Sexual Healing?

Shin Higashiura: He tells clients that "inside treatments" prevent wrinkles.
Michael Hogue

Like most of the clients who visited Shin Higashiura's shiatsu therapy clinic, Stella (not her real name) is a middle-aged, upper-middle-class white woman. A vegetarian who favors holistic approaches to health, Stella sought out "Dr. Shin," as many of his patients called the lab-coat-wearing practitioner, for help with a pain in her foot, paying him $65 a treatment to stimulate pressure points on her body. To Stella, Shin's no-frills Toshin U.S.A. office on Fountainview near Westheimer felt clean and relaxing, "very Japanese." Stella communicated with Shin, a Japanese national who does not speak fluent English, through his right-hand woman, Minako Hashiguchi. Over the course of several treatments, Stella came to look on Minako as a confidante. A widow with a special place in her heart for animals, Stella told Minako of her greatest trouble: her cat's illness.

Minako, in turn, queried Stella about her personal life. Although Stella thought celibacy was considered healthy in Eastern practices, she says when Minako found out Stella did not have a romantic partner, Minako counseled her that sex was therapeutic for the entire body.

Stella also found out a couple of other things: She had poor circulation, Shin determined, and her hormone levels were out of balance. Minako repeatedly urged Stella to undergo a skin scrub, a vigorous brush-down Shin would perform at her house for $100. The treatment, Minako told her, might yield as much as a cup of dirt. Although Stella considers herself healthy — she doesn't even carry medical insurance — she began to wonder if she was worse off than she knew. "I was kind of getting this feeling like, was I dirty?" Apprehensive about receiving a house call, Stella stalled on agreeing to the scrub.

The day her cat died, Stella showed up at her Toshin appointment in tears. Minako chose that day, Stella says, to suggest an "inside treatment," explaining that Shin could balance her hormones by stimulating pressure points inside the vagina with his fingers. Thinking that menopause could indeed have thrown her hormones out of whack, Stella agreed and signed a release form permitting herself to be touched "in sensitive areas."

"At that time," Stella says, "I probably would have signed anything."

What follows is Stella's account of her experience with Shin and Minako, both of whom refused to grant an interview to the Press: Once in the treatment room, Stella lay back with Minako by her side. Although she assumed Shin would wear gloves for the treatment, the first thing she felt inside her was a sharp fingernail. She screamed in pain. Then she thought, "Oh, God, what if it's dirty? I could get infected." After ten seconds, Stella decided the treatment was over.

Stella, an incest and rape survivor who says she has attracted more than her share of inappropriate sexual advances, initially thought of her experience with Shin as an "isolated incident." But she was to find out that she was not the only one to get an "inside treatment." In fact, some of Shin's former clients claim their treatments went much further than Stella's, ending in sexual intercourse with Shin under the guise of therapy.

In February Channel 11 aired a three-part investigation of Shin. Conducted by the Defenders, KHOU's investigative team of producer David Raziq, reporter Anna Werner and photographer/editor Chris Henao, the exposé showed hidden-camera footage of Shin and Minako offering an "inside treatment" to an undercover reporter and included interviews with four unnamed women, including Stella, who said they had undergone "inside treatments."

Those who cooperated with the story hoped the public exposure would spur local authorities to take action against Shin. At the very least, they thought the report would decimate his business. But remarkably, since February, virtually nothing has happened to Shin. Neither the Harris County district attorney nor the Texas Department of Health has taken action against him. And though his business suffered immediately after the broadcast, one loyal client says his following has rebounded. In fact, Shin has even raised his prices.

Framing their story against the backdrop of the increasing popularity of alternative medicine, the Defenders offered a caveat emptor to those who think that the law protects consumers against fraud and abuse. Because alternative therapies, particularly those based on Eastern traditions, are unfamiliar to most Americans, people who try them are often uncertain about what to expect and what the normal parameters of such treatment should be. And when people are desperate to find something that works for their particular ailment, they become easy prey for hucksters.

