The dancers Sade Mamedova, Shi-Ping Lin, Elodie Lavoignat and Alfonso Fernández Sánchez during rehearsals for RAPE & CULTURE – Photo: Max Ott
“I don’t believe you”
For our production RAPE & CULTURE, we asked artists to tell us about their experiences with sexualized violence and abuse of power. This is Corinna, who actually has a different name
In the opera business, people generally like to go overboard when it comes to physical closeness. Everyone has to come to terms with this themselves up to a certain point. Sometimes you just have to say: Hey, that’s enough now. What we should talk about, however, are institutional problems, especially the institutional looking away. Because it’s no longer just about the individual.
I myself experienced a stupid story in the run-up to an international tour. We had the first rehearsal with the project orchestra. There were good people in it, some from the university, some from the radio orchestra, some people that someone had recommended. The rehearsal was in a very spacious school. I sang far away from the orchestral noise. For some reason, there was suddenly a young guy in the wing who I didn’t know.
He said he was the drummer of the project orchestra, which later turned out to be true. While I was singing, he looked at me with desire in his eyes, which you can’t blame him for at first. Anyone can do that, if it’s up to me.
Then he grabbed my arm and pulled me towards him. At first I thought, that’s interesting, I’ve never had anything like that before. I found it quite exciting at first, but I assumed that he would stop immediately. They both laugh, he leaves again and then it’s good. A joke, I thought.
But that wasn’t the case, he didn’t stop. He didn’t stop and wanted to kiss me. I turned away and said something like, “Nah, give it a rest. That’s not appropriate right now.” I would have been up for a bit of arm-grabbing and banter, but not like this.
In hindsight, you always look for the reason in yourself, which is totally stupid. The moment he tried to kiss me, I immediately said I didn’t want to. But you still look to yourself for the reason why a situation can escalate like this, for whatever reason.
With hindsight, I think I probably shouldn’t have joined in the banter. In this situation, that was obviously the completely wrong signal. He tried to kiss me. I turned away. He held me tighter. And I tried to wriggle out of it and laugh it all off.
I like to sing myself in with my recording device in my hand, from which I play exercises. I still had this recorder in my hand, so I only really had one arm free. The thing isn’t exactly cheap, I didn’t want to thunder it onto the floor and smack it. I had not yet realized the seriousness of the situation.
It went back and forth for maybe a minute. I tried to laugh it off and fend it off. Then I looked at this guy, I really can’t remember his name, I’ve completely forgotten it. I realized something was wrong. He had a look on his face as if he was half-mad. Like an animal looking for prey. That was totally weird.
That’s when I realized that drugs must be involved. He’s somehow somewhere else. No normal person looks like that, at least not in my small, stupid, white, sheltered world. That scared me.
I tried to place the recorder on a table. He started to press me against him. I tried to push him away. He started fiddling with his pants, undoing them. I was terrified and my heart was pounding.
It was particularly bad that it had such huge power. I’m actually someone with a really strong voice and a really strong body. I did martial arts for a long time and had a lot of strength, much more strength than my boyfriend. But this guy had an insane power. Maybe because he was somewhere else. I couldn’t get away from it. He just held me down.
I couldn’t talk to him rationally. I tried: “Hey, give it a rest, we’ll stop”. I argued: “Oh come on, we’re not doing this here, we’ll find somewhere cozy”. You try different strategies to get out of it, but that hasn’t made it any better. None of that worked.
I had the feeling that the more I resisted, the more strength came from him and the more he felt sexually attracted. I didn’t know what to do next. He threw me over his shoulder like a sack. Kept me there and I couldn’t get away.
I knew he wanted to take me around the corner to another part of the building. Then I have little chance of getting out of the situation without causing him lasting physical harm. Of course I would still have had options. There are the most outrageous things. Poking fingers in the eyes, hitting the ear so hard that the eardrum bursts, or biting the penis really hard.
But I tried to de-escalate the story. Today I think, if I’m in a situation like that again … I have a fatalistic side. Before someone really rapes me, I’ll think about something. I don’t care whether he lives on or is half-disabled afterwards.
But you’re also afraid when someone is not at all sane. If I seriously hurt him – will he not seriously hurt me too? He was just so much stronger. That’s why I don’t know how it would have turned out.
But the moment I was practically a sack on his shoulder and he left, the orchestra manager came and asked why I hadn’t come to rehearsal. I should have been there ten minutes earlier to sing my aria. She came to look for me. That was my luck.
I was completely exhausted. The orchestra manager was also shocked and asked what was going on. I didn’t know what to say. “He wanted to hurt me, he wanted to get into my pants, and not in a nice way.” They play it down.
I was incredibly relieved at the same time, but also in total shock. The last five minutes had been a constant battle with this guy. I still had the thought: “What if that had been a girl who didn’t have as much strength as me?” People don’t always believe me, but I’m strong. Others would not have been able to cope.
I didn’t rehearse for a while. The manager said: “You, let’s let the baritone do his thing first, you calm down, go out.” Then I sat there and slowly realized it all. That he had his pants open and had grabbed my chest, over and over again. That he had tried to kiss me everywhere. It was all insanely disgusting. That someone had just really crossed all the boundaries. That I had been super lucky and had scraped past a real rape.
