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Vulnerable boys and powerful men: the Bryan Singer allegations fit a disturbing pattern

New allegations against the director recall many other accounts of abuse in the #MeToo era.

Director Bryan Singer at the premier of the film Jack The Giant Slayer on February 26, 2013 in Hollywood, California
Director Bryan Singer at the premier of the film Jack The Giant Slayer on February 26, 2013 in Hollywood, California.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

Bryan Singer, the 53-year-old director of the Oscar-nominated Bohemian Rhapsody, has been the subject of sexual misconduct rumors for years. Now four men have come forward for the first time, telling the Atlantic about sexual encounters with Singer that happened when they were teenagers.

One man says Singer molested him when he was 13. Others describe parties attended by older Hollywood executives and teenage boys, where Singer convinced them to have sex with him when they were between the ages of 15 and 18. A man whose story had been public prior to the Atlantic article says Singer raped him at a party in 2003, when he was 17.

Since the 1995 release of The Usual Suspects, Singer had become an increasingly powerful figure in Hollywood, directing highly successful X-Men movies and bringing in billions of box-office dollars.

The men who told the Atlantic that Singer abused them describe circumstances that made them especially vulnerable to being victimized: youth, poverty, a lack of supportive family relationships, or all three. One man says he had been kicked out by his parents when he met Singer. Another said he had graduated from high school early and moved to Los Angeles on his own. A third was not yet out to his born-again Christian parents. Several said their families encouraged them to be close to Singer, hoping he could help their careers.

Singer has denied all the allegations, and called the Atlantic story a “homophobic smear piece.”

But the men’s accounts recall the allegations against Jeffrey Epstein, R. Kelly, Larry Nassar, and other powerful men accused of sexual misconduct with young people. In the #MeToo era, it’s becoming more and more clear that sexual predators often target people who have no one to protect them — and who, if they speak out, are unlikely to be believed.

The men who accuse Singer of abuse were often in vulnerable positions in their lives

Multiple men told the Atlantic’s Alex French and Maximillian Potter that Singer sexually victimized them when they were teenagers. Cesar Sanchez-Guzman, for instance, told the Atlantic that when he met Singer, he was not out about his sexuality to his parents, who are born-again Christians. He got to know a local millionaire, Lester Waters, who invited him to parties at which he remembers many teenage boys being present.

Sanchez-Guzman met Singer at one of those parties, held on a yacht in 2003, when he was 17. Later that evening, Sanchez-Guzman says Singer raped him. When he told Waters, he says, Waters said he should feel lucky. Sanchez-Guzman sued Singer in 2017; the suit is currently on hold as Sanchez-Guzman goes through bankruptcy proceedings.

Another man, Victor Valdovinos, says he was 13 when his father dropped him off on the set of Singer’s film Apt Pupil, where he was to be an extra. A crew member told him to take off all of his clothes and wrap himself in a towel, he said. As he waited, naked, for hours in a locker room, Singer entered the room repeatedly to molest him, Valdovinos told the Atlantic.

Valdovinos’s father said that “he remembers dropping him off for the filming and thinking that perhaps his son would become an actor,” French and Potter write. Singer’s lawyer said he could not find a record of Valdovinos serving as an extra in Apt Pupil.

A third man, referred to in the Atlantic story as Ben, says he was kicked out by his family at age 16 and met Singer shortly after. When he was either 17 or 18, he says, Singer, who would have been in his early 30s, convinced him to have oral sex by claiming he was sick and needed someone to “tuck him in.”

“I was a fat kid, and socially awkward,” he told the Atlantic. “But then I was getting all this attention. It led me to believe that was the way it’s supposed to be — that the way to get attention is to be sexual.”

At first, according to French and Potter, he thought the sex was fun, but over time, he realized he was being used.

A fourth man, identified as Andy, says he was 14 when he met Marc Collins-Rector, the founder of an entertainment startup focused on gay teens. They had oral sex, Andy said, and Collins-Rector “ingratiated himself with Andy’s mom” — he told the Atlantic that “she saw Collins-Rector as a successful man who had taken him under his wing, someone who could be a role model for a son with an absent father.”

On a visit to Collins-Rector, Andy says he met and had sex with Singer. He was 15; Singer would have been about 31.

