Filmmaker Jennifer Fox talks more about surviving childhood sexual abuse and her decision to reveal that her abuser 50 years ago was the legendary Olympic rower and coach Ted Nash, who died in 2021. Fox is the director of The Tale, a narrative memoir based on Fox’s own life experience.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
Jennifer Fox is a writer and director who made the 2018 Emmy-nominated film called The Tale. It’s a narrative memoir about her own reckoning with childhood sexual abuse. In the last few weeks, The New York Times published a front-page article headlined “For Years She Said a Coach Abused Her. Now She Has Named a Legend.”
They’re talking about you, Jennifer Fox, as we continue with Part 2 of our conversation. The film was mind-blowing, was a remarkable film. Now people can see it on HBO. It was your story as a 13-year-old girl who was into horseback riding, and it tells the story of your relationship with your woman coach and how she facilitated this, or helped Ted Nash, who you’re naming for the first time, the rowing legend. He was a legend as a rower and a coach, for whom the University of Pennsylvania still has a wing, the rowing wing, named for him. He started what? The National Women’s Rowing Association. He was dedicated to young women, to girls.
We ended Part 1 by you talking about your hope that other people will come forward. You know your own story. Can you talk about the reaction to the Times piece, who has responded to you, your fear that people would be angered that after 50 years you were naming the person?
JENNIFER FOX: You know, it’s been incredible, because I was terrified. In fact, the night before, when Juliet Macur called me to tell me it was running, I was like, “Why did I do this? This is the worst idea I ever had.” And I was so afraid that I was going to be attacked, because Ted is so beloved. And the opposite has actually happened. I’ve just been flooded with support and praise and gratitude for coming forward. The New York Times Facebook and Twitter has been flooded with very, very positive accounts, saying — supporting the truth. And actually, I haven’t actually read any naysayers. There’s been a few accounts online that I’ve seen — I’ve not been following it so much — talking about, “Oh, I knew Ted slept with this freshman college student at U of P, and I knew Ted slept with that sophomore college student.”
What I’m hoping is that more women come forward. What I’ve been advised is not to expect too much too fast, because just like it took me 50 years to get here, it may be taking others who are hearing this story a long time to process what happened. We don’t know if Ted had access to people as young as me at 13. We do know that he had access to people starting at 16 years and up. And I have no doubt that other college students, other than Robin Stryker, who he was sleeping with at the same time as me, that he slept with other college students. I have no doubt. And I hope those women come forward now.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jennifer, as you said, just to make it clear, the scale of this phenomenon of survivors of child sexual abuse not being able to articulate what happened to them until decades later, in The New York Times piece where you name your abuser as Ted Nash, it quotes a legal expert in child sexual abuse cases, Marci Hamilton, as saying — of the science itself, she says that it takes decades for victims to come forward. And then she cites a study, which is really remarkable, a study of thousands of abuse victims who had been with the Boy Scouts, which found that half of them — half of them — came forward only after they were 50 years old. And these are as Boy Scouts. So, if you could elaborate a little bit more on that point, and then the fact that additional memories — you said in Part 1 of our interview on the show that additional memories have come to you in the last four years, and that you’re thinking of making a sequel, The Tale 2.
JENNIFER FOX: The Tale 2. Yes, I think we have to remember that our brain’s function is to protect us, first and foremost, to survive. And when I look back on myself at 13, what happened to me after I was abused, first of all, about four weeks later, I got very sick. But my mom couldn’t figure out what was wrong, nor could the doctors, and I took to my bed. Even though I didn’t call it abuse, I knew I was trying to recuperate and repair from what had happened to me.
