(WASHINGTON POST) - For decades, actor Steven Seagal has cultivated numerous images: the macho star of dozens of action movies, a martial arts expert turned vigilante cop, a would-be blues musician and an alleged Tibetan Buddhist guru leading New Age retreats.
In recent months, however, Seagal is facing scrutiny for an entirely different reason: as a Hollywood figure accused by multiple people of sexual misconduct.
On Monday (Mar 19), two more women came forward to voice claims that Seagal had sexually assaulted them, allegedly when one was 17 and the other 18. Both of them said they had struggled for years over whether to publicise their accusations but said they felt emboldened by other victims who had spoken out since last fall - including against Seagal - as part of the #MeToo movement.
One, Regina Simons, alleged that Seagal had raped her in 1993 when she was 18. At an emotional news conference Monday, Simons - an extra in Seagal's 1994 film On Deadly Ground - detailed how the actor had invited her to what was supposed to be a wrap party at his house more than two decades ago.
She arrived to find no one else there, Simons said. Seagal reportedly told her everyone else had left the party, then led her to a bedroom."He closed the door and approached me from behind. He started kissing my neck and taking off my clothes," Simons said Monday, at times taking deep breaths before she could continue.
"I was in shock. I was completely caught off guard. Seagal was more than twice my size and twice my age. I was not sexually active nor had I ever been naked in front of a man before. I froze."
Through tears, Simons described how Seagal allegedly took his robe off, then raped her."There was nothing consensual about this," Simons said. "I couldn't move and I felt as if I was watching my body from above. I felt tears coming down my face."
When Seagal finished, Simons said she dressed as quickly as possible: "He put his hand on the door and asked me if I needed any money. I said no and ran for the door, got in my car and drove away. I cried the entire way home."
Despite Seagal calling her the next day and then making several attempts to contact her, Simons said she never spoke with him again.
As Simons spoke Monday, another woman, Faviola Dadis, stood to the side and nodded encouragingly. At one point, as Simons choked back tears, Dadis told her quietly, "You can do this."
Dadis, too, had a story to tell about an alleged encounter with Seagal. When she was 17, she said, she auditioned for a role in a film about Genghis Khan that Seagal was directing. (The "vanity project" was never produced, according to the Guardian.) Dadis had recently moved from the Netherlands to Los Angeles and, at the time, was modelling and recording background vocals for a group of musicians.
"I was beyond excited to have a chance to audition for a role in one of his films because I had grown up admiring him," she said Monday.
Dadis said her initial meetings with Seagal took place in public and didn't give her any cause for concern. The two bonded over shared interests like Buddhism and martial arts, she said, and "soon developed a friendly relationship via text and phone calls."
At one point, Seagal invited Dadis for a "private" audition, she said."He explained that he would like to evaluate my figure to see if I would be suitable for the role," Dadis said. "His assistant told me to arrive wearing a bikini or bra and panties underneath my clothing. As this is quite standard in the modelling industry, I agreed to do so."
In retrospect, she said, there were several signs that had struck her as "strange." Seagal had originally asked her to book a room at the W Hotel in Beverly Hills, but ended up booking it on his own after she told him she didn't have the money to do so, Dadis said. He also asked to meet in the evening, she added.
"I was taken up to Steven's room by his assistant who repeated to me multiple times in the elevator, 'Steven's word is as good as gold,' " Dadis said. "I thought this was a bit strange but I did not comment." There was no one else in the room except Seagal and his personal security guard, and the assistant soon left her alone with them, Dadis said.
"Steven asked me to take off my clothes - which I did, although I was nervous, considering there were no other individuals present - and to do a catwalk through the room for him," Dadis said. "I did so and Steven approached me and said that he would like to act out a romantic scene to get a sense of our chemistry."
Dadis said she told him she was uncomfortable and declined. Instead of stopping, however, Seagal then reached underneath her bikini top and groped her while simultaneously sliding his hand across her vaginal area, according to Dadis.
"I quickly yelled that this audition is over and began gathering my things," Dadis said. "Steven sat there calmly as if nothing had happened while I was noticeably upset and terrified by the experience. Steven's security guard stood blocking the doorway and only moved when Steven motioned for him to do so. I left feeling horrified and totally violated."
Representatives for Seagal did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. In January, the actor did an interview on the site Infowars, reportedly from Japan, in which he suggested that the women who had made claims against him had been paid to lie.
