The Wolf and the Whisper Network
Trigger warning: this post contains explicit detail of sexual assault and rape.
In 2017, I was raped — by a progressive, liberal, acclaimed social justice advocate. Here is my story.
“Nervous?” he said.
It was nearly my turn to hit the stage. Someone with a headset had plonked me in a chair next to a strikingly good looking dude in a fitted “FEMINIST” t-shirt.
I nodded and laughed.
“Tell me about it.” He rolled his eyes, smiled at me, and winked.
This small acknowledgement of the insanity of the situation made me feel a bit better. Other speakers that day included Jennifer Garner, Cynthia Nixon and Chelsea Manning. I’d sat next to the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at breakfast.
My performance went well. Afterwards, I sat back next to “feminist” to get de-mic’d.
“You’re… incredible.” he said, authentically.
“Thanks!” I chirped. “Good luck!”
He slayed it. His talk was about the prosecutor’s role in criminal justice reform. He radiated charisma. I’d never heard of him, but a quick google told me he was Adam John Foss, an ex-prosecutor whose 2016 TED Talk had over 2 million views. He’d worked with John Legend. Cool, I thought.
That conference lasted four days, throughout which I spent quite a bit of time with Adam. He would catch my eye across the tent, and wink. Usually, I’d find this gross — but with him it didn’t come across like that. It was our little in-joke.
On Saturday night, I performed again, this time with the band. He pushed his way to the front of the crowd and moshed right in front of me. Embarrassingly cute. At the afterparty, he lightly stroked my ankle all night. Usually, I would find that gross too.
A week later, we met up in NYC.
“I was invited to watch TED Fellows practice their talks tonight.” he said. “But I blew it off because I was like, ‘I just want to see Raegan.’”
“Wow, okay,” I thought. We chatted for hours. It came so easily. He told me he was adopted, that his Mom had died of cancer; showed me her tattoo on his arm. She had the same name as my Mum. I told him about my background; I’d been in foster care, and found writing and music as a way out of a dark place, and wanted to help others do the same. We found we had lots of unusual things in common.
I was running a project that taught poetry and rap to criminal justice involved communities. Adam was a major league criminal justice reform advocate. He was a role model. And he liked me.
At the end of the night, he kissed me, super gently. When he pulled away, he looked at the floor, bashful, and said, “Did you feel that?”
“Feel what?” I said.
“No, no — never mind. If you don’t know, then I’ll ask you next time.” After I left, he texted me, simply: “Rae…”
A bit melodramatic — but I smiled all the way home.
We texted every day. Our messages quickly became sexual. We’d also call, at night — when he seemed sad, alone, and usually drunk and/or high. I asked him if he didn’t have hoes in different area codes. He laughed.
“I don’t have time for that.” he said.
“You don’t have a chick in each city?” I asked.
“I’m in a different city right now, aren’t I?” he said. “And I’m talking to you.”
He was 12 years older than me. He lived on the road, and had a crazy and fast-growing-crazier career. I was a recent grad and struggling artist still living in a dorm room in upper Manhattan. I didn’t expect anything of him, except friendship, and possibly sex. But it became super intense, super quickly. He made it that way.
He would pour out to me about his work, and changing the world, and how lonely he was. We connected over trauma, and abuse, and a drive to make the world better for it.
“Don’t make me fall in love with you.” he said.
He would message through the day; “thinking of you” or “wish you were here” or “perfect day for naked cuddles.”
The next time he was in NYC, he disappeared off text an hour or so before we were supposed to meet. I drew a sad face on a dick pic he’d sent me, and sent it back to him.
It concerned me more than it annoyed me; to go from how full-on he’d been to basically standing me up seemed odd. When I asked him the next day what happened, he texted back one word:
From then on, our late night calls became dark, melancholy ordeals about his mental health. He told me how he always ruined everything. How he’d been suicidal. How he didn’t think he would live this long.
“I’m a bad person, Raegan.”
But he kept texting and calling. Through the day, he would tell me how he’d spent his weekend partying with Jeff Bezos, or brunching with Oprah. And he always had time for a few dirty texts.
But every night was the same: new city, same drunk, sad, sleepless Adam.
Here was this insanely successful, good-looking, witty reform advocate, falling apart to me on the phone every night. The more he talked, the more I believed he’d be found dead in a hotel room one morning, and I’d have been his last conversation.
Even though I was younger, I’d faced the demons he was fighting. I could be a shoulder, a smile; a voice on the end of the phone, I thought.
He’d be the most depressed person I’d ever spoken to at midnight, then the horniest at 9am; sexting me from his conferences. I was “lover,” “sweet darling,” “baby,” “boo,” “babe,” and only later “Raegan” again.
A month passed this way. It seemed I was Adam’s new favorite person, and he was mine. One day, he was in town again, giving a talk. I was at a birthday party, but told him I could see him after.
When I pulled up to his hotel, he was standing in the lobby, swaying, holding his phone up to his face like an old man.