Stella knew, or thought she knew, what she was getting into when she visited Shin's office. She'd previously had a pleasant experience with shiatsu. So she was surprised to find that Shin's treatments were intensely painful. "It was like childbirth every time," Stella says, adding that Minako would coach her to breathe, "almost like a doulah in a midwife class." Still, Stella figured, rightly, that alternative practices can vary greatly depending on the practictioner.  

Directly translated, "shiatsu" means "finger pressure," and is sometimes used interchangeably with the term "acupressure." A Japanese healing art, shiatsu takes the same approach to healing as acupuncture, working on the idea that the body's life force flows along certain meridians and that manually activating points along those meridians can free blocked energy that causes pain or disease. Innovators have developed various branches of the practice, including zen shiatsu and macrobiotic or "barefoot" shiatsu.

Adding to the confusion, some of the most esoteric practices in Eastern traditions such as tantra and Taoism do use sex to stimulate energy flow and healing processes, and even to attain spiritual enlightenment. Minako has given some clients copies of a book called Healing Love Through the Tao: Cultivating Female Sexual Energy, written by a Taoist husband-and-wife team. The book advocates the practice of "Ovarian Kung Fu," a set of special techniques to harness orgasmic and reproductive energy. Yet the book recommends that both partners practice by themselves before using the techniques together and warns against using the techniques without fully informing a partner.

Pamela Ferguson, dean of Oriental bodywork at the Academy of Oriental Medicine in Austin, worries that practitioners such as Shin will give alternative medical therapies a bad name. Ferguson and other professionals have been advocating more widespread government regulation of shiatsu. Ferguson is helping develop exams for the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, a nongovernmental certifying board.

But even given today's lax standards, Ferguson is floored that Shin is apparently getting away with sexual contact with clients: "I'm amazed that he can continue practicing. I'm amazed the Texas Board of Health hasn't been onto him."

After Stella's "inside treatment," she finally consented to do the scrub, "just to get out of there." But over the next few days, her uneasiness grew. She called a massage school in New Mexico, where a therapist assured her that shiatsu did not include treatments inside the vagina.

(Other shiatsu experts from around the country confirm that not only are such treatments not a part of shiatsu training, but also that sexual contact of that nature would violate their ethical code. "We are very strict about creating boundaries between the giver and the receiver," says Kumiko Kanayama, an instructor at the Ohashi Institute in New York, the country's largest shiatsu school.)

Finally, Minako pushed Stella over the line. She suggested changing Stella's scrub appointment to the evening, so that Stella could fall asleep after the massage — a component of the treatment Minako hadn't previously mentioned. "Massage?" Stella wondered to herself. "What massage?" She canceled the appointment.

An hour later, Minako showed up at Stella's house and pressed a letter and a copy of the Taoist book into her hands. "Shin is also very worried about you," the letter said. "He can help your depression and mind Š because he would like to want you have a happy life and a brighter future."

That seemed a bit much for a woman whose only complaint was a sore foot. Recollecting her experience, Stella is moved to tears, then anger. As a feminist, she says she feels particularly betrayed by Minako. "The best excuse for her is that she truly believes that he is helping people. The worst is that she's sort of — what's the female equivalent of pimp? A procurer?"

Judging by the stories of some of Shin's former clients and employees, Stella got a relatively soft sell. To promote his "inside treatments," in which Shin would allegedly stimulate pressure points inside the vagina using either his fingers or his penis, Shin and Minako promised results virtually all women crave: better skin, fewer wrinkles, weight loss, increased energy and more attention from men. Exploiting the mystery of the Orient, Minako reportedly told clients that "inside treatments" were the secret of Japanese women's taut skin and prolonged youthfulness.

Clients and employees tell variations of the same basic story: Women visited Shin with complaints ranging from joint pain to chronic headaches. Minako or Shin would test the waters, quizzing clients about their love lives, asking if they had boyfriends, were sexually active and had orgasms. If they weren't having sex or were having relationship trouble, Minako might explain that Shin had determined that their hormones were out of balance. Women, she would say, had 700 pressure points as opposed to men's 500, and some of those points were located inside the vagina. (Experts say men and women have the same number of points, and that none are located inside the vagina.) Master Shin could balance hormone levels by applying pressure to those points.  

