On Jackie Fuchs’ rape and ‘the bystander effect’

Kim Fowley and the Runaways. (Jackie Fuchs is second from right.)

I was so upset after reading Jason Cherkis’ powerful story on the Runaways, the girl-band that made women like Lita Ford and Joan Jett into rock legends, I surprised even myself. You would think, in my line of work, that this kind of thing would cease to shock and appall — Oh surprise, surprise, 70s rock and roll was rife with pedaphillic predators. Tell me something I don’t know.

Last year I fell into an internet wormhole, reading about the many assaults perpetrated by our 70s rock heros. “Relationships” between grown men and very young women were completely normalized in the scene and no one said a word about the abuse and exploitation they witnessed, chalking it up to “sex, drugs, and rock n roll.”

A few examples:

– Jimmy Page kidnapped and assaulted 14 year old Lori Maddox, who ended up staying with him for three years due to what I assume can be equated to a kind of trauma bonding or Stockholm Syndrome. (Maddox, in fact, had been groomed for this abuse already, having lost her virginity to David Bowie at 13.)

Lori Maddox, Sable Starr, members of Led Zepplin and their entourage.
Lori Maddox, Sable Starr, members of Led Zepplin and their entourage.

— Cher met Sonny Bono when he was 27 and she was 16.

— Iggy Pop had sex with “baby groupie,” Sable Starr, when she was 13.

— Rolling Stones guitarist, Bill Wyman, “dated” 13 year old Mandy Smith when he was 47, eventually marrying her.

— At 27, Steven Tyler had a 14 year old “girlfriend,” that is to say, he convinced Julia Holcomb’s mother to sign over guardian rights to him, so he could take her across state lines with him while he was on tour. Of her relationship with Tyler, Holcomb said, “I was subordinate to him as in a parent relationship and felt I had little control over my life.” She also says that Tyler has hypersexualized her publicly, referring to her as “my Little Oral Annie” in his memoir.

— At 30, Ted Nugent (who wrote a song about raping a 13 year old girl) became the legal guardian of 17 year old Pele Massa in order to avoid being charged with statutory rape.

Sable Starr and Iggy Pop.
Sable Starr and Iggy Pop.

There are many more stories like these. If you read up on famous “groupies” like Bebe Buell and Pennie Trumble (the women Penny Lane’s character in Almost Famous was based on), you’ll find tale after tale of underage girls who were preyed upon by adult men in the rock scene.

Some romanticize this, thinking these were sexually empowered, wild, “temptresses” who idolized rock stars and just wanted to be near their heros, but a girl’s fandom or perceived “maturity” doesn’t make it ok for men to take advantage. In fact, the power differential of fan to idol, in and of itself, is rather grotesque when it comes to sexual relationships. So I really don’t care that these girls “dressed the part” or even if some of them technically “consented” to relationships with these men. That’s called victim blaming and lacks understanding in terms of the role of power and coercion in abusive relationships. (Priscilla Presley, for example, was 14 years old when 24 year old Elvis Presley began pursuing her — at the time she may have thought she “loved” him, but in retrospect she said, “I was someone he created. I was just a kid and I was consumed by him. All I desired was not to disappoint him.”) It is the responsibility of adults to not have sex with children. That these men intentionally preyed on women who were not yet, in fact, women, only shows that they are abusive men, driven by their egos and a desire to have someone they can control under their thumb.

While celebrity men continue to take advantage of their positions of power to exploit young women and girls (see: R. Kelly), the public, at large, is disapproving of this kind of behaviour today. Back then, this predatory behaviour seems to have been either ignored or laughed off (boys will be boys!).

What Cherkis brings to light in his story is Runaways band member Jackie Fuchs’ (also known as Jackie Fox) rape, perpetrated by the band’s manager, Kim Fowley. The assault happened at a party, in front of a number of people, including then-bandmates, Cherie Curie and Jett. Fowley was 36, Fuchs was 16. She had been given alcohol and Quaaludes and was immobile. Cherkis writes:

“Fowley invited other guys to have sex with Jackie before removing his own pants and climbing on top of her. “Kim’s fucking someone!” a voice shouted from the door of the motel room to the partygoers outside, calling them in to watch. Arguelles returned to the room to see if this was all a big joke.