He’d locked himself out of his room, so we went to the desk to get a temporary keycard. In the elevator, he slurred his words. Upstairs, he lumbered into the room and collapsed on the far bed; phone up to his face again.
I approached him.
“So… what do you want to do?”
“I know exactly what I want to do.” he said, putting one hand straight up my dress and grabbing me, without looking up from his phone.
We’d kissed before, and sent extremely explicit texts — but this was our first real sexual contact. I laughed nervously and took a step back. His hand fell away. He stopped looking at his phone, and switched his gaze to me.
I stood there, not knowing what to do. He grabbed the tie of my wrap-dress and pulled, undoing it. I just stood there, still.
Adam took this as a cue, and in under 60 seconds, had stripped naked and was lying on the bed. At the time, all I could do was laugh.
“Come here” he said.
“I think you need to go to sleep” I laughed.
“Come here” he said, unsmiling.
I sat next to him. He pulled me to his chest.
“I’m not having sex with you tonight, you’re too drunk.” I said.
He started kissing me. We can make out, I thought. That’s fine. He’s clearly going to pass out soon. He was so very kissable. I let him take off my dress, and pull down my underwear. Naked cuddles.
“Stupid girl,” someone would later tell me.
When I was a teenager, I was groomed by a 30-odd year old music teacher who worked at a non-profit for kids. I was manipulated, abused and raped, for years. When I met 37-year-old Adam, aged 25, I still had a bad relationship with dating and sex. I didn’t really date, and if I had casual sex — it was usually with the same partners. New people took some getting used to. Adam knew all of this, of course.
So it was my discomfort and inability to set boundaries that became the crux of what happened that night. In my mind, at least.
Adam rolled me on to my back and started going down on me. I wasn’t used to that and I didn’t like it — though I’d been telling myself I should get to like it, else I couldn’t call myself a feminist.
“Stop.” I said, light-heartedly, trying to awkwardly push his head back. He didn’t listen. I tried discreetly shuffling up the bed. He pulled me back down and carried on.
“Stop.” I said again, feeling stupid. What kind of woman doesn’t want head? He carried on.
“Adam, stop!” He sat up on his knees, dick in hand.
“I’m not having sex with you tonight.” I told him.
“Ok…” he said, “…but I have some bad news.”
He picked me up. I thought he was going to carry me to the other bed and throw me on it as a joke or something. But he didn’t. He slid down the bed and sat me on his face. I immediately started telling him “no,” lifting up, pulling away — he locked his arms around my waist and buckled down.
“Adam, stop!” Maybe he thinks I like this. Maybe he thinks I’m being playful and don’t really want him to stop. But I do.
“Adam, stop!” I couldn’t go up, so I tried going forwards.
“Stop, Adam! Stop, Adam, stop…” He let go. At the edge of the bed, without his stronghold, I fell into an undignified heap on the carpet.
“Fine. Night Raegan.” he said, getting under the covers and rolling away from me.
I suddenly felt very naked, and quickly slipped in beside him.
After a minute or so, he spun around and buried his face in my chest, childish — and pushed my legs up onto his lap. “You’re beautiful” he mumbled. I just hugged him back. I felt like his mother. Here was the sad, lonely drunk of our late night calls, who just wanted a cuddle.
He quickly fell into a drunken slumber, loudly snoring.
A few hours later, while it was still dark — something woke me up. Adam’s cock woke me up. It was inside me.
I was in too much shock to say anything. I didn’t tell him to stop. I froze.
He looked straight into my eyes, and seemed sedated somehow.
“Can you feel how deep I am inside you?” he said. I didn’t react. I just let him carry on.
Had I done something in my sleep to turn him on? Did he think it was romantic to wake me up this way?
Hadn’t I wanted this, anyway?
He moved off, and told me to get on my knees. He got behind me. After a while, he asked, “Are you gonna cum for me, baby?”
“No.” I said.
“Me either” he sighed. He left me on the bed and walked away, to the bathroom.
The room had one of those ridiculous frosted glass walls, separating bathroom from bedroom. I lay there and watched him shower through the blur.
By the time he came out and got dressed, I‘d concluded that what we’d had was awful sex. We’d had awful sex because I was weird and insecure and had issues and that was what had happened.
He kissed me and left to catch his train.
I showered in the ridiculous shower with the stupid tiny soap and didn’t feel clean afterwards.
I’d been raped before: I’d been held down and forced to have sex. That was an old wound — and that was not this.
No. I had a relationship with Adam. It wasn’t committed, or monogamous — but it was sexual, and intensely personal. Adam could not have… I banned myself from using the R word.
No. He was drunk. I couldn’t enforce boundaries. We’d sent nudes. What did I expect?
I’d wanted to fuck him for ages. I’d said as much over text.
I wrote the experience off as an embarrassing miscommunication on my part.
Back home, Adam texted and asked what I was doing. I told him I was in bed thinking about riding his cock again. “I’m always wet for you man you drive me crazy” I wrote. It was imperative I regained my sexual prowess as soon as possible. The last thing I wanted was for him to think I hadn’t enjoyed myself.