Then I could tell the orchestra manager. At first she said: “Oh, that can’t be, that’s not possible, they’re all sensible people here”. I shouldn’t exaggerate so much. “It won’t have been that wild after all”. But I knew her a bit privately and said: “Yes, it wasn’t flirting, it wasn’t flirting, I was really scared.” And no matter what happens now, we can’t take him on tour with us. “He’s totally crazy.”
She went to him and wanted to talk to him and find out what happened. He was walking around the school. That’s when she realized that he wasn’t sane, a crazy look, completely shot through.
She believed me and said we had to find a way of not taking the drummer with us without making a big fuss. She was very keen to make sure that everything was sorted out under the table. That, if at all possible, nobody notices and that he then just disappears somehow and the problems resolve themselves.
I had the feeling that I was out of the woods. I pulled myself together and kept rehearsing. He wasn’t at the rehearsal, but walked around outside the school, there were three other drummers in the orchestra.
After the rehearsal, I spoke to the conductor together with the orchestra manager. That was the big thing. That he said: “I don’t believe you.” He said he didn’t see any point in doing without the drummer, he needed him. He wouldn’t put it past me to go around the corner with someone. “You don’t have to overdramatize such events among young people.” He could not take this seriously in his position. That’s what he said.
But we kept talking until he said he would talk to him again. I thought, all right, then the conductor will see for himself that the guy is a total buffoon.
The next day I came back to the rehearsal – and there he was. The guy in the orchestra. That can’t be right? Why do I come to the rehearsal and nobody tells me anything?
I went to the conductor first and said: “Did I miss something? You wanted to talk to him, didn’t you?” – “Yes, I didn’t have time yet.” – “That’s not possible. I’m not rehearsing here.” – “Don’t be like that, you divas, you sopranos…” – “I don’t want to be in a room with him. I can’t stand it, what are you doing?” Then he said: “Okay, I’ll talk to him during the break.” And: “Can you still pull yourself together this far?”
I actually rehearsed. And I just thought it felt totally wrong. I feel like I’m being watched by this guy and like a wild animal again. But I didn’t want to make a big fuss either. The others in the orchestra also need their rehearsal time, and it’s not long until the tour.
During the interval, the conductor talked to him and came to me afterwards: “Well, he’s realized that what he did wasn’t quite right and it won’t happen again.” Then I said: “That’s enough. Either I’m not coming, just find another soprano, or he’s not coming. That’s enough now.”
The conductor: “But that’s not possible, you can’t suddenly cancel now, we have a contract.” I responded: “Of course I can, if you don’t take my protection seriously, then I can’t go with you. I can’t be responsible for this person coming with me. If he treats me like that, then he’s also prepared to treat other women like that.”
The conductor still didn’t take me seriously: “We’d like to ask you to continue with the rehearsal and please don’t make such a fuss now.”
Then I said: “We can do it differently. I can call the police and report it here on the spot. I’ll tell them in detail. Just make up your minds.”
Our conductor was really angry. He was furious. But it was only when I brought the police into the picture that he started to believe me. In other words, it was a trifle before. Only when you say it’s something you could tell the police will you be taken seriously.
The orchestra manager and the conductor sat down together and the rehearsal was paused. They talked to the guy again and he went home. We went on tour.
I think the conductor was sorry in the end that he didn’t understand what we were trying to tell him. I can imagine that he has never experienced anything like this before. If he finds himself in such a situation again, he may be able to react more impartially. During the tour, our relationship was a little tense, not quite as relaxed as before. But that was fine. It was very professional, and that’s okay.
The girls in the orchestra, my colleagues, showed a lot of solidarity when I told them the story. There was an astonishing amount of silence from colleagues. I wouldn’t have thought so either, but that’s how it was. Except for one, that was the drummer who had recommended the guy. He came to me and said he had heard something, and what was it? He was incredibly sorry.
I didn’t report the guy, I just didn’t want to know any more about it. Then I would have had to sit opposite him again. Somehow I hope this young guy gets his act together and doesn’t do anything like that again. I’m not sure I’d recognize it today either. I painted it right, the face. I only remember what the eyes looked like.
A few weeks after this attempted rape, I had to experience another sexual assault. After that, I underwent trauma therapy, which helped me a lot. I learned something that doesn’t just affect me. Like many other young women, I used to let too many things happen to me. For the sake of goodwill, so that things don’t escalate and situations don’t boil over.
In the past, I would have laughed it off if someone put their arm around me, reached a little too far and had half their hand on my chest. Today I take my hand away and slap it on the person’s pants and say that it’s not okay. There have been situations in recent years where conductors or directors have liked to grab their buttocks. I made it clear that I didn’t want to do that – and I wasn’t hired again. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Nowadays I look around when I’m singing. Because I know that sexual violence can happen much more quickly when you are alone. A certain lightness has been lost. Perhaps we simply live in a world where you have to look around from time to time.
If you are acutely affected by violence, please contact a contact point. Possible points of contact:
Regional in Munich:
Crisis service Bavaria
: 0180 655 3000
Women’s helpline Munich
(Mon-Fri 10 am – 1 pm and 3 pm – 2 pm, except Wednesday: 10 am – 1 pm and 6 pm – 2 pm): 089 76 37 37
Wildwasser München e.V.
(Mon 10am-12pm, Wed 4pm-6pm, Thurs 2pm-4pm): 089-600 39 331
Themis Confidence Center against sexual harassment and violence
in the film, television and theater industry (Mon 10am-12pm, Wed & Thurs 10am-12pm and 3pm-5pm): 030/23 63 20 20