The Jackie Fox rape disclosure shows we still have a lot to learn
Ignorance about rape can tragically mute any instinct to protect or tell
This article contains no “trigger warning," because it is about rape, which happens every 107 seconds in America. That’s like everyone in the entire city of Pittsburgh getting raped once a year. A crime that common ought to be discussed openly, especially since 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. In fact, most rapes go unreported. Why? I believe most people, myself included, did not grow up with a full understanding of what rape actually is. As a result, victims are continually subjected to mocking, doubt, and blame.
Here’s the FBI’s legal definition of rape, updated in 2013, so we can all be on the same page:
“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Rape victim-blaming is a time-worn American tradition – every country in the world has their own version – and ours was played out like a script this week after The Huffington Post ran a meticulously researched article by reporter Jason Cherkis, disclosing the drugging and rape of Jackie Fox, member of the beloved '70s band, The Runaways, at the hands of her manager Kim Fowley.
Then this morning, on the heels of the release of a 2005 deposition where Bill Cosby admits to buying Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he “wanted to have sex with,” the New York Post reported that Cosby’s wife, Camille, just re-affirmed her belief that her husband is not a serial rapist. Instead, Camille is allegedly calling the serial rapes of more than fifty women who have come forward "cheating." She said she believes her husband’s accusers consented to both drugs and sex. Consented. To being drugged? To being raped unknowingly while unconscious? The very fact that she uses the word “sex” belies the ignorance about what rape is. It’s a violent crime that uses sex acts as a weapon. It is, in fact, a felony.
I was shocked that there was any question about Jackie Fox’s story. Her rape happened in front a roomful of people, including two of her bandmates, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. In the course of the article’s investigation and Fox’s disclosure, many bystanders have come forward, affirming what they saw and who was present that night in 1975.
The majority of the response to Fox’s story was positive and supportive. Go-Go’s guitarist Kathy Valentine, who had professional contact with Fowley, posted a poignant statement on Facebook that said in part:
“Jackie is incredibly brave for finally speaking out about this. I told her, and I will say it here too: she has done FAR more for women by speaking out than the Runaways ever did.”
Fox’s support also originally included lead singer Currie, who called Fox “courageous.” Currie wrote an account of the rape in her 2011 memoir, without naming Jackie, who at that time was not yet ready to come forward publicly. However, guitarist and newly inducted Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett was noticeably quiet and non-committal, sticking to a vague statement to The Huffington Post that essentially denied Jackie’s account:
Through a representative, Jett “denied witnessing the event as it has been described here.” Her representative referred all further questions to Jackie “as it’s a matter involving her and she can speak for herself.”
All that anyone was really expecting from Jett was some kind of normal acknowledgement of Jackie’s experience. So her denial stood out, and cast doubt in the public’s mind on Fox. Cue the suspicion and derision, and the public discourse changed. Here we go again. As one commenter put it, “If they needed to deny being there, then deny it, but tell the world you believe that Jackie was raped exactly the way she says she was raped.” That is how the focus was turned to Fox’s bandmates. No one is dismissing the fact that the villain here is Kim Fowley, the rapist. But when you step up to deny a rape victim, and you are a powerful celebrity, you take on a new role, and a new set of challenges.
As the Jackie Fox story broke, I read multiple copies that began with trigger warnings. Of course I understand that rape news might be a trigger for some, especially a victim who has never reported their rape. As a fellow rape survivor who had publicly disclosed my assaults, these warnings stood out as odd and needless. It seemed to me that the secrecy of rape was the problem, not their disclosure.
My initial response after reading Jett’s statement was anger. The only thing the article triggered in me was a curiosity as to why Jett had not yet come forward in support of Fox. Impulsively, I posted something on my personal Facebook page – as did many others –encouraging Jett to come forward more assertively in support of her bandmate. Crickets from the most famous and visible member of The Runaways. The lack of compassion struck me as strange, given the feminist clout and inherent responsibility that she carries. Then two days later, on Facebook, Jett released a second statement:
"Anyone who truly knows me understands that if I was aware of a friend or bandmate being violated, I would not stand by while it happened. For a group of young teenagers thrust into 70s rock stardom there were relationships that were bizarre, but I was not aware of this incident. Obviously Jackie’s story is extremely upsetting and although we haven’t spoken in decades, I wish her peace and healing."