"This isn't just about me, because hundreds of people in Hollywood have been attacked and hundreds of people have been, in my opinion, falsely accused," Seagal told Infowars owner and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. "My opinion is that 60 percent of these people are completely innocent, and that includes me. ... In most of these cases, (the accusations are) 20, 25, 30 years old, they're not providing evidence or proof or witnesses, they're just throwing it out, and all of the sudden somebody's life is ruined."
Seagal, who did not elaborate on how he had arrived at his statistic, went on to accuse women and the "fake press" of having "a political agenda."
"When people say it's a witch hunt, it's worse than any witch hunt America's ever seen," Seagal told Jones. "This is ruining our country."
Seagal already had a history of being accused of sexual misconduct, long before exposes about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein were published last fall, as The Washington Post's Radley Balko pointed out in a column last October:"In fact, Seagal has been accused of similar behaviour by too many women to count. He was sued for sexual harassment by another of his assistants in 2001. Multiple women have also accused him of inappropriately asking for or offering sexual massages (sound familiar?), including Blair Robinson, granddaughter of Ray Charles. Robinson was hired as Seagal's assistant, then quit after her first day when she said it became clear that sexual flavors would be part of the job. Another woman accused him of putting his hand down her pants, then refusing to remove it until she screamed. During the filming of Segal's movie Out For Justice, four female staffers quit after alleging sexual harassment, including one 'sexual attack.'"
In 2010, a former personal assistant named Kayden Nguyen sued Seagal for US$1 million (S$1.32 million), claiming that the actor had propositioned her after she travelled with him to his Louisiana home. In the lawsuit, Nguyen alleged that Seagal attacked her repeatedly and treated her as a "sex toy" over a six-day period while staying in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, where the actor was a commissioned deputy. Seagal's attorney at the time told CBS News that Nguyen's claims were "ridiculous" and "absurd." The case was later dismissed at Nguyen's request, though it was unclear why.
After the New York Times and the New Yorker published their reports on Weinstein, more women came forward with stories about Seagal. Inside Edition correspondent Lisa Guerrero told Newsweek that Seagal had once in the mid-1990s tried to entice her to a "private rehearsal" at his home, while dressed only in a silk robe. In early November, actress Portia de Rossi claimed on Twitter that Seagal had unzipped his pants at an unspecified audition for one of his movies.
On Monday, Dadis pinpointed de Rossi's accusation as what compelled her to finally go public. Both Simons and Dadis shared their allegations about Seagal with The Wrap, an entertainment news site, for a piece that published in January. Monday's news conference, however, was the first time either of them had spoken on camera about the allegations.
"I've seen psychologists and psychiatrists to discuss this because it is something that never goes away," said Dadis, who eventually left the film and modelling industries and returned to Amsterdam. Now 33, she is completing her PhD in clinical neuroscience there, but flew to California for Monday's news conference.
"Until you experience sexual assault yourself, it is hard to explain why it might take such a long time to go public with these very disturbing experiences," Dadis said. "I'm not driven by a desire to make money or have fame or receive anything in return for reporting this now. This is about accountability and I hope that this may help other women to have the courage to come forward also."
Simons, now 43, said the assault left her "traumatised and depressed," with difficulty eating and sleeping."This completely changed the trajectory of my life," Simons said. "I came forward to heal from this trauma."
Both women have filed police reports against Seagal, according to attorney Lisa Bloom, who is representing both Simons and Dadis pro bono. On Tuesday, an LAPD spokesman said he could not confirm that any reports had been filed but said the agency did not have an active investigation into Seagal. The Beverly Hills Police Department did not respond to calls or questions sent by email Tuesday.
Bloom said she could not speak to what repercussions Seagal would merit, compared with others who have seen their careers end in the wake of similar sexual assault allegations.
"I don't know exactly where his career is right now or where indeed he is in the world right now," Bloom said. "These are very serious allegations by a number of people. My two clients are not asking for any money; they're just asking for accountability. They were 17 and 18 years old."
She denied, however, that the case against Seagal was not getting much traction. After the news conference Monday, Bloom said she was contacted by at least two more women who wanted to come forward with allegations against the actor.
"There are a number of prominent female celebrities who have spoken out against him, but whether the victims are celebrities or not, I think it's important," Bloom said. "I think that this story is really just beginning as to him."