The Runaways—Jackie Fuchs, who went by the stagename Jackie Fox, is third from the left.
Jackie Fuchs describes her rollercoaster ride as bassist for iconic 1970s band The Runaways as “living out a dream.” The Runaways were known as an unruly, outspoken group of teenage rock-and-rollers whose manager Kim Fowley was infamously sleazy. Under the stagename Jackie Fox, Fuchs joined fellow bandmates Joan Jett, Sandy West, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie when she was just 15 years old. She quit the band in 1977, after her favorite bass was destroyed on tour in Tokyo.
Forty years after playing in the Runaways, Fuchs says she has no regrets about being in the band. But what should have been a time on top of the world had a dark side: Fuchs came forward last month to say that Kim Fowley raped her in 1976. Multiple people saw the assault take place—Fuchs herself had been knocked out by Quaaludes. Fuchs explained that the allegations against Bill Cosby and Kesha's mistreatment by the media when she discussed being raped by her producer were both motivations to come forward about her experience.
Since leaving The Runaways, Fuchs worked as a promoter in the music industry, then studied Linguistics and Italian at UCLA and received a JD from Harvard. She now works as an entertainment attorney in LA. I’m grateful to Jackie for taking the time to talk to us about how bystanders have their own unique perspectives in public attacks, her personal realizations about the rape and how she's coming to terms with Kim Fowley's death in January, leaving her unable to obtain tangible closure. Fuchs had some great insight on human nature and the truth about the effects of rape, not only on the direct victims, but on the witnesses who are touched by the violent treatment of victims.
Jackie Fuchs describing the assault on a TV show last month.
JORDANNAH ELIZABETH: In the documentary Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways you were described as a girl who had a “mouth on you.” Do you consider that as a sordid to way to describe your sharp intelligence and analytical skills?
JACKIE FUCHS: I think that remark was made by a former roadie. I think he was saying I spoke up when I didn't like things. The other girls have written about my objection to some of the ways we were treated by our management. I think he was referring to that. You'd have to ask him.
I think what I'm trying to refer to is how your high level of intelligence and brilliance was revealed later in life through your academic intelligence, but directly after leaving the band your personality, tenaciousness, and independence were frowned upon so fiercely. How did you maintain the self esteem to move forward to embark on a graduate level education?
After I left the band, I decided that I wanted to be on the business side of the music industry. That was when I discovered that there was even more sexism towards women that worked in the industry than there was against performers. At least as an artist, you had to at least get some level of respect. As a promotion person, it was horrible.
Then I went to work for a music publisher and they were great. I had a fabulous boss at Sky Hope Publishing, but I realized I wasn't being taken seriously because I was a very young woman and I'm not a particularly loud or aggressive person. I felt like I would get taken more seriously with a college degree, so I went back to school and I loved academia.
Why didn't you continue to play music publicly?
I think it was everything leading up to Japan when my bass broke. That bass was an extension of me and when it broke, I felt broken. I knew I had other options open to me and I thought why expose myself to more of this? It is just going to lead to heartache. I have great admiration for my band mates for sticking with it because the music industry was not very kind and welcoming to women in the mid 70s. I'm sure they took a lot of abuse for being female.
I think there is a great deal of racism in the music industry as well and I don't think the sexism and racism is always conscious. It's just that people in the music industry who have always done things in a certain way see a female artist or a Black artist they think “We don't have to give them as good of a deal.” I think there's this unconscious thing [in them] that says “Oh, they'll work for less.”
You just described patriarchy. Do you think there is a similarity between Kim Fowley's manipulation tactics and the systematic tactics that are used by the patriarchy to dominate others in society?
I think Kim treated us the way he did because that was who he was, but I do think because of the nature of the music industry, he was able to get away with it. Other people in the music industry were handing out drugs and sleeping with teenage girls where it was “consensual” [Jackie requested consensual be put in quotation marks]. I didn't know this at the time but people knew what Kim was doing in general. I don't know whether they knew about [my] rape but there were so many reasons why I never came forward. One of the reasons was I had never heard of him doing what he did to me to anyone else, so I thought that even though he was verbally abusive and a thief that my situation was just a “one off.”
Why do you think you were singled out?
I'll never know if I was the intended victim. We were playing at a youth club in Garden Grove, so it was all under-aged people. It might be that he planned to meet somebody there and the parents in Garden Grove were a little more protective than the parents in Hollywood and his plan just didn't work out. I will never know, but one thing I do know that I didn't 40 years ago is that it wasn't something stupid I did that Kim took advantage of. It was an intentional act.
If I would have know that 40 years ago, what happened after [the rape] would have been different. Although even then, I was so full of shame and I still wanted to be in the music industry. I didn't speak up for fear that not only would it be taken away from me, but from my band mates.
That's a very mature thought process for such a young woman. You were trying to be protective of people you thought were your family and of your job.