At that point, when I finally did get well — they took out my tonsils, and I was magically well, after like four weeks in bed — the moment occurred where I knew either I’m going to stay in bed for the rest of my life, or, in my way to say, I’m going to die here, or I’m going to get up and go on. And at that point, the splitting occurred. And that was me actually saying, “I’m going to be the hero. I am fine.” You hear that a lot from survivors of any event: “I’m fine.” “I’m fine.” “I’m fine.” And what that is, is the brain going, “I’m not going to deal with that part that is so traumatized. I’m just going to look at the survivor part.” And that part is very, very important, because it does allow us to survive. It does allow us to go on. In my case, I went on to make several films, many, many films, around the world. I was heroic.
However, I think what often happens is, once our ego is strong enough — and this happened to me. I was in my mid-forties. I was an adult. I was strong enough to face it. The reality of what actually happened in my childhood began to come up, and suddenly I could see that it wasn’t OK. And that was the first time, at 45, that I ever heard the word “abuse” in my own brain. I was making another film, and I was hearing other women talk about their sexual abuse, and it sounded strangely like this relationship I had with Ted Nash. Then, immediately, I thought, “Oh my god! That’s my story!” But it was because I was 45, and I was old enough to be able to handle it. I was an adult. And even then, it didn’t completely unpack. And even now, at age 63, I am shocked at how slow a process it has been to come to terms and accept my abuse, and how complicated it is in my psychology and how it’s affected me.
AMY GOODMAN: You, Jennifer, use the term “abuse,” and you also say “sleeping with Ted Nash.” You were 13 years old. Do you hesitate to use the word “rape”?
JENNIFER FOX: You know, “rape” is an excellent word. And I know, legally, technically, it’s statutory rape. The reason I don’t use that word is because I think we want to make a very clear psychological distinction between rape and abuse. I said it earlier, but we can go deeper. And both are horrible. I am not evaluating one worse than the other. But rape, there is a clear protagonist, who is negative, who is bad, who you hate.
With sexual abuse, the issue is, often the child is in love or — I don’t mean in love like a lover, but in love like an adult — with the person who is abusing them, and they’ve been basically manipulated into thinking that that person actually has their best interest in mind. And so, the confusion and muddled grayness in the mind creates a totally different psychology than rape.
If I had been raped by Ted Nash in a violent way, I think I would have named him at 13. The problem was, he was a man I esteemed. He was a man who told me he loved me. And he used the word “loved,” who had done something to me that I couldn’t quite process. And so, I think, as adults, we have to say this is a different psychological issue than a person who had been raped. And that’s why I don’t use the word “rape.” I hope that’s clear.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yes. Thank you, Jennifer. That’s actually a very, very important distinction and clarification. So, if you could also — you didn’t get a chance to answer the question about the sequel, the things that you’ve been thinking about in the last four years that may constitute the second part of this film, The Tale.
JENNIFER FOX: Look, when I made The Tale, I still was struggling with the word “victim.” I still hate that word. I see myself as a survivor. I think all of you out there have to be very careful with the word “victim,” because “victim” actually hurts the person that is hearing it. It makes us weak. It makes us unable to respond. In fact, all of the people who have been victims of child sexual abuse, 99% of them go on and survive. So, let’s name us for what we are so.
But making The Tale, I still had trouble seeing the victim part of me. I still had not dealt with the damage that the sexual abuse had done to me. And I think, look, I am both a survivor and a victim. But to be a whole person, I actually have to include both parts of me in myself and accept both parts. And making The Tale, to be honest, I hadn’t really still faced the damaged part or the part of me that had been hurt. And that has happened since The Tale. And that process, which is still going on, is something I’d like to investigate in a part two, either a book or a film, someday down the road. We’ll see. Maybe Laura Dern will play me again. Who knows?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jennifer Fox, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Jennifer Fox is a writer and director who made the 2018 Emmy-nominated film called The Tale. Now she has come out and named her abuser, abused at the age of 13. The New York Times ran it on the front page. The headline, “For Years She Said a Coach Abused Her. Now She Has Named a Legend.” And she named the rowing coach and rower Ted Nash.
To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. [Editor’s Note: Jennifer Fox has encouraged anyone with information regarding Ted Nash to email USRowingSafeSport@usrowing.org ]