From The Bystander Effect to Stockholm Syndrome: Sexual and psychological abuse in Rock and Roll cast a 40-year shadow
On New Year’s Eve in 1975, Jackie Fuchs, just 16-years-old and a member of the all-girl band The Runaways, was drugged by a roadie and then raped in a motel room by the band’s notoriously sleazy manager, producer and all-around-Svengali, Kim Fowley. The story of a young woman’s assault by a 36-year-old man — revealed this past July in a Huffington Post exposé, The Lost Girls — is sickening. But what makes Fuchs’ tale uniquely chilling is that, as she recounts, the rape took place in a roomful of other people, including two of her fellow band members, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett.
Her revelation of this 40-year-old crime reminds me of the saga of another fox on the run from that era: Patricia Hearst. She was also a teenage girl who appeared self-possessed and revolutionary to a public riding the first swell of feminism’s second wave and hungry for depictions of women who stood up to “The Man” — but who was, it would turn out, a victim of abuse and manipulation by those men. Moreover, the mea culpas, continued denials and psychological justifications offered by primary witnesses to Fuchs’ rape that have come in the wake of The Lost Girls, are redolent of the courtroom defense that followed Hearst’s SLA crime spree: that she was not entirely culpable because her felonies were enacted while she suffered from a little-known disorder called Stockholm Syndrome.
From Patty to Tania
To refresh your memory, in 1974, a year before Fuchs’ joined The Runaways, Hearst, a 19-year-old publishing heiress, was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, CA, beaten and kept in a closet for several weeks by the homegrown revolutionary group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. During her incarceration, crouched in that claustrophobic cell, SLA members repeatedly threatened her life. She was given an explicit choice: to either to join her captors or to die. Hearst chose life.
Newly-minted member, Patty, was then renamed “Tania,” and trained in the use of weapons and other martial arts. Also, according to Hearst, Angela Atwood, her new SLA “sister,” informed her that, “the others thought she should know what sexual freedom was like.” While girls her age were becoming radicalized through relatively benign activities, like “Take Back the Night” marches, she was receiving “sexual freedom” education from two of the SLA’s male leaders, Donald De Freeze and William Wolfe — in the form of repeated rapes.
After more than 19-months on the lam, Hearst was apprehended by FBI agents and tried for her participation in the SLA’s robbery of the Hibernia Bank. At her trial, Hearst’s defense lawyers first introduced the American public to the concept of Stockholm Syndrome, a psychiatric condition, they explained, in which hostages form a traumatic bond with, express sympathy for, and even protect, their captors. In other words, while Hearst looked like she had been a willing participant in the SLA’s crimes, her willingness was merely a survival tactic.
Meanwhile, Back at the Motel
In an interview with KCRW’s Madeline Brand, Fuchs said, that after being given Quaaludes (possibly several) at that New Year’s Eve party: “The next clear memory I have was lying on the bed propped up on the pillows, and a roadie came over and asked me if I was okay. And then Kim Fowley showed up behind him and he said, ‘Do you want to [blank] her?’ And then he said, ‘go ahead, she won’t mind. Will you?’
“And I found that I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move a muscle. That the drugs had rendered me incapable of doing anything but silently pleading with the roadie to say no. Which fortunately, he did.”
Unfortunately, Fowley wasn’t finished. In his Huff-Po article, reporter Jason Cherkis recounts what came next: “’I remember opening my eyes, Kim Fowley was raping me, and there were people watching me,’” Jackie says. She looked out from the bed and noticed Currie and Jett staring at her.” That was her last memory of the night.”
Instead, in language hauntingly similar to Angela Atwood’s, Currie called the incident, “Kim Fowley’s Sex Education Class.” The story of how Fowley taught “you dogs to fuck,” would be recounted again to music writer Evelyn McDonnell for her 2013 biography of the band, Queens of Noise: The Real Story of The Runaways, by both Currie and Kari Krome, one of the band’s founders.
Although McDonnell says she was told it was Fuchs under “deep cover,” she couldn’t reveal the information without Fuchs’ corroboration (which she didn’t have) and for legal reasons (Fowley was notably litigious). When McDonnell asked Fowley directly about sexual abuse in the band, he told her, “They can talk about it until the cows come home but, in my mind, I didn’t make love to anybody in the Runaways nor did they make love to me.” Yet, hinting at the truth, McDonnell ends the chapter that contains these conflicting allegations with the strong disclaimer, “Maybe somebody is lying.”
Queens of Silence
As recently as three years ago when The Queens of Noise was being researched, and almost four decades after the deed, Fuchs was not yet ready to come forward. She had her reasons, most of which were rooted in fear. But, primarily she remained mute because, even though this horrific crime happened in a roomful of people, nobody had stopped it — and tellingly, nobody present that night offered to talk about it afterwards. Certainly no one proffered comfort.
