Actor Ben Vereen is the latest celebrity to be accused of sexually abusive behavior, according to a report in the New York Daily News that came out on Friday.
Two young actresses are now saying that Vereen played sexual abuse like a game when they worked with the Tony winner in 2015 at a community theater production of “Hair” that took place outside of Tampa, Florida. Vereen reportedly forced unwanted kisses and aggressively hugged them, “stripped naked during an acting exercise and made degrading comments about their weight, sex appeal and personal lives,” the report said.
Two of the actresses told the Daily News that Vereen, then 69 years old, lured them to his Florida rental home on separate occasions in September 2015 under the pretense of “private rehearsals.”
Kaitlyn Terpstra was 22 years old at the time. The other actress, who asked to be identified by only her first name, Kim, was 23 years old when Vereen talked both of them into getting naked in his hot tub.
Vereen did not deny the accusations. “I would like to apologize directly to the female cast members of the musical ‘Hair’ for my inappropriate conduct when I directed the production in 2015,” he said.
“He gave this whole speech about how nudity was not inherently sexual. ‘That’s not what it’s about.’ He made me feel that if I wasn’t mature enough to understand that, I wasn’t mature enough to be in ‘Hair,’” Terpstra told The News.
“He basically told both of us, ‘Get over yourself. Nudity doesn’t have to be sexual.’ If we asked questions or hesitated, we were the ones making it weird,” Kim said.
Once they got into the hot tub, Vereen began playing head games with the women as he got them to talk about their emotional triggers.
“He was acting as my mentor, asking me about my parents, then that same night, he put me on his lap while I was crying, and I felt his erection,” Terpstra recalled.
“He asked me, ‘Feel that?’ It was terrifying. I said, ‘Feel what?’ I wanted to act like I didn’t. I pushed myself off with a laugh. Then later, he asked, ‘Do you think I want to f–k you?’ I said ‘Yes,’ and he got angry. He said, ‘Well, I don’t, and that’s unfortunate.’ He made me feel like I had my mind in the gutter.”
Vereen went even further with Kim, asking her to perform oral sex on him. She passively obliged, feeling “confused,” she said.
“I just think at the time, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I didn’t want to do it, but I was intimidated and scared. He was being very intense and angry. He seemed very angry and offended. I had seen him behave this way toward others in the tribe during circle,” she told The News. “I just felt powerless because I thought I really needed his help and guidance. And when he said nudity doesn’t have to be sexual, I was like, ‘OK, maybe this isn’t even sexual.’ Now I understand it was a power play. It was so calculated. It was like we were putty in his hands.”
In his statement, Vereen said he gained new perspective on his behavior in the last two years.
“While it was my intention to create an environment that replicated the themes of that musical during the rehearsal process, I have since come to understand that it is my conduct, not my intentions, which are relevant here. So I am not going to make any excuses because the only thing that matters here is acknowledging and apologizing for the effects of my conduct on the lives of these women,” he said.