Channel 11's hidden camera captured Minako trying to convince a client that the "inside treatment" would pay off. "Many people will want to come up to you," Minako told the undercover reporter on her third visit. "Because you become more attractive. Really help to find a good guy."

After a finger treatment, Minako might propose that Shin's penis would be more effective at reaching deeper pressure points. In the Channel 11 report, one woman claimed Shin had intercourse with her without warning her first. "I was lying on my stomach. He was in the back. That's when he started penetrating me with his penis," the woman said.

"They didn't say, 'I'm going to have to have sex with you to treat you.' They call it 'special treatment.' "

Sometimes Minako and Shin played on women's fears. Twenty-seven-year-old Kaoru Dancer, a petite Japanese beauty who worked for Toshin as a receptionist, says, "[Shin] knew my marriage wasn't going well, so he suggested that I have that treatment. If I didn't, I would get wrinkled. My skin would start sagging."

Shuko Yamamoto, another employee Shin unsuccessfully attempted to persuade to try the "inside treatment," says Shin claimed "he wants everybody to be happy, everybody to be healthy. That's why he offered his penis."

As Shin's apprentice, Yamamoto was supposed to observe him with clients, yet she was regularly barred from "inside treatment" appointments. One day she accidentally walked in on Shin and a client in a closed-door session. "I saw two of them naked. She lay on her stomach on the bed, and Shin was on top."

According to Dancer, Shin targets lonely, single women, women with relationship or emotional problems, or women who have despaired of finding medical help for their ailments. His Toshin U.S.A. employees, often foreign nationals with tenuous visa situations, were also vulnerable to Shin's advances. Dancer characterizes Shin's mostly upper-crust clients as "desperate" people who "would do anything to stay thin, look young.Š Shin has his own way to make you believe whatever he tells you.Š I don't know what it is."

Still, Dancer says, suspicious clients would sometimes approach her with questions when Shin told them they needed special help. Shin and Minako, Dancer says, did not clearly explain what they were going to do beforehand.

One former employee, May (not her real name), admits she had intercourse with Shin for therapeutic reasons. "It was real clinical," she says. "I had a robe on." May says Shin was up-front with her when he proposed the treatment and that she did it several times. "It was just some nutty, fruity practice like everything else," she says. "Maybe it works for some people." But, she says, she had to be insistent about certain issues. "I was more forceful than most of the people," she says. "I made him use a condom. I don't think other women did."

Two years ago Wanda Jacobs was one of Shin's biggest supporters. A gregarious 67-year-old recently retired from a career in sales, Jacobs says she went to Shin to cure chronic headaches and high blood pressure. The first thing he did was instruct her to stop taking all her medication, including a synthetic hormone replacement. Her symptoms soon disappeared, and, thinking his treatments were helping, she began enthusiastically to refer friends and acquaintances to Shin. (Later, she says, she found out that headaches and high blood pressure were a side effect of the drug she had stopped taking.)

According to Jacobs, she and Shin became close friends, and she helped him with projects that required English skills, such as writing brochures. Like Stella, she says she tried the inside finger treatment but put an end to it almost as soon as it began. But unlike Stella, she says she was told that the treatment was a special favor, not offered to Shin's regular clients. "I felt so special," Jacobs says. "I thought he was just doing this for me."

When she found out otherwise from another client, she says, she confronted Shin, who denied having intercourse with clients. "He said the woman was in love with him and couldn't tell the difference between his finger and a penis," Jacobs says, adding that Shin now tells a similar story about her. According to him, she says, "I was in love with him too. And now I'm just jealous and vindictive."

As Jacobs began to hear more stories about Shin's treatments, she grew increasingly embarrassed and upset. "I'm angry that I gave him so much of my time, helping him to stay in businessŠ. I just feel like I have been totally, totally taken advantage of." Since then, Jacobs has crusaded against Shin, reporting him to the police, the Texas Department of Health and immigration officials, and convincing Channel 11 to take on the story. Jacobs is not alone in opposing Shin — she has had help from several of his former friends and associates, and she was not the first to file a police report.  