As Cherkis tells it, “Jackie showed up at the next band practice some days later, not ready to stop being a Runaway. Although she was nervous about how her bandmates would treat her, she at least expected them to acknowledge that something bad had happened. But the girls hardly registered her presence.
“Jackie took her bandmates’ silence to mean that she should keep quiet, too. ‘I didn’t know if anybody would have backed me. 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.’”
There were other reasons to remain silent. As Cherie Currie says in Edgeplay about the well-documented verbal and emotional abuse the girls suffered at the hands of Fowley: “I knew what was happening to me was wrong. I knew what was happening to Joan, Lita, Jackie — that was wrong. But we couldn’t do anything about it because he was producer. He was manager. And he said, without him we would go nowhere.”
Ironically, Japan was the only country in which the band ever achieved legitimate stardom, complete with screaming mobs of fans. If Fuchs had been less traumatized, the adulation of thousands of devotees should have spurred her to soldier on despite the myriad dysfunctions rampant in The Runaways’ exercise. After all, this is what they had been working toward. This is the reason she’d maintained her silence.
Fuchs’ disclosure landed like a firecracker in the drought-parched Hollywood hills, sparking an immediate conflagration of media outrage from voices within and outside the music world. Many were supportive of Fuchs and others condemned Fowley — who died of bladder cancer this past January. Los Angeles music writer Chris Morris spoke for many when he wrote:
“I had no love for the man. I always viewed him as a viper that walked upright. Though I found myself in the same room with him on innumerable occasions for more than 35 years, I always gave him a wide berth. His reputation preceded him, and it was not one I found attractive.”
The online conversation quickly devolved into a “she-said, she-said” clash over whether or not Curry and Jett had witnessed the rape — and if so, why they hadn’t tried to stop it. In response, both women issued statements on their Facebook pages denying that they had observed a criminal act on the night in question.
Currie, who has spent a lifetime on the fringes of Hollywood chasing the dream of a musical career said:
“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.”
Jett, the band’s most famous alumnus and 2015 inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame issued this terse comment:
“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.”
Read carefully, neither of these statements disputes that such an incident occurred.
The Bystander Effect
In her own Facebook statement, Fuchs said: “My rape was traumatic for everyone, not just me, and everyone deals with trauma in their own way and time … 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.”
That the former bass-player was able to acknowledge the deniers with such equanimity, may be due to the fact that, before revealing her secret she had researched and found a plausible justification for the passive behavior of the onlookers that night: a phenomenon called the Bystander Effect. As with Stockholm Syndrome, the Bystander Effect is a psychological experience that produces inverted behavior in response to a crisis. In this case, when multiple witnesses are present at the victimization of an individual, they fail to act in the victim’s defense — and the more spectators present, the more pronounced becomes the abnegation of responsibility to help.
As she said on KCRW, until she read an account of the night of her rape in McDonnell’s book, “I had directed my anger at the bystanders for not intervening. That was when I first began to realize that perhaps, it wasn’t really their fault and I should be directing my anger at the man who raped me.”
Like the Harvard trained lawyer that she is, Fuchs worked hard to provide that roomful of New Year’s revelers — most of them teenagers and likely drunk or hampered by chemically-induced inertia — with a plausible defense. “One of the things I’ve tried to do with every bystander,” she said, “is let them know it’s not their fault.
It’s a good argument. It might even be true that no one stopped the proceedings in that hotel room in 1975 because of the discouraging influence of the Bystander Effect. However, the fact that no one in her band mentioned it, commiserated with, or offered comfort to Fuchs in the 18 months that followed — nor in the 40 years since — is in need of additional analysis.
A Family Affair
For starters, as Fuchs posits, all five members of The Runaways were Kim Fowley’s victims. As their ersatz guardian he kept them hungry, both emotionally and literally, rarely paying them enough money to buy food. Fowley also regularly demeaned his “Fab Five” by hurling everything at them from foul invectives like “dog cunt” to handfuls of garbage — in what he called, “heckler’s drills. And, according to drummer Sandy West (who died in 2006) he took particular relish in abusing Currie and Fuchs.
Currie contends that Fowley used the tactic of dividing the girls to conquer and control them. First, as with Patty Hearst, they were removed from their families and sources of emotional support. Later they were separated from each other, which was easily accomplished with a group of girls who, in many ways, had nothing in common but a desire to be famous.
It has been noted, that in cases of familial child abuse, a parent need only mistreat one child to control the rest. In a The Kansas City Star article titled, “It isn’t rare of a parent to single out one child for abuse,” Debra Wolfe, the executive director of the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research at the University of Pennsylvania says of children who must watch the abuse of a sister or brother: “For them to be witnessing this and feel powerless to protect their sibling is really daunting.”
