Thursday, July 9, 2015

Men are victims too

2015 #Cosby #Rape #TriggerWarning

This video. And some things I haven't yet shared with the world. I couldn't watch the whole thing. And it's only a few minutes long.


There. I said it. And what I am about to write is not very easy, but I feel it is very important.

Like everyone else, I have been following the events of the #Cosby case unfold in the media. But it wasn't until the last few days, when disgusting details of the case were confirmed by the words of the man himself spoken under oath in an unsealed deposition given 10 years ago, that the pieces began to fit together and the stories of 49 'accusers' began to crystalize. It happened. This man is guilty. He is a sick and perverse predator who carried out attacks over 4 decades... that we know of. This is no longer speculation and accusation. While he may never face any jail time due to the statute of limitations, the case has been made and the verdict is guilty.

I watched the video this morning. And it did something to me that I know it will do to others. It 'triggered' some deep emotions. I write what I write today in hopes that it helps even one person out there who might be suffering through pain silently. Because as rarely as sexual assault against women is reported, rarer still is the reporting of those same assaults against men. The stigma is even worse. I was watching this video while eating breakfast and as the accounts went on, one by one, all the same, start to finish, the details so familiar to me, I started to panic, my pulse quickened, I lost my appetite, and had to stop the video. I had to sit back and let myself feel this, to take some deep breaths, and to write. I am not nearly as famous as many of my friends. However, I know when I speak on certain topics, a fair amount of people hear me. And I feel at times a certain responsibility to speak out on topics, even when, and perhaps especially when they are personal to my life.

From the age of 12 through 17, I attended a summer camp for the Performing Arts in Upstate New York. In many ways, it was a wonderful and magical time and place. It cultivated long standing friendships and relationships in my life at a time when my home life was in ruins. It gave me a creative outlet to explore and expand upon that I wouldn't have otherwise had access to. But there was a very dark side that not every camper was exposed to. Those vulnerable male campers like myself, the 'targets', the boys who came from homes that were falling apart, the boys with depression, the boys with substance abuse problems, the boys aching for attention and love from adult male figures... we were at great risk there. Little did we know or understand at that time, but mixed in among well meaning caretakers and counsellors were many older predators, drug pushers, sexual abusers, sadists, and physical abusers. They got me high when I was 12. They touched me inappropriately when I was 13. The owner of the camp took sexual delight causing extreme pain to the young male campers; sometimes alone in his office, and other time openly, in full view of a group of other campers, as if to display his dominance and control. I thought they were my 'best friends'. I thought 'they accepted me' and thought I was 'their equal'. I will not name names here; Not the abusers, and not the other male campers I have spoken to over the years who have shared with me eerily similar experiences.

And yes, I have wondered at times if by remaining silent, I have caused other children harm over the years. I carry around that burden as well. But sometimes the memories of that time are hazy. And at other times, like when watching the video linked above from CNN this morning, a memory from 24 years ago is crystal clear, as if it happened yesterday. The memory of being drugged and abused by a popular director and conductor who was well respected at that camp.

24 years ago, I was trying to 'make it' as an actor in NYC and this particular person had a lot of connections. We had first worked together for years up at the camp and stayed in touch. He invited me up to have dinner with him north of the city. I was just 18 at the time. He was 50 something. I was auditioning for roles and competing with actors in NYC and LA who were in top shape so I went to the gym daily, took supplements, ate very healthy and wore tight clothing to show off my progress in the gym. We went to dinner at a little out-of-the-way Mexican place. The topics jumped around wildly, but strangely kept going back to his sister's sex life and his fascination with bondage practices. As strange as this was, my instinct was to just go along with the conversation since he was doing me such a great favor. Helping me break into the business... (sound familiar yet?) After dinner, he invited me back to his house, 10 minutes away. He wanted to show me some videos of recent shows he had directed. Sounded innocent enough. We went back, he offered me a beer. I watched him open it. Felt safe enough, nothing to set off my alarms. He popped in the tape. It was a show about insects that he directed at a high school. And he kept rolling to scenes of the insects having sex with each other on stage. Bondage type of stuff. He had a strangely excited look on his face while watching the scenes. I remember thinking that was a bit odd, but he did direct that same show at the camp. He offered me another beer... I watched him open it. I had to go to the bathroom, and asked where it was. As I stood up to go, a long conversation happened in my brain within a split second: "take your beer with you" - "no, don't be rude! you are being paranoid! he will be insulted and not help you!" - "he is going to do something to you!" - "why would you even THINK that???" - I went to the bathroom. I left the beer. Open. On the table.

I don't remember coming back from the bathroom. I don't remember taking the next sip of the beer. I don't remember the next hour of time. But what I DO remember next will stay with me in horrifying clarity forever. I am slumped back in the couch I was on. Sweating profusely, just soaking wet. I can barely see anything except a small blurry circle in front of me. Everything else is moving and dark. My host, now seemingly not wearing anything is over me/on top of me. I remember him looking scary or scared and saying in a slow or affected voice (by the drug) "Russell, you don't look so good... why don't you come with me to the bedroom? lay down with me for a while..." I was so sick. I remember it was pouring rain outside. I remember feeling for my pockets and feeling my keys. Trying to stand up, falling down... He tried to keep me there. I tried to speak out as loud and controlled as I could that I felt absolutely fine... that everything was fine. I just needed some air for a minute. I saw the front door... grabbed for it. Opened it. Ran, falling, stumbling, in the pouring rain and found my car. Locked it. And somehow drove. It was a short drive by distance, but of course it was dangerous one and in my condition and in the pouring rain, it took forever. I was too terrified to go to a hospital, or to go to the police. I went straight home.

It took me many years to speak about the experience to other campers. First some male campers that I knew had similar childhoods to mine. I was surprised to learn that while some of my experiences were unique, not all of them were. And some of the same abusers that had preyed on me, had targeted other similar young boys. I was also somewhat relieved to learn that the girls from the camp knew nothing about this stuff. None that I spoke to had ever experienced anything like this there. And the truth is I took great comfort in that. Women experience such pain throughout their lives being victimized at the hands of men, I didn't need to know this happened to them there as well.

Anyway, I am sure there will be some of you that will be utterly turned off by the fact that I chose to share this information. But I didn't share it for you. In fact, I didn't share it for me. I shared it in hopes of reaching someone else out there who might be suffering. I spent years as a silent suffering victim. Feeling like something was wrong with me. Like I had done something wrong and that I brought certain situations and victimizations on myself. I wish I could go back and do things differently. But I cannot. I share this today, inspired by the 49 women victimized by #Cosby and in hopes that my story can help someone else out there.

I wanted to add that I haven't let this experience define me more than any other experience has. I have always taken every experience as another piece of what makes us who we are. And despite overcoming a batch of adversity, I'd like to count myself among the pretty well-adjusted and high-functioning members of our society (even if my friends might laugh at that). I live the hell out of every day and I don't really look at life as having limitations. It ends one day, but until then, I like to think that nothing is out of reach. :-)

-Russell Wolff

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