm to our clients. No therapist is allowed onto the Soothe platform if he/she has a criminal history... Soothe is continuously improving methods of therapist vetting and verification, and we remain deeply committed to making Soothe the safest possible massage service, making sure the hundreds of thousands of clients and the 13,000+ therapists around the world are not harmed."

The company's website states:         

“We’re very careful about the therapists we select to join the Soothe network. We vet each therapist to make sure they are fully licensed or certified in their practice area. We also verify they are insured by a reputable firm that is well known in the industry.”

The website does state that in Canada, all of the therapists are “experienced professionals” but all are not registered massage therapists.

“We always encourage people to take precautions for their personal safety,” Addison said. “We recognize this is a digital world and people are looking for convenient ways to do business and using the internet and using apps is a form of convenience for people… That said, the victim in this case did nothing wrong and did not deserve what happened to her.”

Bishop-Hill told the Courier that Varfolomeev joined Soothe, which has been available in Canada for close to four years, in 2016 and was vetted by a recruiter in Vancouver. He said the process included verifying "his body work and massage diploma" as well as his personal liability insurance and the equipment he was using (table, sheets), as well as a practical massage to "ensure that his capabilities were top notch."

Soothe allows clients to rate and review therapists after each appointment. Bishop-Hill said Varfolomeev had an overall rating of 4.8 out of five and had "no previous complaints or issues of the network."

Eric Wredenhagen, registrar and CEO at the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia, said Varfolomeev is not, and has never been, registered with the college as a massage therapist.

Addison said Varfolomeev was released on bail with a court order prohibiting him from providing massage or physical therapy services to the public.

This story has been updated since it was originally posted.

@JessicaEKerr

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