The Day James Toback Sexually Assaulted Me

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sexual assault
Self

I am not guilty. I refuse to be.

It’s still all about him. He thinks he can get away with being a sexual predator because it’s how it’s always been.

We, the victims, are still just numbers. Thirty-eight women accused Toback in Glen Whipp’s original Los Angeles Times story. More than two hundred contacted the writer after the story went public.

The numbers become ridiculous. Numbers that mean what? Anything?

Just as the argument against the plastering of the face of a shooter because it makes them a celebrity, but we don’t talk about the victims. More than 300 people preyed upon by Toback. But his face is still in the news.

 

 

This is us. The victims.

It’s his name in the news. Not ours. Unless we happen to be a famous actress, then our name gets bandied around in the media. But the rest of us remain nameless and faceless; we are still just numbers. Just like we were when Toback approached us on the streets.

“Are you an actress?”

Do you have any idea how many times young women have heard that line?

 

 

“You look perfect to star in my next film.”

Do you have any idea how many times aspiring actresses have longed to hear that question and for it to be real?

Of course, we were hesitant. Of course, we questioned whether the guy was a predator.

But when he showed us that he was real — a director — our hearts beat a bit faster. In my case, he took me to a newsstand and pulled out a copy of a film magazine and showed me his photograph to prove he was the real thing.


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Here was a man who could fulfill our greatest fantasies. He could make us a star.

So, when he asked us to disrobe for him, of course, some of us went along. Of course, we did. He was real. And for many of us, it was our big opportunity. What’s the old adage — opportunity only knocks once?

If I had been an actress with parts in the works, or other possible roles and hopes, I might have been less likely to go with him to his “screening room.” But I wasn’t. I was a struggling unknown who had auditioned for years but never had a big break.

 

When his screening room turned out to be in his apartment, I did not stop.

When his screening room turned out to be his bedroom, I still went along.

Were there lots of red flags? Of course. And for many young women who had more strength in their sense of self, those red flags meant something, and they listened to their intuition before Toback had a chance to get them alone and naked.

But for some of us, we went along. We turned off our mind’s nagging warnings because we wanted to believe so bad that we were about to have our big break. Not at the drugstore counter, but in Central Park, or the train station.

When my audition entailed getting undressed, explaining my sexual habits, and listening to his sexual exploits and needs, I went along. Of course, I did. Everything he needed and demanded from me was still within my boundaries, the lines I had drawn for myself around my sexuality.

As a nude model and stripper, nakedness was not something I only shared with a boyfriend or husband. I was comfortable in sharing that aspect of myself with the world.

Men’s sexual desires and urges were also words I was used to from having drinks with men in strip clubs between sets. I was used to men coming on to me, sexually harassing me and crossing the “normal” line of how men usually treated women.


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I was not normal as a stripper, and the men were not normal in how they spoke to me. I was a commodity. They were propositioning me, testing me, seeing just how much they might be able to get for one dollar, five, ten or twenty.

Toback’s requests were thus able to be seen in this light. It was a game. A game I knew how to play.

How far would I take the game? That’s what Toback was trying to find out. With every woman he preyed upon, whom he knew what they wanted and knew he had a carrot to dangle before them.

Some shot him down right away, and that was fine because there were thousands of others just like her around the next block. You notice the same features repeatedly with Toback’s victims’ stories — he didn’t seem to cross the line from assault to rape.

With me, he assaulted me but allowed me to escape. But he knew the shame factor was naturally built in because I had been the one to enter his apartment, his bedroom… I was the one who took my clothes off.

When he finally charged naked against me and pinned me up against the wall, he still had hopes that I was going to be a yes. But when I slid from his clutches and ran away, he did not try to stop me. He knew what he could get away with and not be charged.


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And what young woman is going to go to the cops and say, I undressed for this guy and he tried to rape me.

The absurdity of that statement, whether we like to admit it or not, is what Tobak counted on.

Many of these powerful men count on victims being too embarrassed and too ashamed by what we had allowed to happen in the first place, that we would never share our stories.

There’s that duality of wanting that thing so bad — to be a star! — and the possibility is there in front of you. You know the signs are troublesome, but you want it so bad that you ignore those signs as your fantasy slowly crumbles.

It took other women being brave enough to come out and say — yes, I let it go this far (so sue me!), but I did not agree to that.

And that’s the truth. And unfortunately, with Toback, I can only imagine there are women out there who let more happen than they feel like they can say without embarrassment or shame creeping in.

I am standing up to say — yes, think what you want about me. I undressed for him. I listened to his sex talk. I pretended I liked the way he spoke to me. But I did not ask him to press me against a wall and hump me as I clearly tried to escape.

It does not matter what I did before, or who I was, or what my profession was — none of that matters when I said, "No."

I don’t care about the shame. I will take it. I will take others supporting us publicly but clucking to themselves privately that we were asking for it.

Or maybe our society really has advanced past that attitude, and perhaps it is just me blaming myself, me still not forgiving myself for having ignored the red flags. Maybe I want to put it on others, to relieve myself of my own shame.

I don’t care anymore. I am not guilty. I refuse to be.

He is guilty.

James Toback is guilty.


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Sheila Hageman has appeared on numerous TV shows including Today Show, ABC News, NBC News, and as an expert on Bill Cunningham and Anderson Cooper. She has been featured on Salon, Mamalode, Mom Babble, Say It With A Bang, She Knows and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Facebook or @SheilaMHageman on Twitter. 

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