“In the most severe abuse cases,” the article continues, “siblings are sometimes forced to participate. Siblings might be told by their parents to withhold food from a targeted child. [And] being asked to isolate the targeted child from family activities can cause profound guilt later for the other siblings.
Fuchs was already the odd-woman-out in The Runaways. She did not take drugs. She was the one with the “girl next door” look. She was also, by all accounts, the smartest member of the band and the one “with a mouth on her” who challenged Fowley over his mismanagement of the girls’ earnings and career. It makes sense, that if he were to choose a single person to break in order to control the others, it would have been Fuchs.
With one vile degradation, he was able to neutralize her, separate her further from the others and to achieve complete domination over the teens. For the remainder of her time in the band, Fuchs would be further marginalized — often by her bandmates —until, by the end, she was nothing but the butt of the joke.
As, Tischler-Blue (a.k.a. Vicki Blue), who replaced Fuchs on bass when she quit the band recounted, “I heard about that [the rape] nonstop. They would talk about Kim fucking Jackie like a dog. It was kind of a running joke.”
If she felt that way in 2003, why in 2014 would Currie invite her former tormentor to live in her home and to nurse him through the final months of his terminal illness? Why in 2015 would she deny a horrific and memorable incident that she’d previously (and repeatedly) written and spoken about?
In a 2010 Spin article Currie said, about her relationship with Fowley: “It’s like battered-wife syndrome. Some women love the abusive men they’re with and that’s kind of the way I was with Kim. I really wanted his approval.”
Dr. Frank Ochberg, M.D., a psychologist who worked as a consultant with the FBI in the mid-‘70s on hostage cases [such as Patty Hearst’s], and who interviewed victims of such crimes says: “A terrorist or a criminal (or, for that matter, an abusive spouse or parent) may be a source of terror and then a source of relief from the state of being terrified and infantilized. That person, by not killing you, by giving you the various gifts of life, evokes a primitive and profound feeling… often difficult to put into words.
“These positive sensations could last a long time. Months. Years.”
Maybe Currie’s late-life largesse toward Fowley was simply the result of her ability to forgive. “He apologized to me on the phone a year ago,” she said in Spin, “saying if he had to do it over again he wouldn’t have treated us that way. He didn’t know how to handle 15-year-old girls. In his own crazy way, he loved us.”
Or maybe Currie forgave because Fowley spent his final months producing Reverie, her first new album in over 30 years — an album that she hoped would finally get her name onto the star maps and out of its decades-long exile in obscure Hollywood limbo.
She Loves Rock ‘n’ Roll
And what of Jett’s denial? “Anyone who truly knows me,” begins her statement rebutting Fuchs’ allegations. With her guitar slung butchly over her shoulder — reminiscent of Patty Hearst posing with her machine gun at the Hibernia Bank — Joan Jett has long been the picture of cool and has inspired more than one generation of girls to start their own bands. Unlike, Currie, the multi-million-selling rocker has enjoyed a stellar career. Also, unlike Currie, she has always kept mum about her personal life — employing a sometimes-refreshing throwback persona: the strong, silent type.
Silence has been golden for Jett and is likely one of the behaviors that has helped her to outlast many other performers. She did not appear in Edgeplay to dish about the past with her old pals. In fact, she actively obstructed the film’s making — as she would later obstruct involvement by other band members in The Runaways, the 2010 Kristin Stewart-starring biopic. She has never conclusively confirmed nor denied the ongoing speculation about her sexual orientation and seems content to weather gossip and bad publicity by waiting it out.
In a spinner.com interview, explaining part of her enigmatic persona — namely her ambiguous sexuality — she said: “If you open up a door to your whole life, once that door’s open, you can’t shut it. You can’t open it up for some parts and keep it closed for others.
“It really boils down to this: I want to please everybody. I want every guy and every girl thinking that I’m singing these songs to them, because I am. If I make a hard, fast case on where I stand then that takes away a lot of the fantasy. Music entails a lot of fantasy… Some people might think it’s a cop-out. I don’t care. That’s how I feel.”
During her years in The Runaways, Fuchs has described Jett as the band’s peacemaker — someone with an innate bent towards conciliation.
“If Kim were still with us, he’d be here, sitting at my table and probably taking bows on this occasion. Rightfully so. Thank you Kim.”
She makes other notable assertions in that speech, too.
“I come from a place where rock and roll means something. It means more than music, more than fashion, more than a good pose. It’s the language of a subculture that’s made eternal teenagers of all who follow it. It’s a subculture of integrity, rebellion, frustration, alienation and the glue that set several generations free of unnatural societal and self-suppression.
“Rock and roll is political. It is a meaningful way to express dissent, upset the status quo, stir up revolution and fight for human rights.