Now I was deeply triggered by her insinuation that what happened between Kim Fowley and Jackie Fox was part of a “relationship.” What triggered me specifically, was the victim blaming. Angrily, I posted to my Facebook page:
The only "bizarre relationship" is the one that Joan Jett has with the truth. #stopblaming #trustwomen #jackiefox
I even made a meme. I hesitated to post it, noticing my racing heartbeat and riled feeling in the pit of my stomach. Who am I? What am I doing? Why the hell am I publicly challenging Joan Jett about this? It felt personal. It felt familiar. Then I realized, I was triggered right back to how it felt as a rape victim, to share a horrible and personally humiliating story, where drugs and drinking were involved, something that shattered the whole course of your life, and not be believed.
As a result of my multiple sexual assaults, including a gang rape that resulted in pregnancy, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It does not trigger me when other victims come forward. It makes me feel proud, happy, and relieved. I find it incredibly healing. For me, an article about a woman bass player coming forward after forty years of silence to name her rapist? That was good news to me. No, the trigger was the victim-blaming and lack of support.
If people wonder why victims avoid reporting their own rapes, they need only look to this week’s headlines to understand the trauma and revictimization that comes with rape disclosure in America. There’s a great satirical video illustrating how ludicrous our approach to rape reporting is. Additionally, in the case of celebrity perpetrators, victims find themselves publicly challenged by people who support the powerful men to whom they owe their status or careers. People, it seemed to me, like Camille Cosby and Joan Jett.
I wanted to understand how people become aligned with rapists. I spoke with Sexual Health Educator Laura Jones, who said, “Perpetrators rely on those closest to them to turn a blind eye, deny, and/or blame the people they victimize. They're very skilled at choosing their supporters and grooming them for their positions, which are essentially security and damage control.”
It’s been a rape-infested year in entertainment news: the Quaalude-soaked Cosby rapes, the TLC reality show featuring the Duggar family’s unexpected history of incest. Thankfully, TLC canceled the show before it could become “19 Victims and Counting.” Now, it was Kim Fowley’s turn, and stories, inspired by Fox’s disclosure, started peppering the internet, one after another.
“I was 15-16 and living in Westlake when Kim was trolling my high school. That’s how close to home this is. I feel for Jackie and wish her peace.” - Kristin Williams
Right after I posted Fox’s story on my own Facebook page, my friend, Chicago music scene staple Steve Silver, posted an incident where he rescued a friend from Kim Fowley when he found him assaulting her in a closet at a party:
"It’s Chicago in 1983 or so. My friend has a band. She’s 17, she’s cute, she’s trying hard. Kim Fowley wants to sign her. I knew who he was, not much else. It seemed like a big break. The band is playing on Friday night. I take my friend to Mick Levine’s place, Radio, in the Metro building. Fowley is hanging about. In what seems like a wild coincidence, she buys some cool gear for the show. While Fowley is still kind of hanging about, just as we are leaving, Mick taps me, looks me in the eye and says, “Hey, keep an eye out on this guy, there’s something wrong with him.”
He was right, of course. Jump ahead to the after party. I open a door and my friend is in there with Fowley. I start to back out, thinking I’m interrupting. She screams, “Steve, help me! Get him off me!” She’s crying. I’m pulling him through the loft, he’s screaming about mistakes. You know I beat his ass, toss him out on the street. This is back when that part of Sheridan Road was fucking nasty. My friend is in tears, I am walking her out to the car, Fowley is standing in the street, by a bus stop, starts screaming, “Fuck you, you cunt! I will make sure you never get a record deal!
