Turns out one of our most revered dance instructors, one of the few who's been active since the 80s and someone I always admired and honored, has been secretly grooming, sometimes drugging, and raping young girls in our scene. For decades. I found out because one of the brave girls finally came forward and wrote a blog post all about events that happened when she was a teenager and of course it blew up all over Facebook. Much like with Bill Cosby, the minute this girl opened the door, tons of other women have started chiming in, many of whom I know personally. I've been obsessively reading the hundreds of comments on the girl's blog, offering support where I can, and feeling betrayed and like everything I've been taught is a lie. That sounds histrionic but many people in the scene, men and women, have told me they feel this way too.
I haven't written here because I've been trying to figure out how to articulate my feelings. But I really don't know how - they're such a jumble - so I'll just take a stab at it.
One, I'm angry that my "safe place" has been violated. The dance world I'm involved in has always been squeaky clean and a-sexual - an escape from the bar and club scene, a place to be out at night and enjoy male company without fear of being hit on, without the presence of drugs or alcohol which I hate. The idea that this guy was using that innocence to lure women and take advantage of them makes me ill and angry.
So many women have come forward with stories of abuse either at his hands or another's that it makes me feel like I must be one of the only women alive who has never been made to do something sexually that I didn't want to do. I'd like to think it's because I'm smart and have self-esteem...but if I'm honest, it's probably just because I'm lucky. And I don't drink.
But since many of the women weren't actually raped but had more subtle experiences - coercion, grooming, mind control, fear of being ostracized, etc, it has made me look back on a couple of experiences I had as a young girl in a new (ish) light.
One was the abusive relationship I was in when I was seventeen with my twenty-eight-year-old film teacher. I was there of my own free will - we "loved" each other - but it was a very unhealthy relationship in which I felt completely controlled and out of control. He did threaten me that if I left him something bad would happen to me, and did grab my chin and slam me against a wall once. It was my first and last abusive relationship. Somehow I summoned the strength to leave. But the power and control aspects of that experience haunted me for a long time. Maybe still do.
Another very different experience was when I first moved to LA. I knew next to no one, so a much older man I met at church, probably in his fifties, took me under his wing. It started with him offering to help fix my '62 Falcon, and soon became lunches and dinners and going to church functions together. Everyone was abuzz that we were dating which repulsed me since I was 20 at the time and he was an odd duck - used to hold eye contact for way too long and always seemed kind of out of it. I very naively thought we were just friends and why can't a much older man and a young girl be friends...? We actually went camping together in Mexico, a fact that horrifies me now when I think about it. Although the trip went fine, the night we got back to LA he somehow made it so he'd have to sleep at my small apartment - some excuse I don't remember now. I set him up on the couch but felt very uneasy about it. Next thing I know it's the middle of the night and he's climbing into bed with me. I asked him what he thought he was doing and he said we'd slept in sleeping bags just feet away from each other for days, what was the big deal? I said absolutely not and thank God he got the message and went back to the couch. I remember telling my mother about this later and her referring to him as a "dirty hippie" which made me laugh. Needless to say I felt betrayed and disgusted (much as I do now) and he disappeared shortly after - either out of embarrassment or the realization that his long grooming session had failed.
It makes me so mad that however far women have come in this world, we still have to worry about rape all the time. Men never have to ask themselves if they should really travel to that third world country alone or walk to their car alone or take that isolated hike. They never have to worry that a female friend is secretly trying to sleep with them or that a male authority figure is going to abuse their power. This is the world we live in, fellas, every single day.
One of this dance instructor's victims gave a very emotional account of her (actual) rape back in 2000 at the dance camp I may sing at in June (!) via video; she recounts being an inexperienced teenager at the time excited by this man's flattery and attention, that he offered to give her a private dance lesson, lured her to a quiet place, and just told her to drop her pants, and she did. Because when you're young like that and vulnerable you just do what you're told. It's heartbreaking. The pain on her face in this video as she tells her story is almost too much to bear.
So, what happens now? Probably nothing from the legal front - none of the women were under 18 and most of these incidents were decades ago. I know as an event organizer I now feel I need to reach out to my instructors and ask them to please report to me anything going on at my event that doesn't look right, and also have a code of conduct on my website from now on to set the tone that we're not going to tolerate victimization of our young people (or any people). I know this man only slightly and never hired him so my hands are clean there. His career is done at least so there's some retribution. But other than that...he's pretty much going to get away with it, other than our mass community shunning.
And all this right after I was starting, even in the smallest way, to consider having a man in my life again. I'll get over it but right now I'm just kind of disgusted by men in general.