WCMH NBC4: Sexual assault victim speaks out after $10 million verdict in Lancaster

A group of 10 women in Fairfield County have won a $10 million verdict against a former massage therapist. Matthew Schaitel was convicted of sexual imposition in 2021. The nine-day trial finished on Feb. 28.

Schaitel is a former massage therapist and now registered sex offender who worked for Natural Remedies Massage in Lancaster – he’s accused of sexually assaulting the 10 women who filed a civil suit against him.

“Over $10 million. That is a clear message to any sexual predators out there that juries are not going to look lightly upon, you know, actions of that nature. And secondly, juries are going to hold businesses accountable if you put a predator in your midst,” said Lynn Ellenberger, who represented the 10 women.

Schaitel is accused of exposing these women’s bodies against their will, pulling down their underwear and inappropriately touching them.

Ellenberger works for the national class action law firm Fegan Scott. She said she was contacted by several women in central Ohio who were victims of Schaitel. That started the course of action against him.

Natural Remedies Massage and owner Hollie Aneshansley were also named in the civil lawsuit. An out-of-court settlement was made between the 10 women and the massage parlor and owner. Schaitel chose to represent himself in court.

“It’s very unusual for an individual to represent themselves, especially when they have financial interest in the case. And there’s so much at stake. So this was quite unusual,” Ellenberger said.

Ellenberger represents women in these types of sexual assault cases frequently. She said she understands the level of difficulty there is for victims to not only come forward but face their abuser in court.

“It’s very traumatic because oftentimes and in this case, many of our clients never told their stories to anyone, let alone every single detail of them. So it was a very difficult process,” she said.

Shelby Rains is one of the victims who was sexually assaulted by Schaitel.

“Our abuser sat in that courtroom and got to hear our story and we had to retell our story to him. It’s really hard to put into words how challenging this is. You know, your entire life is put on display for a roomful of strangers. And it’s not necessarily your entire life. It’s pretty much the worst thing that’s ever happened to you,” she explained.

Rains said she didn’t even tell her story until this legal process began.

“For us, not only did we have to come forward to our friends and our family and, you know, in some cases a therapist, but we had to tell strangers what happened to us. And you can’t really put into words how difficult that is. I didn’t want to share because I was embarrassed, and I was ashamed. And I think that until this trial, I didn’t realize how freeing and how healing it was to really use your voice and really stand up to the people that hurt you,” she said.

After several long years, Rains said the trial verdict finally gave some sense of relief.

“You finally feel validated,” Rains said. “I feel like we were dismissed or maybe people didn’t believe us. And finally, someone took the time to hear our story and to believe us and validate our feelings. Always fight for yourself and use your voice to protect yourself. And you are capable. And you do have the courage to stand up to your predator.”
View the full story on WCMH NBC4 here.