I slowly walk up to him, he’s kind of nasty-looking from the previous ass-beating. He will not stop screaming at my friend. So I took his head and pounded it into the bus stop kiosk metal edge until he threw up, and then kinda passed out. I told that story to Mick over cans of cheap beer the next day, and of course, he did the “I told you so” bit. But, up until today, I have always felt bad about that second round of kicking his ass. Like really, really bad. After reading that story titled 'Lost Girls' that Maureen Herman posted earlier, now I wish I had killed him."
All of these incidents happened decades ago, meaning the perpetrators were able to continue to rape, brazen by the camouflage of celebrity, and protected by the stigma of rape reporting in our culture. Bill Cosby, Josh Duggar, and Kim Fowley’s list of victims increased in proportion to their audacity as they continued to rape and molest unchallenged, unchecked. People, like Jerry Sandusky’s wife, literally looked away, stood by and did nothing, made excuses, or were fearful of criticizing a powerful public figure. Also, ignorance about rape can tragically mute any instinct to protect or tell. I know firsthand the devastating and eviscerating impact it has on a victim, and the damage it does to the public’s understanding and acceptance of rape and disclosure.
According to a Facebook post written by The Runaways’ replacement bassist Victory Tischler-Blue:
"All of us in the Runaways have always been aware of this ugly event. I don’t see this as a “witch hunt”, or a “criminal accusation” or a “blame game” – this is one rape victim’s personal story of how she is beginning to come to terms with what happened to her so many years ago, while also trying to let the others, who were innocent bystanders, know that she has never held them responsible in any way. I encourage my former band mates to exercise compassion and understanding here and to not shift the paradigm and spin this any other way."
Fox’s courageous revelation was accompanied by an extraordinarily generous and proactive forgiveness of the many bystanders at her rape scene. Mostly teenagers, like her bandmates, many shocked and traumatized at what they were witnessing, Fox cited their unwitting part in “The Bystander Effect,” a phenomena where the more witnesses there are, the less likely it is that one of them will act, termed the “diffusion of responsibility.” The article elaborates, “Add in prevalent myths about rape, and the situation becomes even more complicated. A 2014 study found that witnesses were less likely to intervene in cases of sexual assault than iPod theft.”
When Fox posted the article on her Facebook page, she wrote, “One of the things I've tried to do with every bystander is let them know it's not their fault,” She continued, “Thank you to all the bystanders who had the courage to come out and talk about how they were affected – including Helena Alicia Roessler, Kari Krome (the unsung hero of the Runaways), and Cherie Currie. Every rape has many victims. I was just one.”
That’s a pretty generous statement. Fox may have been just one of the many people ultimately affected by a crime Fowley committed in public, but she was the only one actually getting raped, so it showed magnanimous humility, and gave a lot of room for anyone involved to show empathy and affirmation. Even Fox’s account of her rape didn’t trigger me:
“I remember opening my eyes, Kim Fowley was raping me, and there were people watching me.” Fox looked out from the bed and noticed Currie and Jett staring at her. She says this was her last memory of the night.
Was the rape itself horrific? Yes. All rapes are horrific by their very definition. Writing the previous line led me to google the definition of rape. I was startled to discover that, by legal definition, my first memory -- always an unpleasant one -- was, in fact, a rape. I had never called it that before. Here I was, with my daughter conceived in rape, myself a reproductive rights activist, and a writer known for frank articles about rape. Yet, here I am at age 48, and I just discovered I’d been raped at five years old.
I noticed that before 2013, the FBI’s legal definition was “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” That’s the guy jumping out of the bushes and the woman fighting back with her purse scenario. This vague wording often gave a free pass to rapes involving oral or anal penetration, penetration with objects, rapes of males, and victims in drug-induced states of defenselessness. That’s how most agencies interpreted and applied it, and consequently, that’s how the public saw it.
It made me question how we as a culture respond to and understand rape. I have come to the conclusion that we as a country don’t understand what rape actually is, and until yesterday, that included myself. We may not recognize when it is happening to us or right in front of us. Add youth, ignorance, and fear, and you get bystanders who do not act. On Monday, Go-Go's guitarist Kathy Valentine posted a response to the assertion that Fox was raped, as described in “The Lost Girls,” in Huffington Post.