I think people need to understand that in the mid 70s it was not very easy to put a band together or be in a band if you were a woman. We were very young women. If I would have broken up The Runaways by coming forward, we couldn't have gone on without someone there to promote us in some way. I don't think we would have hung together because I think the incident would have broken us apart regardless.
In Edgeplay, there were a lot of accounts from the band members speaking of their friendships and alliances within the band, but in this conversation, you speak like you thought of the band as a unit.
I think in any band, there are always people who you are going to be closer to than others, but there was something about the five of us that balanced each other out and it was a glue that held us all together. I can't tell you what it was, but let's just call it a “collective charisma”. There was just something that worked with that particular line up.
I don't think I've ever thought about it in terms of are we a “unit”, I think I just saw all of the relationships. I think I'm the kind of person that likes to protect people. I was protecting myself by not coming forward, but I also knew it wasn't all about me.
Do you ever regret walking into the initial rehearsal to be in The Runaways?
No. I was living out a dream. I regret being raped and some of the treatment we had at the hands of the press, there was so much that was great about that time. We had amazing fans and we still do.
You've expressed that the first public allegation against Bill Cosby inspired you to come forward about your assault at the hands of your manager, Kim Fowley. Walk me through the process you went through to actually take the steps to share your story with the world?
There were a number of things that happened all at the same time: one was reading Kari Krome's account in Evelyn McDonnell's book, Queens of Noise. It was the first time I had read an account of my rape that really sounded true to me, and it started bring all these emotions including thinking about how my rape had affected the people that witnessed it.
One of the things on my bucket list is to get a science fiction story published. I decided to write a story from the perspective of the kids from the Sierra Leone who were forced into rebel armies and were terribly abused. It is from the point of view of someone who witnesses a military sergeant beating up one of the recruits and everyone stands around and watches. We were trying to get into the head of what it's like for a bystander to witness an act of violence and live with the fact that they have done nothing.
It started dislodging a few memories I had from that night and I started thinking about them for the first time in 40 years. I started wondering how could a room full of people watch what happened to me and not do anything to stop it. I started Googling “Bystanders” and “rape” and I learned about the bystander effect. With that, I started directing my anger to where it belonged, which was toward the man who raped me.
The first thing I did was try to get together with him to talk to him about it. I didn't think I would get an apology, but I nevertheless hoped for one because I knew I needed to get to a place of forgiveness for myself.
What happened when you tried to reach out to Kim Fowley and discuss the rape?
I never got that chance. Before he died, I talked to a lawyer to find out if there was a possibility of bringing a civil suit so long after the event. The lawyer I went to, who normally represents criminal defendants, was really great with me and he thought I had a case. He suggested I write a book but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to talk to Kim, but before we could draft a complaint, he died.
How did you feel when you got the news that he died?
I was quite angry. I was just coming to terms with what had happened to me for the first time ever. Around that time, not only were a lot of Bill Cosby accusers coming forward but Kesha had come forward and accused her former producer, Dr Luke, of drugging and sexually assaulting her. I looked at the way the media was treating her allegations and how they were just pointing out the evidence against her, asking why someone would stay friendly with someone who raped or abused her. They didn't look at it from her point of view at all. It just sickened me.
I thought to myself, I was raped in a case where there is no “he said, she said” because there were so many people who witnessed it, and I didn't do any drugs, so it's hard to blame the victim. But even if someone got drunk voluntarily and was raped—making a poor choice doesn't give someone a license to rape.
So, this is the time when you decided to go public with your story?
I've never seen a story that tied together what it's like to be a victim of rape and what it's like for bystanders to witness rape, so I called Huffington Post and told them I would like to tell my story but the story can't just be about me, it has to include the bystanders. Jason [Cherkis] did an amazing job.
A week after your Huffington Post story was published, a story emerged where a man was stabbed to death in a DC Metro Station and several people watched and stood by while he was being murdered. What have you learned about the “bystander effect” as you prepared to tell your story?
We would all like to think if we saw something horrible happen, we could jump in and do something. The truth is even people who are really good and really moral when actually placed in that situation, it's difficult to act. We're not taught what to do. In my case, it's possible that the people who saw what was happening didn't exactly understand what was going on.
There's also something called “diffusion of responsibility” and it's been shown in study after study that the more people witness an act like that, the less likely anyone is to intervene. If I'd been raped in front of two people, there's a much better chance they would have done something to stop him. I think it's programmed in our DNA to not go against the tribe.
What should a person do if they are witnessing an attack on someone who is surrounded by a group of people?
I had a nice talk with Dr. Dorothy Edwards from Green Dot, an organization that educates people on becoming active bystanders. They go out on campuses, they go through scenarios to teach people the things they can do to help others who are being hurt. In my case, maybe someone who was there could have walked in the room and created a distraction and said, “I just heard next door that someone is going to call the police.” Kim was so scared to be caught with an underaged girl, that would have stopped it from happening. But nobody knew to do that.