It was 2002, and I was covering the controversy surrounding one of the city’s hippest hangouts, the Loring Bar. The landlord of the building and restaurant owner Jason McLean were feuding, and there was an attempt to evict the restaurant from the building, just across from Loring Park.
After one of my stories, a young woman called me and asked if I would have coffee with her. It’s about McLean, she said.
I told her I knew why she was calling.
I had received another call, from a different woman, back when I covered an attempt to unionize the Loring. The woman said she called me because my stories about McLean, a kind of darling of the creative class at the time, seemed fair. She told me she had been sexually assaulted by McLean as a teen, when she was a student at Children’s Theatre Company. She didn’t want to come forward, she just wanted someone to know, in case there were ever similar accusations.
Now there are.
Three women have accused McLean of sexually assaulting them, and they are suing CTC and McLean in civil court. Their attorney is Jeff Anderson, who has successfully sued the Catholic Church for millions of dollars over sex abuse claims against priests.
McLean’s attorney, Jon Hopeman, has denied the claims and promised to vigorously defend McLean. Hopeman said the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigated the claims back in 1984 and dismissed them. No charges were filed.
The Children’s Theatre Company, which is also being sued by five alleged victims, issued a statement after the first lawsuit that read: “Any abuse of a child is a terrible act; it goes against everything we believe in as professionals and as human beings. We stand with the victims of abuse in their desire to see justice done and to have the truth be known.” But it also said the suits were “misdirected.”
Last week, some alleged victims of sexual abuse and their supporters called for a boycott of McLean’s businesses, the Varsity Theater and Loring Pasta Bar. The reality is some people, long aware of rumors, have quietly boycotted his businesses for years.
But rumors of those allegations have now gone public because of the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations on old abuse cases. The law was passed in 2013 to allow legal action against the Catholic Church and clergy. The act will expire in May.
Molly Burke, one of the attorneys for the women, said their suits “wouldn’t have been possible but because of the law. It’s also a different culture now” that makes victims feel more empowered to come forward. Burke said they have talked to other possible victims but have not yet filed suit in those cases.
I don’t know whether the two women I interviewed are among those who are now coming forward.
When I met the second woman who called me back in 2002 at a coffee shop near downtown Minneapolis, she was nervous and frightened and said she did not want her name used in any story. There was no way for me to confirm the stories at the time. I encouraged the women to seek help and go to the police. One said she already had, but the statute of limitations had passed. The two women told stories very much like the allegations in the lawsuits.
When I told Burke about my interviews with the women years ago, she said it reminded her of the scene in “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the massive clergy abuse scandal. In the scene, the reporters finally realize the scope of the small stories they had reported previously. Nobody at the time acknowledged the extent of the problem of child abuse.
“It was all of us” who missed the larger picture, Burke said. “It was the theater community, it was adults, it was the reporters, it was all of us.”
Rosy Simas is the former CTC student who encouraged the boycott in an open letter posted on social media. In her post, she acknowledged the long-simmering issue that has run through both the theater and restaurant community for so long:
“This won’t be the first time I have spoken out about this. As many of my friends and family know, I have been vocal about the abuses at CTC for the last 30 years. But in the light of the truth others are revealing about their abuse — I think I might now actually be listened to.
“The BCA had a general attitude that the students were unwilling to cooperate with the investigation which eventually led to the failure of most of the abusers to be prosecuted.”
The women I’ve interviewed, both years ago and today, all talk about a cultlike atmosphere and intense pressure to keep quiet. The alleged perpetrators begged them not to ruin their lives, the women said.
In an e-mail from Alaska, the most recent woman to file suit over alleged abuse at CTC, Melissa Beneke, said she’s seen some backlash against the women after the calls for a boycott.
“It saddened, but didn’t surprise me, that people were blaming the victims for not coming out about him at the time,” Beneke wrote. “I’m not sure if those people understand that we were children and under an extreme amount of pressure from our abusers not to tell. It was so much bigger than was reported in 1984 and 1985.”
As the first woman to come forward, Laura Stearns Adams, said at a news conference: “This story has been at the door clawing to be told for decades.”