"This started out as a response to a person who posted on my page that the Lost Girls story didn't prove Kim Fowley raped Jackie Fox. Then I decided it was a post worthy of it's own place and discussion.
...you do bring up the history and context which is absolutely relevant. In the 70's, the post sexual revolution was in full force. The debauchery that followed on the heels of the "free love" era of the 60's took all kinds of forms. A lot of women gave in to unwanted sex because they didn't want to be seen as uptight prudes. Porn became more prevalent and began sending the message that women "wanted it," and wanted it bad. back then, it wasn't uncommon for lines of guys to wait their turn to gang bang passed out girls – I was at several parties where this happened when I was a young teen. I know why I didn't do anything – because it's really fucking scary. Suppose they decide to turn on me? I was often the youngest person at parties, desperate to fit in and belong and these guys were popular and cool. I didn't know the girl it was happening to, maybe she didn't care for all I knew. The emotions and thought process of a young girl knowing something like that is going on are very complicated. Put on top of it being stoned and a little drunk and you have the recipe for a teenage bystander."
I think it’s important for us as a country to plainly define rape, because reports are immediately and constantly questioned by the public and authorities. Maybe that’s why drugging victims is so common, because the intended effect is to render the victim pliable or unconscious, giving the illusion of consent, and crippling their memory retention. A spotty memory is gold to a rapist.
Fowley, unchallenged for his flaunting, public, and humiliating assault of Fox in 1975, was able to continue to boldly assault other girls. It is known that a young, probably fearful Jett had made steps to hide the event in the past, by calling witness Brent Williams and telling him to deny he was at the scene in case Fox’s parents brought legal action. Also, in the article, The Runaways replacement bassist, Victory Tischler-Blue reported that Fox and her rape were mocked “nonstop” by Jett and others in the group after Fox left the band. It was understandable that Jett might want to just bury this all in the past, given the mistakes of her youth.
But here was Jackie Fox giving wide berth for anyone to come forward blamelessly, citing the term “bystander effect” to proactively forgive all the witnesses of her rape for not intervening or reporting it. Jett is now famous, iconic, and a full-grown adult. Are we not yet at the point culturally at which silence is more of a public relations liability?
The rapist’s crime thrives on other people’s silence -- both victims and witnesses. A rape survivor’s well-founded fear of being blamed for his or her own rape, which is unfortunately still the approach our society takes in this crime, gives the perpetrator great freedom. The Catholic Church is just one example of this institutionalized victim-blaming. That is why I believe it’s so crucial that people strongly support the victims who speak up and share their story: rape investigations and public disclosure can prevent rapists from assaulting more victims and destroying more lives. Otherwise, as Kari Krome, another documented victim of Fowley’s noted, who’s next?
As a rape and incest survivor myself, it matters to me how victims are perceived and treated in the press and public. In cases where they come unapologetically forward, as Fox is doing, they win my deep admiration. Telling people you were raped is humiliating business, and it sucks. I know that from experience. But it is also transformative. For survivors, it is an essential part of our healing. Because it is so hard to speak up, yet so important in prevention, I ardently defend anyone with the courage to do it.
In Fox’s case, staying quiet felt like her only option and she found no support around her at the time. When she came to band practice a few days after the rape, her bandmates ran through the songs as though nothing had happened. In her disclosure this week, Fox shared her reasons for not reporting the rape until now.
“I didn’t know if anybody would have backed me,” she says. “I knew I would be treated horribly by the police – that I was going to be the one that ended up on trial more than Kim. I carried this sense of shame and of thinking it was somehow my fault for decades.” That was the day, Jackie says, “the elephant joined the band.”
I understand the hesitation in telling. I had my own rape-pourri of stories involving family members and strangers infecting my life. I never reported them to police, in one case because I was an active addict at the time, and, following the script of fear I had learned growing up female in America, I partly blamed myself for the turn of events.