But Shin has positioned himself in a legal no-man's-land that government officials say has left him out of their grasp.

For one thing, the Texas Department of Health has been waffling on whether or not Shin needs to register as a massage therapist. In Texas, massage therapists are registered (rather than licensed) after completing required coursework and intern massages and passing a state exam. Registration makes them subject to regulation by the state health department, whose rules forbid sexual contact with clients. The health department also pursues people who practice massage without a license, a misdemeanor offense.

Back in the fall of 1998, shiatsu practitioner Katie Spangler, a Japanese native who heads the Acu-Tech Institute of Massage Therapy, complained to state health officials that Shin was operating without being registered. Shin asked one of his clients, attorney Richard Jaffe, to handle the health department's investigation. Jaffe specializes in defending alternative-medicine practitioners and licensing cases, and he successfully defended experimental cancer doctor Stanislaw Burzynski against the Food and Drug Administration.

Jaffe made two arguments. First, he said that shiatsu was not massage. Second, he argued that since Shin has been paying sales tax (which massage therapists don't do), the state would have to return the tax if it decided he should be registered. "Ultimately, maybe they just decided they'd rather have the money," Jaffe says. Health department officials refused to comment about the sales tax issue. In an October 1998 letter to Spangler, the department agreed with Jaffe that "Shiatsu or Japanese finger pressure therapy is not considered massage therapy as defined by Texas Civil Statutes."

That comes as a surprise to Pamela Ferguson, dean of Oriental bodywork at the Academy of Oriental Medicine in Austin. Ferguson, who is certified in shiatsu by two national organizations, says that when she moved to Texas in 1991, state health officials told her she had to be registered. "I had to train in Swedish massage, which I had no intention of using, in order to legally practice something I'd been teaching internationally for years," she says.

The health department has been far from consistent on the issue of registering shiatsu practitioners. By the time the Channel 11 series aired in February, new complaints had led the health department to reopen its investigation of Shin. Five months later, that investigation has yet to be completed. Houston police detective K.L. McMurtrey and Harris County assistant district attorney Lisa Andrews, both of whom worked on the Shin case, say the health department told them shiatsu did not fall under the state's jurisdiction. Kathy Craft, program director of the Texas Department of Health's Massage Therapy Registration Program, told the Press that the state is "still researching" the issue. Yet Patsy Crooks, administrator of that program, says since shiatsu involves the manipulation of soft body tissue — which is the state's definition of massage — its practitioners should be registered.

But the health department is not the only agency that could take action against Shin. The practitioner's opponents are equally frustrated by the district attorney's failure to file charges, even after a lengthy police investigation. Jacobs complains that the D.A. has taken the attitude that women who agreed to Shin's treatments are "stupid."

Attorney Andrews denies that the D.A.'s office has been reluctant to prosecute. "I would have very much liked to have filed charges," Andrews says. "But there just wasn't, unfortunately, a crime." Although she could not discuss the details of the case, Andrews says Shin's activities boil down to "very offensive" — but not criminal — behavior.

According to Andrews, "consensuality is the issue." In other words, because the women agreed to the "treatment," Shin's activity cannot be classified as sexual assault. Furthermore, according to McMurtrey, "there doesn't seem to have been genuine force used."

But if Shin can't be charged with assault, the D.A. seems to be taking a conservative approach to trying other options. John Hawronsky, a physician who took a shiatsu training course from Shin, filed a consumer fraud complaint. Assistant district attorney Russell Turbeville bounced the case to the State Board of Medical Examiners but says the board routinely refuses to investigate quackery, claiming it has authority over only licensed health practitioners. "You have stumbled upon a wasteland," he says.

What if Shin is not practicing medicine without a license, but is simply misrepresenting his qualifications to paying customers? That situation, Turbeville says, is trickier, especially if there are no set professional standards for shiatsu. Misrepresentations have to be material to be criminal, he says. "What if this guy lied about his background, but everyone admitted he was the greatest shiatsu proponent in the world?"  

"Incompetence," Turbeville sums up, "is not a crime."

