Former students at the Christian Youth Theater in El Cajon say teachers molested them while they attended the theater school.
What started out as a Facebook post from a single Christian Youth Theater (CYT) alum has cascaded into dozens of similar allegations from former students who say teachers sexually groomed or discriminated against them.
NBC 7 is not posting those messages as they were victims of sexual abuse.
Christian Youth Theater is a national after-school theater company with a location in El Cajon, and chapters across the country. According to those former students that NBC 7 Investigates spoke to, the abuse dated back to the 1980s and occurred on and off the East County campus. None of the victims that NBC 7 spoke with reported any allegations with a current CYT employee.
But an attorney for some of the victims says that doesn’t mean abuse wasn’t rampant at the theater school.
“There are multiple perpetrators who molested numerous children at CYT,” said attorney Jessica Pride, who represents two former students and has been in touch with multiple others.
“Child sex abuse is a death sentence,” said Pride, a specialist in cases of child sex assault and other sex crimes. “Research shows that once a child has been molested in their formative years, it is something they grapple with for the rest of their lives. Survivors have options - they can contact police to put perps behind bars to make sure they can’t hurt more children. Survivors can also contact a lawyer to get resources – money – to pay for lifetime of therapy and to hold CYT accountable.”
Pride says she believes school administrators knew about the abuse.
“CYT knew of the abuse for years and they created an environment that not only fostered it but allowed for it to happen and then brushed it under the rug,” added Pride.
NBC 7 contacted Christian Youth Theater president, Janie Russell Cox, for a statement on the allegations.
Russell Cox said the school plans to hold a news conference in the coming days, and that, “We are working together with a diverse, professional team, and staying within the legal boundaries during these critical hours.”
In a Facebook post after the allegations surfaced, Russell Cox wrote, “We are deeply saddened to learn about the statements that have recently been made on social media involving former CYT students, and we want you to know that we take these allegations very seriously.”
But a response on social media is not enough for some former alumni. They say sexual misconduct was one of many issues at the East County theater school.
Loxie Gant is a CYT alumni who now works with victims of sexual abuse.
“It’s been sort of a communal reckoning of things that people experienced as children, be it instances of racism, LGBTQ discrimination, sexual abuse or even just misconduct – things that weren’t appropriate. They’re all sort of coming forward at the same time,” Gant told NBC 7.
Gant says she and the victims she spoke to took issue with CYT’s statement on social media. “The word ‘allegation,’ the word ‘learn,’ the word ‘listening,’ was really hard. The victims felt the statement was very disingenuous and that they weren’t being believed.”
Charnette Batey is another former CYT student. Since attending the school in the early 2000s, Batey has performed in Broadway plays including Hamilton.
Batey says that while she was not a victim of any sexual abuse, she witnessed teachers acting in an inappropriate manner with younger female students.
Batey says for her, the problems involved racial discrimination at CYT.
“I was the only black girl involved in the shows,” Batey told NBC 7. “It was clear to me that diversity was not a priority. Instead I was a token, a ‘random black girl.’
Batey said examples of the discrimination came in the roles she was given to play.
“At CYT I wasn’t given leading roles. I didn’t have money, and I wasn’t a big CYT rich family. When there was a leading role that could have been for a Black I wasn’t “good enough” I was skipped over and it was given to a white person. I remember having a line in a show called Snoopy. My line was, ‘aren't the clouds beautiful Charlie Brown? They look like big balls of cotton.“
Added the performer, “They never celebrated me as a black child, they never worked to include or to advocate for diversity. I was never celebrated or recognized until I found success outside of CYT. and outside of the color of my skin.”
Watch Batey’s full statement in the video below.