“Rock and roll ethic is my entire life…”
Jett has performed many commendable acts. She’s toured extensively with the USO, lent her name and efforts to charities to benefit people and animals, and provided a leg up to other female performers entering the music business. When considered exclusively through her official words and deeds, the adult Jett seems precisely like the kind of person who, if she witnessed “a friend or bandmate being violated,” would “not stand by while it happened.”
In a Jezebel piece, biographer Evelyn McDonnell recounts that Jett has always denied witnessing Fuchs’ rape. “Jett told me while I was writing Queens that she had absolutely no memory of the incident as described in Neon Angel; her spokesperson told the Huffington Post the same thing.”
She goes on to note that, “Joan was also 16, perhaps stoned, possibly traumatized. She is not the villain here.”
To be clear, Jett is also not defending Fowley in this matter.
Since most of us, by design, do not “truly know” Jett, the only thing that can be ascertained for certain about her motivations regarding almost anything is that she “loves rock and roll” and has lived most of her life in service of its fantasies and “ethics.”
While Currie will probably continue to post confusing screeds that simultaneously confirm and deny Fowley’s monstrousness, Joan Jett, the rock star, will likely “put another dime in the jukebox” and wait out the speculation.
Dead End Justice
In 1976, Patty Hearst was convicted of bank robbery and using a firearm in the execution of a felony and sentenced to seven years in prison.
This was also the year that The Runaways’ eponymous debut album dropped. Along with the band’s one hit, “Cherry Bomb,” The Runaways features a classically ludicrous Kim Fowley concoction called “Dead End Justice.” Sung by Currie in a kind-of first-person narrative style, the song follows the trials of a sexy, jailbait teen, a “dead end kid in the danger zone,” who parties, runs wild and is eventually arrested and thrown into juvenile detention. The music peters out towards the end, culminating with Currie’s melodramatic recitation of her escape from juvie, along with fellow detainee, Jett. The final dialogue goes like this:
But Joan I’m getting tired
I’ve run out of fire
I can’t go any farther
But Cherie you must try harder
Joan, I’m down, it’s my ankle
I can’t go on, but I can’t leave you
What do I do?
Save yourself, you know what you gotta do
After 40 years, Fuchs finally knew that she had to “save herself,” and maybe a few others along the way. As she told Yahoo’s Chris Willman: “Sometimes it’s really hard to know what to do and when to do it. But it is never too late to try to do the right thing.”
The Neverending Story
In the wake of Fuchs’ disclosure, it’s important to note that a violation like this should have come as a surprise to no one. In fact, the only surprising thing is that we hadn’t heard about it earlier.
Except, we have heard it. For the past three decades, countless outlets, from cable news networks and well-publicized court cases to Lifetime channel movies and tragic memoirs, have reiterated that girls and boys are routinely sexually abused by adults (mostly men) who hold sway over them. It happens in suburban rec rooms; it is perpetrated by the leaders of every major religion; it is hidden in the ledgers of the Boy Scouts of America; and it happens throughout the sports and entertainment industries. The reports of these abuses are so numerous that to hear one more is almost mind numbing.
Documentarian Amy Berg, best known for her Oscar-nominated film Deliver Us from Evil, about the abuse and rape of 25 children by a single Catholic priest, has recently released, An Open Secret. This 2015 documentary recounts the personal testimonies of five child actors and models who were sexually abused by the managers, publicists and agents with whom their parents entrusted them.
Of course, there is the case of comedian Bill Cosby, who is currently accused of serially drugging (with Quaaludes, the same drug given to Fuchs) and raping upwards of 50 women — at least one of them, Judy Huth, only 15 at the time of the assault.
And let us not forget Lou Pearlman, the man who created the boy bands ‘N Sync and The Backstreet Boys and who “allegedly” used some of its young members for sexual favors before stealing their earnings.
These are just the incidents that we know about. These are the ones in which the victims faced their rapists, or in which the powerful perpetrator died and could no longer pose a threat.
In a 2002 interview with CNN’s Larry King, Patricia Hearst responded to a question about whether or not it would be “hard to look at” her former captors when called as a witness at their upcoming trial for a 1975 murder:
“…for any victim of a violent crime, when you actually get to go in and realize and see their faces and know that they can’t hurt you any more, there is no feeling like that. It finally frees you from a lot of demons.”
With her exposure of a 40-years-old rape, Jackie Fuchs has both faced Kim Fowley and re-branded his posthumously engorged legacy as effectively as does the protagonist in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — when she retaliates against her sexual attacker by etching the indelible words, “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert and a rapist” into his flesh. More importantly, this revelation has initiated a conversation that may lead to a much larger story.
After all, The Runaways weren’t the only girl band Fowley managed.