'I Put a Pedophile Ballet Teacher in Prison—What it Took Was Heartbreaking'

"Everybody has secrets they will take to the grave," my ballet teacher, Viktor Kabaniaev told me when I was twelve.

Kabaniaev sexually abused me over a four-year period from that age onwards. My family and friends had no idea what was happening to me, and it was my worst fear they would find out.

I carried an enormous amount of shame and guilt about what happened. Back then, I believed that it must be all my fault. I never had any intention of telling anyone.

Fifteen years later, I had graduated from UCLA, married my college sweetheart, and was working consistently as an actress. I had reached the place in life where I thought I wanted to be.

Then I began having out of body experiences; painful flashbacks to when the abuse had started. I was 27, but stuck in a traumatizing loop of my experiences as a 12 year old.

Katie Wee Was Abused By Ballet Teacher
Katie Wee (second right) after a ballet performance as a teenager. Courtesy of Katie Wee

My therapist tried to help me understand that what happened to me was not my fault. But I felt naked and exposed as I told her details I had never shared with another person. It was like unearthing a previously buried life.

As we processed my abuse together from an adult perspective, it felt like my story of myself was shifting right in front of me. The flashbacks became less frequent, but understanding that I had been victimized made me realize my abuse had affected the entire trajectory of my life.

Reporting my ballet teacher to the police

Eventually my therapist told me that she had to report this pedophile to the authorities because he was still working with children. She asked if I would be willing to speak to the police myself.

My initial reaction was that I was absolutely not willing to share what I considered to be my most shameful secret. I was already too far out of my comfort zone, and was just trying to get help in therapy so that I could find a way to navigate the flashbacks and floods of emotion.

However, as the days went on I considered the possible ramifications of my silence. If I said nothing, he could continue to abuse more young girls. He was still teaching dozens of them daily, and pictures were all over the internet of him with his arms around girls who were less than half my age.

Together my therapist and I called the Department of Child and Family Services and two police stations. An impatient police dispatcher told me I needed to give them all my personal information for there to be any action taken. There went my anonymity. Everything felt out of my control.

Yet weeks later, nothing had happened.

Finally, in September of 2017 the police called me. Over the phone, to a complete stranger, I recounted the traumatizing details of the worst moments of my life.

I told them I did not want to press charges, I just wanted them to investigate Viktor to make sure he wasn't still abusing little girls. I was willing to help them catch someone who might be a serial child rapist but I did not want to have "sexual assault victim" tied to my name.

They led me to understand that the only way to do that was arresting him, but there was not enough evidence without a confession. I was asked if I would be willing to meet with Viktor in person to try and get one. In a brave moment, after several weeks of contemplation, I agreed.

Meeting the man who abused me

The police equipped me with recording devices and told me where to sit in the coffee shop I was meeting Viktor in. The goal was to get an apology for the abuse, which they said would count as a confession in court. Viktor came in and summarily looked me up and down, telling me I looked unbelievable. I was terrified.

I managed to hold a conversation with him, waiting for the right moment to broach what happened between us. Through tears, and a faltering voice, I finally found the words.

"I know I never stopped you, and I never said stop or anything like that, but now that I'm older, I see that a 12-year-old shouldn't have to say that. I shouldn't have to say it, because you're the adult, you know?"

Katie Wee Was Abused By Ballet Teacher
Katie Wee dancing at the age of 13. From the age of 12, Wee was abused by her ballet teacher at a ballet studio in California. Courtesy of Katie Wee

I told him at the time, I didn't feel that I had a choice.

He told me repeatedly that he was a "stupid idiot." He offered to kiss my feet, give me all his money, even to kill himself. I felt repulsed by his offers. When he offered to kill himself it intuitively felt clear to me that he had more victims, and that something in him had been living in fear of this day for a long time. His desperation was palpable.

Then he said something that, as a 30-year-old, an adult, I noticed myself processing in a way my 12-year-old brain would never have been able to.

"I guess it was just because it was big attraction. We were...spending so much time together, and....when I think about it and analyze it, I think, 'Why?'...But that's why. That's how it happened, I guess."

At that moment, he was trying to justify the abuse with what he called a "big attraction," despite the fact that he was an adult and I had been a child. The adult me was not willing to take responsibility for his attraction to me and subsequent abuse because of it.

A month later, he was arrested. Then, another victim, Miko Fogarty, came forward. When asked why, she said because she didn't want people to think I was lying.

Yet other people continued to publicly support Kabaniaev. His lawyer requested a bail hearing for him, where dozens of letters of support were given to the judge, written by girls and mothers at the studio he had last taught at, Westlake School of Ballet in Daly City. Ironically, these were the very girls I was trying to protect.

I found it interesting how people immediately rushed to defend Viktor despite knowing very little about the charges or situation, and nothing about me. I also worried that if he was released on bail he might try to come find me. My worst fear was my parents finding out what had happened to me. And eventually, I did have to tell them. The arrest was all over the news. That conversation was one of the worst moments of my life.

The people I could actually lean on within my support system became a very small group, as my family tried to process my abuse themselves. I tried to live my life as normally as possible, but the overwhelming waves of grief, as well as fear for my safety, made it difficult to move forward. I felt like I was desperately trying to keep my head above water. Eventually, the judge revoked Viktor's bail entirely. Tears of relief poured down my cheeks.