What about prostitution, another consensual transaction? Andrews says two citizens who engaged in sex for money would both have to be defendants in such a case, which would leave prosecutors with no witnesses. "I don't know, practically, how you could prove that case."

Shin's opponents say the case is analogous to that of Bhogeshwernand Sharma, a Houston-based Hindu priest. Women who went to Sharma for spiritual guidance claimed he manipulated them into sex, telling them that they needed to "cleanse" their wombs with his "holy" sperm and warning them of dire consequences if they did not. Sharma was convicted of sexual assault under a 1995 provision in state law that makes it a criminal offense for doctors, psychiatrists and religious leaders to have sex with those who come to them for guidance or treatment. That provision, however, did not include registered massage therapists, much less unlicensed self-professed healers such as Shin.

Not only did investigators fail to find evidence of a crime in Shin's case, they had difficulty finding women willing to come forward publicly. If allegations against Shin are true, most clients had a degree of complicity that's not present with cut-and-dried sexual assault — a degree that might be difficult to explain to husbands or boyfriends. "It's different from if a stranger attacks you on the street while you're jogging," says May.

Even if women did agree to have sexual contact with Shin, the circumstances under which they did so were more complicated than those of a typical one-night stand. Some say Shin unfairly manipulated women into sex; others say that he offered them a legitimate way to heal. Some say Shin's behavior is criminal; others say that it's unethical. Still others take the libertarian view that the government shouldn't interfere. Clients who are unhappy about their experiences are uncertain where to place the blame: on themselves? on social conditioning that says people in white lab coats know best? on Shin, for exploiting their vulnerability?

Stella marvels at her own willingness to try the treatment. "Women are so used to being probed," she says. "I think if it was just some guy, he would have punched [Shin] out. We just have a higher tolerance for pain."

Attorney Jaffe says that given Houston's conservative moral climate, he would advise against sexual contact with clients. But he doesn't see the matter as a legal issue.

"I don't mean this to be insensitive," he says, "but if a woman is stupid enough, or horny enough, or desperate enough to have sexual relations with some guy who's giving her a massage on the theory that it's going to balance her hormones, then who am I to say anything? It's just a consensual sexual conduct. Where's the crime?

"I have a much bigger problem with psychologists, because there people are messing with people's minds Š and then you have this whole concept of transference. That really is, I think, an unequal relationship. A massage therapist, shiatsu — I just don't view that as the same kind of unequal relationship.

"The alternative is that women are too stupid to be responsible for their own actions and they need some protection."

John Hawronsky, the doctor who took Shin's training class, disagrees. "He was so inherently deceitful," Hawronsky says. "The therapeutic relationship completely makes the patient vulnerable. If anybody with a medical license was caught [initiating sex with patients], their license would be yanked in a wink."

"When he went past what they were comfortable with," Hawronsky explains, "it was too late for them to protest. They were naive enough to think it was treatment until then."

Yet May, one of the women who says she had sex with Shin, echoes Jaffe's assertion that it's "paternalistic" to say women aren't responsible for their actions. "There's more gray in this than anything else," she says. "People can manipulate you into having sex in a variety of ways." Although May feels victimized by Shin, she says the experience can also be chalked up to a "poor judgment call" on her own part. "I could have been buying a car. It could have been my credit card. It just so happens in this case it was my physical person."

No one argues, though, that the issue of consent is complicated by the therapeutic relationship between Shin and his clients. "People think, 'What stupid women,' " Stella admits. "They don't understand that we went in with very legitimate concerns — it was like going to the dentist. [Shin and Minako] kind of broke down your securityŠ. I do feel kind of stupid. Adults, I always feel, can take care of themselvesŠ. I just feel embarrassed that I didn't pick up on it sooner. Why didn't I defend myself?"  

Consent, though, is one thing. Informed consent is another. Those who read Shin's promotional materials believed they were dealing with a former Osaka psychologist who was "inspired" to become a master of shiatsu when he saw a friend who suffered a stroke recover "100 percent" with the help of finger pressure treatments. Shin claims to have more than 20 years of experience as a shiatsu practitioner.

