Content note: This piece contains detailed descriptions of sexual assault as outlined in court documents.
It seems that each day brings new instances of women accusing powerful men of having harassed, abused, and assaulted them.
The reports of Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator have opened a gusher of allegations from people who have experienced sexual mistreatment from other men in the fields of entertainment, news, academia, politics, and countless others. These come after high-profile accounts of abuse by men in Silicon Valley, and of course, the current resident of the White House.
Part of what made Weinstein’s abuses so disturbing and enraging was that his predations were not only tolerated and joked about, but apparently facilitated by his employees, associates, and peers. Assistants booked hotel rooms for him, and allegedly delivered unsuspecting women into his trap. Male actors and producers heard the whispers, but did nothing. Hosts at red carpet events joked about his abuses.
The fact that this scandal was effectively hiding in plain site is, however, not unusual when it comes to allegations of sexual abuse by powerful men. Indeed, shortly after the Weinstein stories first broke, lists began circulating online that simply catalogued the names of other powerful men who had been the subject of credible reports of sexual abuse.
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Perusing those lists, one is reminded that women have spent years making the difficult choice to come forward with allegations, only to be attacked, pilloried, and ignored. What’s striking is how many of these allegations are contained in court documents, alongside the strong suggestion that evidence and more witnesses were available to corroborate them.
To take one example from one of these lists, Rewire read a complaint filed in 2010 by a 23-year-old Los Angeles woman who alleged that she was sexually assaulted and harassed by Steven Seagal, the action movie star whose career hit its zenith in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with hits like Above the Law and Under Siege.
More recently, though Seagal’s stardom has waned, he continues to produce movies, with seven credits last year alone. In addition, he has become a prominent defender of President Donald Trump, weighing in on the NFL “take the knee” controversy on Trump’s side in a live interview from Moscow in September. He is also close to Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, disputing claims that Arpaio is a racist.
While we are moving through the Weinstein “moment,” it’s worthwhile looking again at the allegations that have been made against so many other powerful, prominent men—allegations that didn’t seem to land with the force they might have had they come to light during the current reckoning.
At the time, the coverage of the allegations against Seagal generally framed them as a celebrity sex scandal between a washed-up movie star and a wannabe model, calling it a “sex toy lawsuit.” The case was ultimately dismissed at the request of the plaintiff after motions for the parties to enter into arbitration, according to the court file.
The facts alleged in the complaint, however, make for disturbing reading: much graver than what was effectively treated as a tabloid spat.
The woman, then a 23-year-old Los Angeles resident named Kayden Nguyen, alleged that Seagal committed “vicious” sexual assaults, including forcing his hand into her vagina until she sobbed in fear, pain, and distress.
The complaint also paints a picture of an organization—Seagal’s production company—in which up to a dozen people were aware of the attacks as they were occurring, and either did nothing to stop them, or actively helped Seagal in his abuses.
On a Friday morning in February 2010, Nguyen responded to a Craigslist ad for an “executive/personal assistant” position which included the detail that the assistant would be working “on a reality t.v. show in New Orleans” as well as from the Los Angeles home office of the boss.
Within hours, a man named Binh Dang—identified in the complaint as an executive at Seagal’s company, Steamroller Productions—replied to Nguyen, asking for her phone number. He then called Nguyen and told her that the position was to work for Steven Seagal, and that the “job entailed standard clerical duties such as filing, scheduling, and answering telephones.”
Dang allegedly said that the next step would be for Seagal to interview Nguyen the following Monday.
Like so many in Los Angeles, Nguyen had dreams of stardom. She was an aspiring model, and believed that working as an executive assistant to a Hollywood star was her “dream job,” according to the complaint.
Nguyen received a call that Monday from a man named Shaun Fischer, who was in his last week as Seagal’s executive assistant, according to the complaint. Fischer allegedly told Nguyen that if she got the job, they would need her to “hop on a plane right after” the interview to travel to New Orleans, where the production company was shooting Steven Seagal: Lawman.
When Nguyen met Seagal, he allegedly told her, “I like you, so we’re going to keep you. We’ll send a driver to your house so you can drop off your car.”
Nguyen was chauffeured to her house in a limousine, where she “spent about three minutes packing whatever she could throw in her suitcase.”
The limo then sped toward the airport, where Seagal’s private jet was waiting. When she arrived, Fischer allegedly said, “You aren’t allowed to speak about Steven Seagal. You cannot tell anyone, not even your family, who you are working for or what you are doing, do you understand me?”
Onboard were several executives and employees of companies connected to Seagal’s television work, according to the complaint.
In addition to Fischer, the complaint alleges that an executive producer named Simon Hobbs was a passenger in the jet. Curiously, a woman named Vanessa Johnson was also on the plane; Johnson was apparently Fischer’s replacement as Seagal’s executive assistant—the job that Nguyen thought she had been hired to perform.
And there was a young Russian woman, believed by Nguyen to be about 19 years old, identified by the pseudonym “Sasha” in the complaint. Sasha was introduced as Seagal’s “attendant.” According to Nguyen, she would later learn that Sasha was one of two young Russians that Seagal “employed” for what the complaint refers to as “sex on demand.”