The trial

Almost two years later, a trial date was set, but by now, I was having trouble getting through my days. Another woman with allegations of abuse from her childhood had come forward and she, Miko and I had all agreed to testify in court. But the prospect of that was giving me debilitating anxiety. I reminded myself that putting Viktor in prison was the only way I could know for sure that I was not personally enabling any more of his abuse.

I had spent my entire life since I was 12 blaming myself for the positive feelings I had for Viktor before he started abusing me. I thought I had somehow brought on his sexual advances because of my innocent childhood crush. I'd smiled at him when he made jokes, I'd told him personal things when he asked, I had not told my mom when he told me he loved me, touched me inappropriately, and later when he had sex with me.

So my blood boiled when the defense attorney walked towards me as I sat in the small wooden stand and said: "Okay let's talk about you being in love with Mr. Kabaniaev. Did you tell him that you were in love with him?"

Angry and ashamed, I told this attorney that I had replied in the way most children respond when somebody tells them that they love them: "When he said, I love you, I sometimes said it back."

But I felt myself triggered; familiar feelings of shame spread across my chest. Then I remembered my therapist's words: "There is no such thing as a consensual sexual relationship between a 12 and a 38 year-old." I calmly reminded the lawyer that I was 12 years old at the time he was referring to.

Katie Wee Was Abused By Ballet Teacher
Katie Wee's student ID from 7th grade (top ID card) before her ballet teacher in California began to sexually abuse her. Wee's ID from when she was dancing at The Royal Ballet School in 2003, two years after the abuse had started. The abuse Wee experienced was not related to The Royal Ballet School. Courtesy of Katie Wee

Then, Viktor himself took the stand. His defense attorney asked him what I had testified was true, that we had had sex every time I had class with him.

"No. Absolutely not true." Viktor said. " We were working very hard. I was working very hard. She was talking sometimes inappropriately. She was talking about her relationships with the --"

"Other guys?" The defense attorney asked.

"With other guys." Viktor confirmed.

When I later read this testimony later, all I could feel was that these two men were sl**-shaming me as a twelve-year-old. They were talking about a child. What's worse is that it appeared to work.

After many excruciating days of waiting, the jury came back hung. Some women on the jury who didn't believe Viktor was guilty cited reasons like: They didn't think an adult man would be attracted to a child's undeveloped body. The jury forewoman even told The San Francisco Chronicle: "If he was a hardcore pedophile, there'd be more victims."

In the months that followed, I was crushed under a wave of deep depression. Life went on, but it didn't feel like my life anymore.

Finally getting justice

About a year and a half after the trial another two women came forward alleging they had been abused by Viktor. At this point he and his lawyer decided to take the plea deal. He pleaded guilty to abusing myself and Miko, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In my victim impact statement, I reminded Viktor that he and his lawyer had accused me of lying, of coming forward for attention, and of being mentally unwell.

I told him that he had broken my spirit, but that I had done the work of putting it back together. I explained the ways in which his crimes had altered the trajectory of my life. I told him that my life of freedom was just beginning, while his was ending.

Katie Wee Was Abused By Ballet Teacher
Actor Katie Wee attends the premiere of Pop TV's "Hollywood Darlings" at iPic Theaters on April 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Yet what happened to me is not uncommon. One out of every 6 women in America will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that 22 percent of victims were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 32 percent were between the ages of 12 and 17. Nine out of every ten rape victims are women. Less than one percent of rapes ever lead to a conviction, and the burden of proof falls heavily on the victim. These horrifying statistics need to change.

The most widely actionable change we can make is to not reflexively disbelieve victims. When we see people coming forward in society and not being believed, it gives us the idea that we will not be believed, and worse, maybe we will be blamed.

I believe that the original hung verdict I had to live through was, in part, a result of a lack of education around sexual assault and outdated misogynistic beliefs being internalized by women and men alike.

When survivors don't feel safe to come forward, abusers run free. When Viktor's supporters rushed to defend an alleged abuser, they showed their priority was protecting the "good name" of a man above the truth told by a female victim.

Helping sexual abuse survivors

We need to do better by survivors. The standards for reporting sexual assault are incredibly burdensome for victims. Someone like me should be able to offer information to help authorities catch a pedophile without embroiling themselves in a soul-crushing legal process in order to even have the person looked into by the police. We need more systems in place like the You Have Options Program in Ashland, Oregon and the Catch a Serial Offender (CATCH) Program in the military, that allow reporting under a pseudonym and allow victims options in reporting with or without an investigation.

Living as a victim of sexual assault is complicated. Though I know how important it was that I spoke out, every step of the process was onerous. I came forward because I felt a moral obligation to. Going to trial was a harrowing experience, and justice was only achieved after five different women brought forward allegations of abuse by the same man. This process needs to get better if we want to see reports of abuse go up or the prevalence of sexual assault go down.

Sexual assault can ruin a life. I have had access to therapy, extensive education in yoga and meditation, and a community of friends and family who love and believe me. I know those resources put me in a more advantaged position than most survivors. I think often about the young women out there suffering silently who do not have access to help or are not believed. We need places where survivors can report and simply get the mental, physical and emotional help they need.

I am proud of who I am and what I have come back from. Now, I share my story because I feel that I must in order to create a safer world for the next generation.

Katie Wee is an actress, and a yoga and meditation teacher. She is now leading empowerment retreats for those who wish to move through their challenges and step into their highest potential. You can follow her on Instagram @itskatiewee.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.