The Ugly Reality of Sexual Misconduct in Community and College Theatres: Part 1

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Over the past couple of months, we've seen a wave of victims of sexual misconduct come forward. Not only have they revealed who their perpetrators were, but also the terrible acts they used. It's been equally infuriating as it is heartbreaking. 

While many of the claims have been within Hollywood and even Broadway circles, not much has been reported regarding community and college theatre. It would be naive to think various forms of sexual misconduct weren't occurring. 

In fact, I know it is. Whether it's myself witnessing it firsthand or accounts I've heard from others, the amount of sexual abuse and misconduct in community and college theatres is right on par with every other industry out there. What makes matters worse is that there aren't unions to protect community theatre performers. And while colleges have staff set up to protect individuals from sexual abuse, we've seen from schools like Michigan State, that schools fail in this area as well. 

In the last few weeks, I have spoken to almost a dozen people regarding claims they brought forward to me. With their permission, I am going to share with you their stories with the following series of articles.

I have changed the names of those involved. The reason for this is that the purpose of this piece isn't to drop names to feed salacious appetites but to expose the problem and offer solutions. Some of these incidents are also a part of legal proceedings which is the other reason why I have decided to change the names involved. However, I am leaving in the states these occurred in.  

Connecticut

"April"

I met "Vincent" in early September of 2016. He was a senior at my college and worked part-time as the Assistant Tech Director in the theatre department. While I was older for most college sophomores at 21 years old, Vincent was 29. Almost immediately he began making sexual comments and jokes towards me.

He would say things like, "I just want you to know that your ass looks great in those pants", more times than I can count. He often told me that I was the "hottest girl in the department" and once told me that he "could tell that I was a very sexual person just like him" and say “I know how to handle my wood" and "I love nailing things" when teaching me how to use a tool in the shop.

Comments like these continued on through the fall of 2016 and Vincent began to spend more and more time near me whenever I was in the shop. He would call on me specifically to help him with whatever task that had to be done and he would comment on my appearance during the majority of those times.

He began telling me about how he was unhappy in his relationship with his girlfriend because he wasn't attracted to her and looked at me and said "you know if I didn't have a girlfriend..." And then stopped himself saying that he shouldn't say what he was thinking because it was too inappropriate. A lot of times when I walked into the shop he usually started with a comment like that, saying that he can't say what he wanted to say because he knows he shouldn't. Then he would continue with the comment anyway talking about how sexy I was or how great my ass looked that day.

Towards the middle of the spring semester last year Vincent came into my scenic arts and crafts class and proceeded to talk to me about his relationship again. He said that he wanted me to break up with my boyfriend for him and that he'd leave his girlfriend as soon as I said the word. At this point, I told him that I didn't think it was a good idea for us to talk anymore. He left me alone for most of the Spring semester after that because I wasn't around him very much.

When this Fall came around I attended the department barbeque and Vincent followed me around for most of the night and commented again how great my ass looked. During class one day he called my classmates a "bunch of boobs" but I didn't hear him so I asked him what he said. He said "I called them a bunch of boobs, but I could help you with yours if you want" and snapped my bra strap.

He brought me into the tech office one day and demanded that I tell him that I wasn't interested in him. I said that I had a boyfriend but he insisted that I tell him that I wasn't interested in him and that I didn't want him. I did and he backed off for a little while but has since continued with the comments about my body."

While all of this was happening to "April", what she didn't know was that "Vincent" was also on the CT Sex Offender registry and currently on probation after serving time for his crime, possession of child pornography. And April wasn't alone in this. Apparently, he had been harassing other women at the school as well.

April brought Vincent's behavior to the attention of one of her professors and Vincent was given a stern talking to but that was it. After a few days, he began sexually harassing April all over again. That's when she decided to go to the police. After reporting his behavior, Vincent was arrested for violating his probation and is currently awaiting trial, which is why names have been changed for this piece. 

There are a couple of very problematic things here beyond the disgusting actions of "Vincent". The first being, how was someone on the sex offender registry allowed to be employed by the school in a position where he would be in close, intimate contact with female students(some of them minors) often in unsupervised situations?

While sex offenders can't be prohibited from admission to colleges, there are guidelines in place to make sure the campus community is protected if they are. The Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act (CSCPA) and related State statutes require that convicted sex offenders inform their state registering agencies whenever they enroll or become employed at a postsecondary institution. The registering agencies are required to notify the campus police of the presence of the sex offender on campus, and the institutions are in turn authorized to share this information publicly. 

Allowing him to be a student at the school is one thing, employing him in such a role is a completely other issue and one that could have had serious repercussions, not to mention open up the college to a whole lot of liability. 

While the first question is "how did this happen?" the second is "Why did this happen?" Since Vincent would have had to report his status as a sex offender when applying for the part-time position within the department, given their knowledge of what that position would entail, why was he hired? 

At some point during the hiring process, someone thought this it would be a good idea to have him on staff. While his registry status might not have barred him from the job, given the environment it is in, his status should have been a dealbreaker. The fact that it wasn't is a serious issue.

When hiring individuals like these, they should be for positions that are under constant supervision where they don't come into contact with potential victims. Hiring one to be a tech director, where he would be alone with female students after hours in empty shops and theaters, isn't the right job for him to have at all. 

The failings of this college and the theatre department here ware huge and when the time is right, I will make sure that this all becomes public But in the meantime, if you are anyone you know is going through something similar, there are steps you can take to put an end to it. 

The first step, depending on the type of harassment or abuse, is to report it to either Campus Security, on-campus support services, the Ombudsman office or the local police. These entities' first priority is to keep you and the rest of the campus community safe. If they fail, there are outside organizations that can help as well, such as RAINN's National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline(800.656.HOPE (4673). Calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline gives you access to a range of free services including:

  • Confidential support from a trained staff member
  • Support finding a local health facility that is trained to care for survivors of sexual assault and offers services like sexual assault forensic exams
  • Someone to help you talk through what happened
  • Local resources that can assist with your next steps toward healing and recovery
  • Referrals for long term support in your area
  • Information about the laws in your community
  • Basic information about medical concerns

Also, make sure you are aware of the registered sex offenders currently on your campus. By going to your college's website and searching "sex crimes" or "sex offenders", that will usually take you to that section of the site.

If you are a high school senior, considering a certain college, be sure to look at their "Clery Report" which is a federally mandated report that shows the statistics of crime and other incidents at that particular school. 

It is a college's job to protect its students and when it fails to do so, it is a major problem. While I am angered and saddened by April's ordeal, I am thankful she took the steps to report the behavior and by doing so, protecting her fellow students from potential further abuses. I hope many more follow in her footsteps at school across the country.