On the bed, 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.

‘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. She says this was her last memory of the night. Jett, through a representative, 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.'”

Fowley spent his life pursuing vulnerable, underage girls. He was open about that — proud even. Cherkis writes, “As Fowley himself put it in Queens of Noise, describing his taste for vulnerable women: ‘I’m like a shark. I’ll smell the blood.'”

Babes in Toyland bassist, Maureen Herman, relays a story Steve Silver told about Fowley, when he brought a 17 year old musician friend to a party Fowley was at:

“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!'”

Before Fuchs joined the band, Fowley had also sexually assaulted 14 year old Kari Krome, an aspiring songwriter who’d he’d been grooming since she was 13 years old.

“I didn’t know how to say, ‘I don’t want you to do this,’” Krome says. “I did not have that voice… I was also scared of him. He could be really scary.” Fowley sexually assaulted her several other times, Krome says. “In his mind, he thought he was having a relationship with me, like a romantic relationship,” she says. “He didn’t care what I thought about it. He just decided.”

Bandmembers, Sandy West and Jett knew about the ongoing abuse — Krome tried to tell them about it, hoping for support, but was met with blank stares.

I can only imagine how many more victims there were. I don’t want to imagine how many there were… What we do know is that these kinds of men will get away with whatever they can, so long as they are allowed to.

But while this story is about the actions of one man, this isn’t really just about one man. There were many others like him and many more who enabled this behaviour.

We know we must blame the perpetrator, but we also know that, when it comes to famous, powerful men, they tend to have entourages who protect them from accountability. We know that a larger culture that teaches men they are entitled to women’s bodies and to sex — whenever and however they want it — is culpable as well. We know that the sexualization of young women and girls in porn contributes to their fetishization and abuse. In a response from Kathy Valentine, a member of The Go-Gos, on Facebook, she writes:

“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.”

When Fowley raped Fuchs on New Years Eve, at a party in a motel room, she was barely conscious. Fowley performed for his audience, some of whom were friends of Fuchs. She saw both Jett and Currie in the room. Though Jett denies being there, supposedly the rape became a joke among band members after Fuchs had a break down and quit. Krome was there too, disgusted, but she had no idea what to do about the assault. She didn’t want to call the police — something likely only result in her being called a troublemaker, or worse.

I struggled with my feelings of anger after reading the piece. I wanted very much to direct my disgust and outrage where it belonged — at the perpetrator. At the same time I couldn’t help but feel livid at those who knew but did and said nothing. Abuse is traumatic enough but, as many of us know, silence and a lack of support is retraumatizing and compounds the devastation. Silence isolates victims and ensures men are able to continue to assault women and girls with impunity.

What broke my heart the most was that, after Fuchs’ trauma, no one spoke of the incident. Just imagine: Everyone watches you be raped, but pretends nothing out of the ordinary has happened. It’s crazy-making. As a result, Fuchs kept silent all this time, assuming that was her only recourse. Cherkis writes:

“Jackie took her bandmates’ silence to mean that she should keep quiet, too. ‘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.'”

Fuchs seems to have managed to forgive her friends, bandmates, and the other witnesses at the party. She believes “the bystander effect” came into play, something that causes individuals in groups not to intervene or help victims.

Valentine explains that she, herself, witnessed similar incidents as a young teen — guys lining up at parties to “gang bang passed out girls.” “I know why I didn’t do anything, or why I got the hell out of there,” she wrote, “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 drunk and you have the recipe for a teen age bystander.”

It makes sense that a bunch of 14 year old girls caught up in a man’s world and groomed by an abuser would not know how to intervene or address another girl’s rape in a responsible way. Others in the room, Cherkis said in an interview, were also traumatized by the event, suffering from enormous guilt over the years.

So the rage I felt initially at bystanders has subsided a little, but I am struggling to forgive enablers and those who continued to ignore and deny this behaviour for decades.