Though I chose ultimately to raise the child that came from one rape, I have never for an instant thought another woman should be forced to do what I did. Frankly, I doubt most people could handle it. I was just lucky, because I had extraordinary support. Without it, I’m positive I wouldn’t be here. Power and choice over what is going on with your body is a really key part of recovering from a rape – especially one that results in pregnancy.
The only place I could accept having no choice, was in whether or not to finally tell my story – I had to. It is how we survive. It is that same urgency in telling my story, that I feel in writing this, to come forward in support of Jackie Fox’s disclosure. And it is the same urgency she says she felt when the Cosby victims started coming forward. She felt empathy and a sense of protective sisterhood.
The HuffPost article continues:
Jackie saw herself in those young women and knew all the hurt and shame that awaited them. “They have to be making the same value judgments about themselves as I made about me,” she explained. “I know from personal experience how all those things can eat away at you. They can take vibrant young people and turn them into something else.”
Also, because of the way the other Runaways had treated her, she carried this nagging feeling that maybe the rape was her fault. How could they have not supported her otherwise?
I still struggle with how to tell my own story, in a way that authentic, but not harmful to other rape victims. When I first told my story in 2012, I made a very tough decision to let go of the shame and self-blame I had about my personal history. I had a unique and hard-won perspective, and I felt compelled to say something. But still, I always partly blamed myself. After I posted the initial support of Jackie on Facebook, I was shocked to get a message from her, thanking me. I asked her if she had anything she’d like to add.
She sent a quote and said to feel free to use it if I’d like:
“Poor judgment is not an excuse for rape or for blaming the victim. The shame of rape falls squarely on the shoulders of the rapist. Period.”
What was she, psychic? Oh, how I needed to hear that. It cemented my commitment to tell my story without any apology in a book I am writing. Watching a fellow female bassist come out with her own rape story was, to say the least, empowering. In fact, it is life-changing.
Still, I questioned my own right to “call out” Joan Jett or anyone else for their lack of support for something that happened forty years ago. So I hesitated to post anything, out of fear. That hesitation is the same pause that Jett may have taken the night of Fox’s rape. Silence for fear of upsetting someone powerful. Someone powerful like her band manager. Or powerful like Dr. Bill Cosby. Powerful like Joan Jett. Fear and power. Those are the tools a rapist can depend on in our society to get away with their crimes. Not once, but over and over again.
But I thought again, it’s Joan Jett. I kept thinking about how she was one of the first real female rock stars. How I had grown up listening to her songs. How I had met her a few times and she had come to a couple of our shows and hung out backstage. This wasn’t just some celebrity I didn’t know. She is an icon that so many bands and girls and women and everybody looked up to. Who am I to question fucking Joan Jett?
But then I remembered, “I’m a fucking rape victim. This is important to me.” This has zero to do with me being in a band. That’s coincidental – distracting and inconvenient even.
In this case, Jett is a powerful role model who could really make a huge difference in the public’s understanding of the crime of rape, at such a pertinent point in time. We need to put to rest the absurd and relentless question of whether the rape even happened to Jackie. We need to counter the still-popular opinion that a victim somehow is to blame for a crime committed against her and her body against her will. We need to understand that a person who’s impaired by drugs or alcohol cannot give consent. We need to speak up when we feel pressured into silence. We need to give rape victims the support they need to come forward.
Jett at least acknowledged the scope of horror Fox experienced that night. But my disappointment remained, because her last statement casts a skant look upon Fox on a large, public scale. It throws doubt upon the victim, tears at the foundation of Fox’s credibility and effectively rape shames her. Again.
