By Miriam Raftery
File photo, left: CYT’s 2014 performance of Les Miserables on Mt. Helix
July 23, 2020 (El Cajon) – Christian Youth Theater (CYT) a national junior theater organization based in El Cajon, is now in the spotlight over allegations by former students of sexual abuse and racism dating back decades.
The organization established 40 years ago in El Cajon formerly managed the East County Performing Arts Center (now the Magnolia), held summer camps and classes, across our region, and has performed at numerous local venues ranging from public schools to the amphitheater atop Mt. Helix.
“There are multiple perpetrators and numerous victims,” attorney Jessica Pride told NBC 7 news. She is representing two women who say they were molested and harassed by teachers at CYT. “In one case, the abuse started in 2006 and didn’t end until 2008,” she said. NBC reports that some former students in contact with the media outlet have reported abuse as far as the 1980s both on and off of CYT’s East County campuses.
Pride said that instructors reportedly commented to the female students about their physical development, appearance and “how they’d like them to wear certain panties.”
10 News reports that more than 10 additional victims have come forward with complaints after a student posted allegations of sexual abuse at CYT on Facebook.
None of the complaints made public thus far are against any current instructors.
Pride has accused CYT of covering up crimes. “CYT knew of the abuse for years and they created an environment that not only fostered it, btu allowed for it to happen and then brushed it under the rug.”
CYT leader Janie Russell Cox posted on Facebook, “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. We have been working tirelessly on these issues with the authorities, outside consultants, staff, and the board of directors since they were bought to our attention.”
Russell Cox told ECM news partner NBC 7 that CY plans to hold a press conference in the next few days.
San Diego Police Department has confirmed to local media that its sex crimes unit is investigating.
Loxie Grant, an advocate who works with victims of sexual assault, is urging any other victims to come forward and contact her at Loxie@forbelleconsulting.com or (858) 382-5694.
Besides sexual misconduct, several former students have accused CYT of allowing bullying, discrimination against LGBTQ youths, and racial bias, according to multiple local media reports.
Charnette Batey is a former CYT student and actress who went on to perform in Broadway plays, including Hamilton. In a video statement, she indicated she was never given a leading role, even when a role was written for a black woman.
“I didn’t have money, and I wasn’t a big CYT rich family,” she said, adding, “I was skipped over and it was given to a white person…I was never celebrated or recognized until I found success outside of CYT and outside of the color of my skin.”