My anger towards Jett, in particular, grew as she doubled-down on her claims of ignorance (Victory Tischler-Blue, who joined the band after Fuchs left, confirms that all members of the Runaways “have always been aware of this ugly event”) — on Friday she published a statement on her Facebook page, saying she had no knowledge of Fuchs’ rape and that she would not stand by and do nothing if she witnessed such a thing.

She adds that “there were relationships that were bizarre” in the 70s rock scene, leading one to question what, exactly, she means by “bizarre.” Abusive men who prey on and rape girls does not, after all, constitute a “bizarre relationship.” That statement, in and of itself, strikes me as a way to excuse what went on rather than acknowledge and address reality.

My heart broke again when I read Fuchs’ statement, published Sunday on Facebook. While she has received an outpouring of support, she also writes, “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.”

Despite that, what follows is an incredibly forgiving and poignant reminder of something I’m still having a hard time remembering:

“I know some people watching the online drama unfold have been discouraged by the lack of support I’ve received from my former bandmates. To which I can only say that I hope you never have to walk in their shoes. My rape was traumatic for everyone, not just me, and everyone deals with trauma in their own way and time. It took exceptional courage for many of the witnesses to talk frankly about how they felt. Most have apologized to me for their inaction that night — apologies that have been unnecessary, though welcome.

…It can’t have been easy to listen to the way the band treated me after I left (treatment I was mercifully unaware of at the time). All I can say about what was said and done is that my bandmates were children who’d witnessed something criminal and tragic. I’ve no doubt they were dealing with it as best they were able. They had no responsible adults to guide them – only a rapist and his apologists.

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.”

And she’s mostly right. If there’s one person to blame here, it’s Fowley (who, unfortunately, escaped accountability through death, celebrated as an “eccentric genius”). I do think that our anger at witnesses who denied the incident or even who stayed silent makes sense in a way, though. That anger is about our culture and is about enabling perpetrators. It’s about who gets away with what and why. It’s also about betrayal and our ability to heal. How can we heal when we can’t even acknowledge what’s happened to us?

I wrote, last year, about Camille Cosby’s defenses of her husband; saying that while I felt sickened by her comments about rape victims, painting women as malicious liars, I also felt a certain level of sympathy for her (that sympathy has dwindled, now, as she continues her defenses and victim blaming, despite mounting evidence). While I don’t think women’s contributions to rape culture are ok in any way, I also acknowledge (and we see this happening once again in Fuchs’ case) that women are taught to hate one another — to see their sisters as their enemies, not men. In order to cope with the level of misogyny we experience and witness in this culture, many women choose to exist in a state of denial, often for their whole lives. There is a feeling of helplessness that is learned — when we speak out we are ignored, attacked, or abandoned, so we simply stop speaking out. There is no grand reward for siding with other women in our culture.

That almost all of the vitriol hurled at Fuchs since she’s shared her story came from women is sad, but unsurprising. In my own experience, most of the harassment and attacks leveled at me online come from women. I remember, as a teenager, feeling rage at female friends who made excuses for rapists, instead labeling victims — our friends and acquaintances — as “sluts” and liars — girls who just wanted attention or who were trying to steal their boyfriends. When I told the truth about my abuser years ago, it was women who ostracized me, called me crazy, and implied the abuse was my fault or was something that went “both ways.” They put me on trial, testing me for inaccuracies and motives, rather than questioning his behaviour.

I honestly don’t know if I can forgive all these women. I’m trying. But somehow it feels much worse to be abandoned by those who should know exactly what you are going through — who’ve also suffered at the hands of men. We expect men to side with their brethren, but it’s women we really need onside.

I hope Jett has some kind of revelation and realizes that denial won’t help anything. It won’t help her to cope with who-knows-what she experienced in her decades in the rock scene nor will it help victims — not Fowley’s, not Led Zepplin’s “groupies,” not any of the other girls whose stories we’re unlikely to ever hear. The guilt must be immense, but the more all of us speak out, the less guilt we’ll be left with at having abandoned our sisters, for whatever reason we felt we had to.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.