As if to prove the effect of Joan’s statement on Fox’s credibility, shortly after her statement was released, Cherie Currie posted her own, strange second statement, complete with 21 uses of the word “I,” a mention of her new album, and only one reference to Fox. She effectively recanted her previous affirmation of the rape:
“I have been accused of a crime. Of looking into the dead yet pleading eyes of a girl, unable to move while she was brutally raped and doing nothing. I have never been one to deny my mistakes in life and I wouldn’t start now. If I were guilty, I would admit it. There are so many excuses I could make being only one month into my sixteenth year at the time that people would understand but I am innocent. When I return from Sweden I will seek a qualified polygraph examiner to put to rest any and all allegations. I will make public the questions, answers and results of that test. I am a proud person but for this, I may need to open a Fund Me account since I do not know how much this will cost. I am not a rich person but a carver. I wouldn’t ask for funding for my new album because I am proud. I will prove I am telling the truth. I will not allow anyone to throw me under the bus and accuse me of such a foul act. I will fight for myself. It is the only thing I can do.”
She later edited it, redacting the parts about needing funding.
With one nudge of denial from an iconic Joan Jett, we witness the beginnings of the public collapse of Fox’s credibility. Currie’s own confidence has suffered, too. In her strangely worded Facebook post Currie puts herself in the position of the accused, fearful that she is on trial for speaking out about Fox’s rape after Jett publicly dismissed it.
In my personal opinion and experience, the paternalistic tradition of shielding victims from articles with “trigger warnings” about disclosures helps no one. Consider this for perspective: there are more house fires in the U.S. every year than rapes. Fires are traumatic, sometimes fatal events, too. However, we do not see trigger warnings attached to articles about fires. It made me question how we as a culture respond to and understand rape. I think trigger warnings discourage a reader that they are about to read something "unpleasant," and that further drives the stories into hushed tones, avoiding the light. At the moment, the courage of Fox to speak openly of her rape, the bravery we as a society, as decent humans should be applauding, is being buried minute by minute under the statements, retractions and emotions of others.
Telling somebody, telling everybody is a moral directive, an imperative that if followed by the victims or any possible bystander, will prevent those who prey upon the vulnerable from chalking multiple deliberate tallies. The open disclosure of victims of their experiences is our only hope as a society to give shape to the shadowy monster that is rape. We must have a clear picture of the enemy if we are to eradicate it. As one fan put it, “If Joan Jett speaks out, in support of victims, I'm sure it will be met with a lot of warm, positive reactions by many.”
Jackie Fox told someone, and now she’s told everyone. I’ll let her have the last word, edited from an eloquent statement (see full statement here) she posted Sunday night on her Facebook page, (and posted on Huffington Post Monday). She said, in part:
“I have been so incredibly moved over the last few days by the outpouring of love and support that has followed the story of my rape on New Year’s Eve 1975.
I thought I had prepared myself for the haters -- I was wrong. I was shocked by some of the vitriol; more so by the fact that nearly all of it came from other women. *But their voices were drowned by a chorus of support from women I respect and admire – women like Kathy Valentine, Maureen Herman and Jane Wiedlin. And then there are the private messages. The sheer number of people who have written to tell me their own stories of rape and abuse has been heartbreaking. Many have said they’ve never told anyone about their rape or abuse, or that the people they told didn’t believe them.
If I am disappointed in one thing, it is that the story has become about who knew what when and who did or didn’t do what. That isn’t the story at all. It would be nice if everyone who was there the night I was raped could talk about how it has affected them over the years. But if they don’t want to talk it about, I respect that. It’s taken me years to talk about it without shame. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have watched it happen.
I only wish that if my bandmates can’t remember what happened that night – or if they just remember it differently –they would stick simply to saying that. By asserting that if they’d witnessed my rape, they’d have done something about it, they perpetuate the very myth I was trying to dispel when I decided to tell my story. Being a passive bystander is not a “crime.” All of us have been passive bystanders at some point in our lives.
If we have any hope at all of putting an end to incidents like these, we need to stop doubting the accusers and start holding rapists, abusers and bullies accountable. What we don’t need to do is point fingers at those who weren’t to blame for their actions.”
Thanks: #tellsomebodytelleverybody was made possible with the research and editing help of Megan McGlynn, Patricia Fetters, Laura Jones, and Steve Silver, who literally kicks ass.
- Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2008-2012
- FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Arrest Data: 2006-2010
- FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Offenses Cleared Data: 2006-2010
- Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: 2009
- Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: 2009
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