A fifth man, identified as Eric, says he graduated from high school early, moved to Los Angeles, and at 17 was being “passed around like a party favor” by older men. He met Singer at a party at Singer’s house, he told the Atlantic, and the two had sex. They continued to have sex on and off for five years, he said.

“I never want people to think of me as a victim, so I always put up the front of ‘I’m good. I was in charge.’ But I spent a decade in therapy trying to figure out if what happened was bad or not bad,” he told the Atlantic. “What I’ve decided is that adults are supposed to look out for kids.”

Another man, Bret Tyler Skopek, does not accuse Singer of assault or coercion. But his account of his experiences is illuminating. He says he met Singer when he was 18, after moving to Los Angeles in the hopes of becoming an actor. The two began having sex, and Skopek says Singer offered him career help, including a potential X-Men audition that never materialized. (Singer denies this.)

During this time, Skopek says, he wasn’t making enough money working at a restaurant to afford a place to live; when he wasn’t staying with Singer, he would stay with friends or at a homeless shelter. But, he says, his family was excited about his connection with the famous director: “I had my grandparents saying, ‘Keep making contacts like that; that’s so awesome.’ ”

Ultimately, Skopek told the Atlantic, he grew tired of feeling used, and moved to Texas, where he self-published a book about his experiences called The Prince of Darkness.

Singer has denied the allegations in the Atlantic article. “This story rehashes claims from bogus lawsuits filed by a disreputable cast of individuals willing to lie for money or attention,” he said in a statement, calling the story a “homophobic smear piece” meant to take advantage of the success of Bohemian Rhapsody.

The allegations against Singer are part of a pattern

The story of young, vulnerable people sexually exploited by a powerful man has become disturbingly familiar in the #MeToo era. For example, the allegations against Singer in the Atlantic article in many ways mirror allegations against high-powered money manager Jeffrey Epstein.

Singer is accused of preying on boys and young men, some of them on their own for the first time, others with families who actively encouraged his connection with them because they hoped it would help their sons’ careers. Epstein, meanwhile, served 13 months in jail and had to register as a sex offender in connection with allegations that he abused dozens of underage girls between 2001 and 2006, according to Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald.

“Most of the girls came from disadvantaged families, single-parent homes or foster care,” Brown writes. “Some had experienced troubles that belied their ages: They had parents and friends who committed suicide; mothers abused by husbands and boyfriends; fathers who molested and beat them. One girl had watched her stepfather strangle her 8-year-old stepbrother, according to court records obtained by the Herald.”

Epstein has said any encounters with his accusers were consensual, and that he believed they were 18.

Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, meanwhile, sexually abused girls and women for decades. Many tried to report the abuse, but nothing was done — perhaps in part because those making the reports were young and female. Nassar has been sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in prison, in addition to a previous 60-year sentence for child pornography.

Singer R. Kelly has also been accused of abusing young women and girls. Many of the women who have spoken out about him have been black, making them less likely to be taken seriously in a culture that still devalues the experiences of black women.

“When black girls and women go ignored by everyone from family members to teachers to news outlets and the media, perpetrators of violence against us feel emboldened to continue treating us abusively,” Feminista Jones wrote at Vox. “They are comfortable knowing they won’t face the same scrutiny and backlash as they might if they abuse white women because our lives aren’t valued as much.”

Kelly has denied allegations of sexual assault.

The men and women who have come forward to report abuse by these men say they were targeted when they were vulnerable — because they were young, poor, alone, or because their very identities made them less likely to be believed. According to many of them, this targeting was no accident. Sexual predators often seek out people who may be too powerless to resist them, and too marginalized to be taken seriously when they try to speak about their experiences — if they can even bring themselves to speak at all.

Bryan Singer has never been charged with a crime, and one lawsuit against him collapsed amid inconsistencies in the plaintiff’s account of events. But the men interviewed by French and Potter almost universally tell stories of being young and disempowered in some way, then being exploited sexually by a man who held all the power — and knew it.

Sanchez-Guzman told the Atlantic that after Singer raped him, he “approached me wearing this grotesque smile. Like he was laughing.”

Singer told him not to tell anyone about the incident, Sanchez-Guzman said, because “nobody is going to believe you.”

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