But the truth about Shin's background is murky at best. Shin and Minako, both Japanese nationals, incorporated Toshin U.S.A. in 1994. According to Dancer, Shin had several versions of his prior employment, ranging from truck driver to university professor. Dancer says Shin sold "Japanese pizzas" out of the back of his car and that he and Minako tried to start a food service business. Finally, or so one story goes, a friend on whom Shin performed a massage technique suggested that he go into business. Toshin U.S.A. grew steadily, attracting affluent clients, athletes and even actress Sally Field, whose autographed picture with Shin hangs in his waiting room.

It's not clear why Shin left Japan. According to Agawa, Minako's sister was able to determine that Shin was never a psychologist in Japan. In the Channel 11 story, journalist Anna Werner reported that after asking the TV crew to turn off its camera, Shin admitted he was never a psychologist.

Ferguson, of the Academy of Oriental Medicine, who watched Shin's treatments on Channel 11's undercover tapes and appeared in the broadcast, says what she saw was quite different from any shiatsu she has previously encountered. "Never in my professional training have I heard people squirm and scream like I heard in that video," she says.

Former employees describe Shin as a con man who was after an easy version of the American dream. He was quick to ask friends such as Hawronsky and Jacobs for favors, was cheap with supplies and clean towels and would even reportedly resell grocery-store tea bags as a unique imported blend at $1 a pop. Dancer and Jacobs say Shin is a frequent gambler who made trips to Lake Charles and Las Vegas, and who often purchased lottery tickets. "Always thinking about making money," says Dancer. "Always always always."

Yet Shin's demeanor is not exactly that of a swinging playboy. A man with fierce eyebrows and an unperturbed expression, Shin doesn't project sexual magnetism or material excess. "He's not attractive in any way," Jacobs says. "He has a very calm persona. He's not intimidating."

"He's very low-key," Stella says. "Almost like a scientist, like a Buddhist type of person. I never thought of him as a lecherous person or anything like that."

As interpreter and assistant, Minako is an indispensable partner in Shin's business, and he often introduces her as his niece, although, Dancer says, they were more like "husband and wife." Minako would travel on family outings with Shin, his three children and his wife, who reportedly speaks no English.

But Noriko Agawa, who visited Houston with Minako's sister and stayed for a year and a half, says Shin and Minako are not related. Agawa says the pair's behavior was bizarre and confusing. Once, she says, they even invited her to Minako's Galleria-area apartment and had sex in front of her to demonstrate the benefits of "inside treatment."

"They are only Japanese who I ever know in Houston, so I thought they would help me or something," says Agawa, who is now back in Japan. "They never help meŠ. I don't want to see their face anymore in my life."

"They don't seem to have any traditional family values," says Hawronsky. "There seems to be no remorse and no sense of right and wrong. I'm sure he and Minako cannot fathom why some of us are hassling them."

Working at Toshin U.S.A. could be a bizarre experience, complete with secretive behavior, late-night appointments and closed doors. Dancer says she stumbled across condoms, lubricants and vibrators in a storeroom and sometimes walked in on customers who were naked, despite the fact that shiatsu clients traditionally wear a loose kimono during treatments. Sometimes, she says, upset patients would call Minako, complaining about discomfort or discharge. "Your hormone level going up, that's why you have discharge," Dancer says Minako would tell them.

Yamamoto, who trained as an acupuncturist in Japan and was hired as an apprentice to Shin, says she quickly became skeptical of Shin's expertise. What she describes as his lack of hygiene discomforted her. "He never wash his hands. I was taught, wash hands. If I touch someone else, I feel like my hands is dirty."  

More significant, Shin's meridians appeared to be located at different points from those she had studied, she says, and he often pushed on or near bones, which Yamamoto says is "taboo."

Clients say Shin would tell them if the treatments hurt, then it was because the clients were unhealthy. When the treatments stopped hurting, it meant they were better. Shuko says she could tell he was giving pain on purpose. "His arms shaking when he's giving pressure," she says. "After several visits, he gives pain less."