As the plane was taking off, Seagal allegedly turned to Nguyen and said, “I’m a family man, and I live with my wife, but she wouldn’t care if you were my lover.”
The complaint states Nguyen soon learned that, while all the male employees and the executive assistant, Johnson, would be staying in separate housing, she would be required to live in a secluded residence on the outskirts of New Orleans with Seagal, his wife, his baby, a nanny, and the two Russian sex-on-demand “attendants”—”Sasha” and another young woman with the pseudonym “Natasha.”
The group arrived at the residence very late on Monday night, or in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
What followed was nearly a week of repeated assaults, harassment, and refusal to allow Nguyen to leave the secluded house, according to the complaint.
Several of the alleged assaults occurred under the pretext of requesting that Nguyen perform “massages” for Seagal. Nguyen had a qualification in therapeutic massage, and believed that this request could be in keeping with her professional duties, according to the complaint.
On the first night they were there, Nguyen was attempting to perform a therapeutic massage when, she said, Seagal “dragged her head to his bare chest” and then “grabbed her leg, put it over his body, and forced his hand down her bare buttocks.”
Nguyen pushed herself away from him, at which point, according to the complaint, Seagal said, “Relax, we won’t do anything special tonight.” As she left the room, Nguyen said he added, “Remember confidentiality. You aren’t allowed to tell anybody, including your family anything about me.”
The next day, Nguyen reported the alleged assault to Fischer, whose response was “evasive,” according to the complaint. Fischer agreed to relay her concerns to Dang and Seagal.
That night, Seagal again allegedly requested a massage from Nguyen and “Sasha.” According to the complaint, Nguyen believed that Fischer had relayed her protests to Seagal, and so she agreed to give him another massage.
After about an hour, Seagal ordered “Sasha” to leave the room, and “began a vicious sexual attack on Ms. Nguyen,” according to the complaint:
Mr. Seagal held her right foot down with his leg, and pushed her left knee up with his right hand. Mr. Seagal then forced his hand into Ms. Nguyen’s vagina. As Ms. Nguyen began sobbing, Mr. Seagal became sexually aroused and had a unique physiological reaction to sexual arousal.
The complaint does not describe Seagal’s allegedly “unique” response to sexual arousal.
Over the course of the following days, according to the complaint, Nguyen was again assaulted, all while she complained to other employees and executives who evaded her phone calls and failed to assist her. She learned that Vanessa Johnson had been hired as Seagal’s new executive assistant at least a week before she had even applied for the same role. Nguyen confronted Dang about this, according to the complaint, telling him: “You hired me as an Executive Assistant, and lied to me about the job.”
The complaint alleges that Nguyen said she wanted to leave the house and return to Los Angeles, and that multiple employees and executives of the production companies were aware of her requests. It claims that she was instead “required” to remain living in the same house with Seagal. “Ms Nguyen had no money, no plane ticket back to Los Angeles, and no means to get away from the house,” the complaint reads. “Her pleas to Mr. Dang and Mr. Fischer to go back to Los Angeles fell on deaf ears. Her pleas to Mr. Seagal to stop the sexual assaults only made them worse.”
By the following Sunday, Nguyen had contacted friends in Alabama and asked them to come to meet her in New Orleans. Because of the remote location of the house, Nguyen claimed that it took several hours to coax a taxi driver to come to pick her up at the house.
According to the complaint, when a cab pulled into the driveway at close to 11 p.m. that night, “Mr. Seagal followed Ms. Nguyen to the cab, carrying a flashlight with a gun attached to it,” and that he then shone the flashlight in the driver’s face before the cab pulled away.
In her haste to leave, Nguyen left behind her car keys, laptop computer, clothing, and makeup.
By the following afternoon, Nguyen said, a deluge of calls and text messages from Fischer, Dang, and Johnson commenced, allegedly asking her to come back to the house and sign a release promising not to sue over the assaults. The complaint also alleges that the employees said that Seagal would not give back Nguyen’s personal property unless she came back and signed the release.
The complaint, which was filed in April of the same year—two months after the alleged events—sought at least $1 million in damages, but also included a request for punitive damages against the defendants, which included Seagal, the production companies, their employees, as well as unnamed defendants.
In addition to sexual assault and harassment, the complaint included a claim under California’s law against “illegal trafficking of females for sex.”
Seagal at the time denied the allegations through his attorney. In requesting that the case be withdrawn, Nguyen’s lawyers did not say whether a settlement had been reached, or specify any other reasons that the case was no longer being pursued. Nguyen’s former lawyers did not respond to Rewire’s request for comment.
In recent weeks, new allegations have surfaced from Hollywood. Inside Edition correspondent Lisa Guerrero alleged that Seagal harassed her, and actress Katherine Heigl gave an interview with Jimmy Kimmel in which she said that Seagal told her, when she had just turned 16, that he had “girlfriends” her age. During that interview, Heigl and Kimmel joked about Seagal’s comments, before Kimmel produced a photograph in which Seagal appears to be touching the teenage Heigl’s breast.