Beyond the Lights: "Past the Point of No Return" - Broadway's Current Phantom and the Realities of Sex Abuse Cases

Beyond the Lights: "Past the Point of No Return" - Broadway's Current Phantom and the Realities of Sex Abuse Cases

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

Last week the Jane Elissa Charitable Fund held a Leukemia & Cancer Research Benefit event where they presented multiple awards. They presented their Shining Star Award to current Phantom of the Opera, James Barbour. 

While I am positive that the Jane Elissa Charitable Fund has done admirable work in raising money for Leukemia and Cancer, if they had researched James Barbour, I would hope that they would have rescinded their award. However, and this is more troubling, what if they did and gave him the award anyway? 

Either way, the current honoree of their Shining Star Award is a convicted sex abuser. 

The intention here is not to slander the Jane Elissa Charitable Fund however it does question an organization, named after a woman, who awarded a man who was convicted of abusing one, on multiple occasions, in his Broadway theatre dressing room. 

But we've gone over this before. 


He served his time...

Last year, when it was announced that James Barbour was set to take over the role of the Phantom on Broadway, many celebrated his return to 42nd St, but there was an equal number of people outraged by this. Because less than 10 years ago, Barbour had been convicted of fondling a 15 year old girl on multiple occasions. 

I wrote about this at great length and even documented a timeline which can be found hereWhile there was expected outrage from many, I found myself most shocked by the amount of support Barbour received, especially from high ranking Broadway personalities. 

The common defense, aside from the massive amount of "slut shaming", was that he had served his time and that we should forgive and move on. But did Barbour actually serve his time? 

After a lengthy court battle, he plead guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child - a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and 3 years probation. As part of the plea, Barbour would not have to register as a sex offender and only have to notify people of his conviction for the duration of his probation. So for only 3 years, Barbour would have to notify employers, casting agents, etc - that he groped a 15 year old girl. 

While some would say that he served his punishment, many could also say that the punishment never fit the crime he committed. But Barbour's case was consistent with the way that sexual assault cases resulted in 2006 and since then, not much has changed. In fact, the statistics would horrify you. 

According to a report from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, using data from the DOJ and FBI, they found that the vast majority of sexual assault perpetrators will not go to prison. In fact, for every 1000 incidents, they found that only 344 are reported to authorities, 63 lead to an arrest and 6 will lead to incarceration. 

And before you start thinking that at least some are incarcerated, you need to take a look at the duration of these imprisonments. 

According to a report conducted by The Washington State Institute for Public Policy, “The average length of stay in prison is 60 months for offenders convicted of sex crimes against adults, 44 months for offenders convicted of sex crimes against children, and 33 months for all other sex offenders.” Offenders who committed sex crimes against children spent LESS time in jail than those involving adults. James Barbour was sentenced to 60 days in jail for which he would only need to serve 38, for repeatedly molesting a 15 year old girl. 

As shocking as the length of Barbour's sentence might be, it's consistent with the way most of these cases are go. And not much as changed since 2008. 

In 2014, a Dallas County judge sentenced a man who admitted he raped a 14-year-old girl to five years’ probation. State District Judge Jeanine Howard said the sex offender didn’t deserve prison because the girl was not a virgin and “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be,” according to the Dallas Morning News.

This past year Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was sentenced to 6 months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious female outside a party. He only served 3 months. 

And this past August, David Becker plead guilty to sexually assaulting two of his high school classmates while they were unconscious. He was sentenced to two years probation after which, his conviction would be wiped from his record. 

Now some might say that registering as a sex offender might be a punishment for life. But David Becker, as well as James Barbour, do not have to register as sex offenders. So the only way to know that these men were convicted for sex crimes against women, is by reading pieces like this.

With "punishments" like these, to say that it has an impact on whether or not crimes are reported, would be a gross understatement. RAINN also found that 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported. Of the sexual crimes not reported to police from 2005-2010, the victim stated the following reasons for not reporting: 

  • 20% feared retaliation
  • 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
  • 8% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
  • 2% believed the police could not do anything to help

Those are horrifying reasons not to report a crime against you. However, it's understandable considering the way that these survivors are treated once they come forward. 

"Slut Shaming" or Victim Blaming

When we first reported on this last year, some of the responses we saw actually blamed the victim for the assaults that were inflicted upon her. This is called, "Slut Shaming". Slut shaming is the act of criticizing a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity, or for behaving in ways that someone thinks are associated with her real or presumed sexual activity. 

This is a common tactic to defend or rationalize sexual assault. Beyond it being abhorrent, it's also sexist. 

Leora Tanenbaum put it best when she said in a Huffington Post column, "Slut-shaming is sexist because only girls and women are called to task for their sexuality, whether real or imagined; boys and men are congratulated for the exact same behavior. This is the essence of the sexual double standard: Boys will be boys, and girls will be sluts."

While I was confused as to why anyone would blame James Barbour's victim, I found out that this was actually a strategy used by his legal team. 

His attorney publicly lashed out at the teen, blaming her for the attack and questioning her motives. Barbour's attorney issued a statement claiming "She initiated both of these sexual encounters and then waited five years before filing a complaint against him".

Barbour, through his attorney, took the blame a step further by attempting to publish the minor's name in newspaper ads, in an attempt to solicit responses from other men who might have experienced the same supposed advances from the teen. It took a court order to prevent them from publishing those ads. 

In the end, the slut shaming then and the slut shaming I'm expecting as a result of this piece, shouldn't comes as a surprise, considering it was endorsed and used to defend James Barbour. 

Talent Trumps Crime

More than not, when it comes to Broadway casting, talent trumps character flaws. But what shocks me is that I've seen several instances where talent even trumps a criminal past. When the outcry over Barbour's casting began, it was met with a lazy, half-hearted statement from producers basically telling us that he had served his time and that we, along with every survivor of sexual abuse, should all move on.

Producers and casting teams need to seriously start considering the backgrounds of the people they cast. These people instantly become ambassadors for their shows, role models to young performers and interact directly with the public, including children. 

Barbour's casting sends a terrible message that as long as you're talented enough, a sexual criminal past won't stop you from making it on Broadway. 

So why are we posting this?

Because in 2016, the country is more conscious and responsive to sexual abuse cases and their terrible outcomes. The outrage over the conviction of Brock Turner, questionable response on the part of college administrators and the vast allegations against our future President, is a sign that there is no longer a gray area when it comes to sexual assault.

It's my hope that in the future, the Broadway community has a proper response to these issues. Crimes like these shouldn't be graded on a scale. James Barbour might not have to tell anyone about his past, but that doesn't mean it should go away. 

The Community of Community Theatre

The Community of Community Theatre

Moving On – What Finding The Right Theater Group Does For You

Moving On – What Finding The Right Theater Group Does For You