Shin claimed to be practicing a special, superior form of shiatsu — one he wanted to propagate. Shin devised a plan to train practitioners who could then staff Toshin franchises "in all of United States and also other countries." About 15 trainees, many of whom were already massage therapists, each forked over $3,000 to take Shin's "master course."

John Hawronsky was one of those students. Hawronsky met Minako through a dating service, and during their relationship he subjected himself to what he jokingly called "Japanese torture sessions" with Shin. Impressed by Shin's success stories and eager to find ways to stop "burning up prescription pads" for his patients, Hawronsky signed on to learn shiatsu himself. Like several of Shin's former customers who refused to be interviewed or have their names used in this story, Hawronsky now fears professional embarrassment due to his association with Shin. Yet, he says, as a medical doctor he has an obligation to try to stop anything that could be harming the public.

Hawronsky didn't expect shiatsu to mesh easily with his Western scientific training. But, he says, he and his classmates picked up on repeated anatomical and other discrepancies, which Shin would explain away by blaming the language barrier. Furthermore, Shin's methods seemed unsystematic and disorganized. "When we tried to study for a test, we would compare our notes," Hawronsky says. "We couldn't come to a consensus on thingsŠ. Half the information he sold us students was fabricated."

Hawronsky became convinced that Shin's treatments worked on the power of suggestion and the infliction of pain. "His discomfort will release so many endorphins, it will dull your baseline pain," Hawronsky says.

Hawronsky says ultimately he was too skeptical to stick around when things didn't add up. "A lot of people who hang in with him," he says, "are emotionally quite weak."

One person's torture session, apparently, is another person's therapy. Shin is still serving satisfied customers who swear by his professionalism and his ability to heal. Though Minako refused to be interviewed, she sent a stack of 14 testimonials — three from licensed health practitioners, including one doctor, who refer patients to Shin, and the rest from patients claiming he helped with a variety of afflictions, from back injury to sarcoidosis. Many said their ailments could not be helped by Western medical care. Interestingly, although the vast majority of Shin's patients are women, seven of the 11 patient letters were written by men, a couple of whom mentioned their wives' improvements from his therapy as well. Though none of the testimony mentioned the "inside treatment," a former employee confirmed that some of the letters' authors had received it.

Another Shin loyalist, Ruby Duquette, defends her right to receive "inside treatments." She has even threatened to sue Jacobs for making disparaging comments. She agreed to an interview because she wants to end what she calls the "witch-hunt" against Shin. With her trim suit, precise coiffure and Paloma Picasso glasses, Duquette cuts quite a different figure from the more relaxed, urban Stella. Otherwise, the two women have much in common. Both are single. Both are past their child-bearing years. Both say they're incest survivors.

But Duquette stands by Shin, crediting him with her "rebirth." The inside treatment is "a very spiritual thing," says Duquette. "A lot of emotions began to come up. I cried a lot."

Duquette began visiting Shin in 1996 for help with "deep, deep" emotional and physical problems; she had been in a car wreck. She says Shin told her that her body was "asleep" and that inside treatments could help wake her up. He promised better health and more energy, and Duquette says he was right. Although Shin did tell her she'd progress more quickly if she had a sex partner, she says he uses only his fingers and does not perform intercourse during their treatments. The idea of treatment inside her vagina "didn't rattle me at all," Duquette claims smoothly.

"I had been to the gynecologist for years. The difference between what Dr. Shin does and what gynecologists do is results." Then she adds, emphasizing each word: "It's a very painful process."  

Duquette says Shin's opponents are "unregenerates" who misunderstand his treatment and ignore the sacrifices he has made to bring his "special gift" to the U.S. "I consider the man a physician," she says.

Furthermore, she doesn't think Shin should have to answer to regulatory agencies. "I think it would take away whatever it is that he has to offer."

That would be a shame, Duquette insists. "The inside treatment," she says, "saved my life." Shin's treatments were painful " "like childbirth every time," says Stella."He never wash his hands," says

Shuko Yamamoto. "I was taught, wash hands. If I touch someone else, I feel like my hands is dirty.""Incompetence," says assistant district attorney Russell Turbeville, "is not a crime."

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