by Chris Peterson, OnStage Editor in Chief In the past week since I wrote a call to boycott Phantom of the Operadue to the casting of admitted sex abuser James Barbour, there has been a flurry of various reactions from fans and the Broadway community. Some have condemned this decision while others support Barbour and his casting. While they are certainly entitled to their opinions, I can't help but be disappointed with how many are basing their opinions on half-truths and hearsay.
I am saddened that in 2015, there are still people who believe that there can be a gray area when it comes to sex abuse in this country. Even after high-profile cases like Jerry Sandusky, Earl Bradley and the pandemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, there are those who tell survivors to "forgive and forget", "move on already" or the most egregious, actually blame them for the incident.
The reaction to my column has shown me that while we might have come a long way in addressing sex abuse in this country, we still have a long way to go.
But rather than calling those who support Barbour and Phantom "morons"or "sex abuse supporters", which admit I was wrong for doing on a couple of occasions, let's inform and educate. They might be basing their opinions on hearsay and misinformation but we'll base ours on facts. Here are some of the quotes I've been seeing. I've also included pictures courtesy of Project Unbreakable, an incredible website, of sex abuse survivors holding up quotes from their abusers.
"Another thing that's making me nuts is that consensual sex (albeit illegal, and I'm not saying it's okay what he did) is very different from drugging/raping a woman/girl....I'm not saying it was okay. It wasn't. And he plead guilty. But statutory rape isn't necessarily abuse. In this case, I'm almost certain it's not."
Statutory rape is sexual abuse, let's make that clear first. Statutory rape is sexual activity in which at least one person is below the age required to legally consent to the behavior. In statutory rape, overt force or threat is usually not present. Statutory rape laws presume coercion, because a minor is legally incapable of giving consent to the act.
The age of consent in New York is 17. The girl who James Barbour fondled backstage at Jane Eyre and engaged in oral sex with at his apartment was 15. James Barbour admitted in open court that he knew the girl was 15.
While courts and states have varying charges on different types of sex abuse, statutory rape is a form of sex abuse in every single state.
"Those who are without sin or do not know the facts cast the first stone. Amazing none of you know the truth and yet you condemn. Things are not always black and white and sometimes the victim is not as innocent as they claim. Sometimes it is a convenient way to climb up the ladder. Ever heard of the bad seed? Want to condemn someone why not her parents who were there, who drove her and who try to sabotage anything Barbour does. Half the things written about this have been falsified. If you knew, it would not be Barbour you would be condemning."
This is a textbook example of what is called "victim-blaming", where people condemn the victim for being sexually assaulted. "She was dressed provocatively", "She had a bad reputation", "She should have known better than to put herself in that situation." These are all examples of victim- blaming or what some are calling "slut-shaming."
Every time someone condemns sex abuse victims, it makes it harder for others to report future offenses. According to the Justice Department, from 2008-2012, 68% of all sexual assaults went unreported. Lena Dunham spoke about why she kept her sexual assault a secret for so long,
"I was afraid other potential partners would consider me damaged goods. I was afraid I was overreacting. I was afraid it was my fault. I was afraid he would be angry. Eight years later, I know just how classic these fears are. They are the reason that the majority of college women who are assaulted will never report it."
"So an actor who was tried by a court YEARS ago of a misdemeanor, served his time - should never be allowed to work again? Move on people. Enough with the witch hunts."
There are a couple of things incredibly wrong with this comment. First of all comparing what we're doing to a witch-hunt, quite possibly the worst series of crimes against women in the history of mankind, is appallingly ludicrous. Even if you're implying the modern usage of the word, it still doesn't apply here. I'm not falsely accusing James Barbour of crimes he hasn't committed, he's admitted he committed them.
Secondly, the first part of this statement implies that since this incident happened so long ago, we should move on. After all, the past is in the past right? The first victims of Jerry Sandusky stated that their sexual assaults began in 1994. But that's in the past right? Would you tell those victims to simply move on? How about the 25% of women in this countrywho will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime? Would you tell them to move on?
Finally, James Barbour should be allowed to make a living. What I'm saying is that he should not be allowed to work in the same role/location/community that he used to precipitate sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. If you wouldn't want a teacher, who had sexual contact with a student, back in the classroom, why is it okay for James Barbour to return to Broadway?
"He served his time and paid his debt to society so he should no longer be punished."
After pleading guilty 2 counts of endangering the welfare of a child and admitting that he had sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl on three different occasions, James Barbour was sentenced to 60 days in jail and 3 years probation(which expired in 2011). He could have been released after 38 days on good behavior, I do not know how long he actually served.
While he was on probation, he had to inform the manager, producer or assistant director of any theatrical, film or television project he worked on that he had been convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, “having engaged in oral sexual conduct and sexual contact with a 15-year-old child.” And he had to get permission from the court or his probation officer to participate in shows employing child actors or to give backstage tours to children. He also had to attend sex-offender treatment and cannot visit playgrounds, arcades, amusement parks, school grounds or Internet chat rooms frequented by children without permission from his probation officer.
This sentence very closely follows the punishment for convicted sex offenders with the exception of having to register as a sex offender. Part of the deal for Barbour to plead guilty was so that he wouldn't have to register as a sex offender.
"He's paid his dues, served his time and said he was sorry, what more do you need?"
James Barbour has never discussed this case publicly. He has never released an official statement showing any type of remorse for what he did. He has never apologized for initially launching a smear campaign against the young girl by calling her a "gold digger" after pleading not guilty. He has never apologized for trying to have her name published in newspapers and start a phone hotline where people who could call if they were falsely accused of sexual assault by her. What more do we need? A lot more.
"I think it's fine that he's the new Phantom. We all have a past, but 14 years ago is the past, if it was 3 years ago, I'd understand."
Yeah I just don't know what to say about this one....
Next to James Barbour either stepping down from the role or being replaced, what I hope is that this raises awareness when it comes to sex abuse. If you or someone you know, and statistics tell us you do, have are survivors of sex abuse, there are places where you can reach out for support. Beyond alerting law enforcement, some of them include,
- Child Help National Child Abuse Hotline By phone: (800) 4-A-CHILD Darkness to Light By phone: (866) 367-5444. Toll-free helpline for individuals living in the United States who need local information and resources about sexual abuse.
- National Center for Missing & Exploited Children By phone: (800) 843-5678. Available 24 hours a day. This toll-free line is for reporting any information about missing or sexually exploited children to the police. This number is available throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The TDD Hotline is (800) 826-7653. Online: http://www.missingkids.com/CybertipLine.
- National Center for Victims of Crime By phone: (800) 394-2255. Toll-free helpline offers supportive counseling, practical information about crime and victimization, and referrals to local community resources, as well as skilled advocacy in the criminal justice and social service systems.
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network By phone: (800) 656-4673. Toll-free National Sexual Assault Hotline. Online: http://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hotline Instant-messaging format National Sexual Assault Hotline. Both hotlines are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and offer secure, anonymous.
It's a shame that the producers of Phantom of the Opera have chosen this moment to turn their backs on the survivors of sex abuse. But that doesn't mean they can't hear you.
"The "victim" is doing just fine. She's moved on, so should we."
"I struggled with complete lack of self-esteem, panic attacks, and put considerable distance between my family and friends for years. I had always blamed myself and felt like I had done something wrong. ." ~ James Barbour's sex abuse Survivor