The former Runaways bassist recently revealed that her bandmates allegedly witnessed her sexual assault by manager Kim Fowley and did nothing. Do they deserve our outrage?
That horrible keening you heard late last week was the sound of a million rock-and-roll hearts breaking. Legions of female rock fans (that is, fans of female rock, and rock fans who are female) were knocked on their asses by a Huffington Post piece in which ex-Runaways bassist Jacqueline Fuchs—known in the band as Jackie Fox—came forward with a startling, heartbreaking allegation that at age 16, she was drugged and raped during a New Year’s Eve show afterparty by the band’s Svengali-like manager Kim Fowley. Rumors and sidewise anecdotes about Fowley’s taste for teenage flesh and fast-and-loose notions of consent have been around for ages, so that wasn’t the big news. (As punk-rock journalist/musician Tim Stegall has said, “I met Fowley on a number of occasions. My impression was always you should likely count your fingers after shaking hands with him.”)
What really made the story blow up was Fuchs’s allegation that while the assault was occurring, her sister Runaways Joan Jett and Cherie Currie looked on, doing nothing.
It was a fuck of a ch-ch-ch-cherry bombshell, I’ll tell you.
The lengthy story by Jason Cherkis titled “The Lost Girls,” went live on July 8, and lit up social media immediately. Haunting, graphic, and deeply reported, the piece gets granular on Fuchs’s recounting of being fed Quaaludes then raped by Fowley. Fuchs’s claims are corroborated by several witnesses (among them Runaways co-founder/lyricist Kari Krome), and the sheer anarchy of the larger 1970s rock scene it portrays is nothing short of chilling.
Fuchs told Cherkis, “You don’t know what terror is until you realize something bad is about to happen to you and you can’t move a muscle I remember opening my eyes, Kim Fowley was raping me, and there were people watching me… I can’t move. I can’t speak. All I can do is look him in the eye and do the best I can do to communicate: please say no … I don’t know what it looked like from the outside. But I know what was going on inside and it was horror.” It’s enough to make you want to master the art of time travel to rescue this girl from the suffering made spectacle by this dirtbag Zelig. “On the bed,” the piece continues, “Fowley played to the crowd, gnashing his teeth and growling like a dog as he raped Jackie. He got up at one point to strut around the room before returning to Jackie’s body.”
In reaction, Jett and Currie offered carefully chosen words, and that is wherein the bulk of the public outrage lies. People are seriously bummed at the thought that such strong, ass-kicking rocker-women might have let a sister down by looking the other way. In the original article, Joan Jett denies “witnessing the event as it has been described here.” Currie claims she protested Fowley’s treatment of Fuchs and “stormed out of the room,” also saying Fuchs later blocked her from writing about the attack in her 2010 memoir, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway (which was blurbed, and thereby presumably endorsed as truth, by Jett).
On July 11, Currie posted this on Facebook:
“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 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.”
Runaways bandmate Joan Jett issued a statement of her own soon after: “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.”
Fuchs. Currie. Jett. Who’s right? Maybe all of them. One of the jacked-up things about drugs and alcohol is that they’re prime agents of hazy memories, mismatched perceptions, and an assload of party paralysis. I can easily imagine serious shit going down with a bunch of potentially intoxicated teenage girls and a much older, predatory, card-carrying D-bag, and everyone having a differing recollection of events. If they have any recollection at all. And while I’d love to believe that any female would leap to the defense of another woman who was being assaulted, I’ve seen enough drug- and beer-slumps to know that sometimes abuse doesn’t even register as it’s going on. One night, eons ago, a bunch of crusty punks I knew were sitting on a park bench drinking 40s and one guy—the muscly, thick-necked guitar player in a popular Lower East Side band—got up and stuck his dick right in the mouth of a girl who was either too high or too drunk to move. Word got around the next day, and what was just as upsetting as the assault itself was that it was clear that no one—male or female—did anything to stop him, even though the violation occurred in the middle of a public park. A good number of the punks present were probably too out of it to really comprehend what was happening. The guy continued to stroll around like the king of Avenue A thereafter. I don’t know what happened to the girl.
I believe Fuchs was raped, and I applaud her for coming forward in the name of truth and healing. Fowley, who died of cancer earlier this year, denied sexually assaulting of abusing any of band members. In Queens of Noise, the 2013 band biography by veteran rock journalist Evelyn McDonnell, Fowley stated, “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” —which, in and of itself, is a quote with some interesting word choices. Saying that you never “made love” to someone is not the same as saying you never sexually assaulted her.
Apparently, Fuchs feels the same. She posted a statement of her own yesterday, in which she says:
“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.”
Those are the words of the victim herself, reminding us that her telling her story isn’t about laying blame at the feet of those who coulda-should-woulda helped her in the moment, or on those who betrayed her by not coming forward later on. It is about her setting the record straight for herself, and being an agent in her own recovery. Remember: Every girl in the band was but a teen when the alleged rape took place, and though their recollection of events may vary, what they had in common was a fuckton of drugs present, a manipulative manager who held all the cards, and a cultural climate that encouraged an incredibly sexist imbalance of power. Does that excuse any of her bandmates if they knew what was happening and decided not to act? No. But we need to bear in mind that multiple factors can affect perception, and fans and onlookers prematurely taking sides doesn’t appear to be helping Fuchs in her journey toward healing. If we’re learning one thing from this, it’s that playing “he-said, she-said” with rape victims is terrible, but “she-said, she-said” isn’t much better.
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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