By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
You might want to think twice about complying the next time you hear "spread 'em."
We're not talking about your last encounter with the Dallas SWAT squad. We're talking about the delicate matter of laser hair removal.
This week a court hearing is scheduled for Jimmy Earl Adams, owner of Cosmetic Procedures in North Richland Hills, who has been charged with five felony counts of sexual assault. Adams was arrested last September after a 27-year-old client went to police with allegations that he had fondled her during a laser hair removal procedure on her bikini line. After that case received publicity, four more women came forward with similar allegations. Adams, 59, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he was "absolutely, categorically innocent" of any charges.
Other allegations surfaced in the messy divorce case of John and Sherry Berges, owners of Body Re-Nous laser hair removal in Irving, that John Berges, 55, had taken dozens of "extremely pornographic photos" of clients' genitalia--male and female--before performing laser hair removal.
John Berges denied in court that he had taken the photos. This spring, almost 30 Body Re-Nous clients received subpoenas for written depositions from Sherry Berges' attorney asking them whether John Berges had taken pictures of their genitals and if they could identify their crotches if shown the photographs in their file. Perhaps, like Bill Clinton, they had "identifying features." (Most clients whose names were in the file either declined to comment or could not be reached; one male client said that John Berges had taken no pictures of him.) Soon after those documents were filed, the protracted divorce case was abruptly settled.
"Taking photographs without the client being properly draped is not acceptable and is not standard in the industry," says Sherry Berges. "And as far as John Berges is concerned, because I am under a court order I have no comment."
Reached by phone, John Berges said, "I can't comment on that."
The Bergeses married in 1996 and opened Body Re-Nous in 1999. Clients came to Body Re-Nous with their most intimate hair removal needs: not just arms, legs, upper lips and backs but labia, penises and testicles. Ouch. But the supply of people willing to suffer for beauty and sex appeal kept their waiting room filled.
The Bergeses filed for divorce in 2003 because of "irreconcilable differences" but agreed to continue operating the business by alternating days spent treating clients. One condition of the agreement was that all clients would be offered the choice of being treated by a male or female technician.
But the agreement broke down. According to court documents, Sherry Berges discovered on one of her days in the office a huge collection of up-close-and-personal pictures of clients' genitalia. In March 2004, she filed an application for an injunction barring him from treating female clients.
"The husband continues to refuse to offer the male or female treatment option and continues to schedule himself for 'one on one' laser hair removal treatment of female clients in a private room," Sherry Berges alleged. "The husband continues to disrobe female clients and take pictures of the clients' genitalia and breast areas. To date the husband has taken in excess of 250 photographs of nude female clients..."
After noting that John Berges had previously been sued for sexual harassment, Sherry Berges claimed "the wife is concerned that the conduct of the husband...will subject Body Re-Nous, L.C., to substantial litigation and liability from a multitude of female clients and that the value of Body Re-Nous and its ability to generate revenue will be eliminated by the perverted conduct of the husband."
Sherry Berges contacted Candela, a laser manufacturer, who responded that "before and after" pictures of hair removal clients were not necessary except in cases of abnormal skin conditions. But if pictures were taken, it was "common courtesy" to offer the client a drape to provide privacy. That fell short of Sherry Berges' allegation that taking the photos was "unethical." And the clients apparently consented to be photographed.
Even if a laser technician took graphic pictures, there currently are no state regulations concerning laser hair removal ethics and practices beyond requiring the businesses to operate under the supervision of a medical doctor. Even then, the doctor does not have to be on the premises; some medical doctors oversee clinics in different cities.
Laser hair removal technicians currently are not licensed or certified by the state of Texas. They undergo training by laser manufacturers. Nor do they have to pass a background check. (The Fort Worth Star-Telegramnoted that Tarrant County records show Adams was convicted of indecency with a child in 1983. John Berges had been sued for sexual harassment by an employee at a previous business.)
The Texas Board of Medical Examiners adopted regulations governing the training of technicians and the use of lasers that went into effect December 2004.
"The board thinks that use of laser is practicing medicine," says a spokesman for the board, but companies offering cosmetic use of lasers contend that the regulations give physicians too much power over their industry and filed lawsuits against the board. Enforcement has been suspended by court order until September.
If someone has a complaint about laser hair removal clinics, the only agency that has current oversight is the radiation safety board of the Texas Department of Health. The predominant complaint received involves not naughty pics or roving hands but burns.
In 2003, an African-American female model filed a lawsuit against John Berges and Body Re-Nous alleging that he had burned her arms and stomach so severely that she had scars.
She'd found Body Re-Nous in a Yellow Pages ad that said they specialized in hair removal for all skin types. But according to the petition, when she confronted Berges about the burns he admitted that "the laser he originally planned to use was not working so he decided to lower the temperature on the other laser thinking that it would not do any damage." Berges settled out of court for $35,000.
"These are usually fairly high-risk products," says a spokesman with the radiation safety board. "Some of the things we've seen in the past are injury reports, complaints of inadequate supervision, inadequate training. Lasers are not meant for a layperson's use."