Even if I’d recognized what had happened as assault at that point, I never would’ve confronted Adam about it. My instincts told me to normalize, re-sexualize, smile and carry on. I would never have pushed him over the emotional edge he tiptoed upon every night.
Adam became more distant after that night. We still texted, and sexted, but not nearly as much. I’d sometimes go days without a reply from him. But then he would lay it on thick again. A month later, he showed up out of the blue at my dorm. He’d taken a 40 minute taxi ride from Times Square. “I just wanted to see you.” he said.
We didn’t have sex. He left after twenty minutes.
Shortly after, he abruptly told me that he couldn’t give me what I “needed as a friend” and stopped responding to messages.
A few months of silence later, we were booked on a gig together. Adam caught my eye through the crowd and winked at me. This time, I did find it gross.
At the afterparty, he hung around me and my band until about 6am, flirting all night with another girl. He didn’t realize she and I were friends. Whenever she wasn’t paying attention, he would try to hold my hand. Finally, I plucked up the courage to ask if we could talk.
“Why are you ignoring me?” I asked.
He was silent for a long time. Then he said:
“Raegan… we hardly know each other. We’ve interacted for a total of like five hours.”
My stomach dropped. I understood what was happening.
“I told you about my background.” I said. “If you’d just wanted a fuck, you could have got that anywhere. Why would you do that to someone like me?”
“What is it you think you told me?” he said. “What is it you think I did?”
I abandoned the conversation.
I felt humiliated, used and stupid.
I tried to move past what had happened, but it was hard. I couldn’t believe how naive I had been. I thought I’d put being such easy prey behind me in my teenage years.
I stopped having sex. I started gaining weight. I became overly wary of men again.
I traveled back to the UK to see my family. While I was there, I told a couple of girlfriends about what had happened with Adam.
“That’s rape, Raegan.” one of them said.
We all sat in mournful silence for a while. Then we changed the subject.
Almost exactly a year after that night in the hotel, I joined TED Residency. Our first week was punctuated by the Christine Blasey Ford / Brett Kavanaugh hearing, which was streaming on giant screens all around the office. “#WhyIDidn’tReport” posters were popping up at every subway station around NYC.
In an info session that first week, we were informed that TED often invited previous speakers to the Residency talks. I broke for the nearest phone booth, where I burst into tears.
I’d developed an intense fear of bumping into Adam again — on the street, on the subway, at the airport.
I told someone at TED about my experience with him. I needed to make sure he would not be invited to the talks.
Their response caught me off guard. The TED person I spoke to told me that they’d already heard similar things about Adam, and that he was banned from their events.
What I thought had been a one-off collision of trauma-bonding and miscommunication was, it turns out, a pretty regular routine for Adam.
I began sharing my story with friends, and quickly realized that I had kicked a hornet’s nest: there was a dressmaker, a TED administrator, an artist, a famous actress, a lawyer, an intern, a volunteer, a Hollywood manager, a non-profit CEO, the friend of a friend, the friend of a stranger… a witness in one of his cases. Everywhere I went, I found a trail of humiliation and harm left by Adam.
“Adam refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“Adam was fucking me that night he blew you off for his ‘depression’. He told me we were exclusive.”
“Adam is a compulsive liar.”
“Adam told me he had to leave my hotel room because he had an upset stomach, then he went down the hall to fuck somebody else.”
“Adam is a master manipulator.”
“I destroy people.” he told one woman.
“People know about him.”
Then why isn’t anyone doing anything? I thought.
Slowly, it sank in that I had not only been raped, but also essentially groomed: conned into believing I had a friendship with somebody who really had a game plan the whole time. I lost trust in everything and everyone. My closest friends. Myself. Nobody was safe. I drove them all away, and sank into the deepest depression of my life. How could I have let this happen, again? What a stupid girl I was.
Meanwhile, everywhere I went, I heard Adam’s name: talks at Google, NYTimes and Forbes features, a shoutout on a Jaden Smith record, an Ashoka fellowship, a book deal with One World, the same Penguin imprint that publishes Ibram X. Kendi and Mira Jacob. Just last week, Netflix released Trial 4, which shows current Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins giving Adam a big hug at her election party. Bigger endorsements and more celebrity followers, while behind closed doors, more and more women’s stories emerged.
Below are quotes from a letter sent to One World’s editor-in-chief, shown to me by a group of professional women who had connected over their experiences with Adam, long before I knew there were others.
“Adam is emotionally corrupt and inappropriately wields his power.”
“Adam knowingly has STD’s, and does not disclose his status. He also habitually does not use condoms.”
“He deliberately targets married women; he turns on a ‘switch’ that allows him to leverage his intelligence to say and do all the things his targets want and need to hear.”
“[By publishing him] you risk elevating a false hero, a model of manhood that deserves to go extinct.”
The publisher took no action.
Adam stories have been floating around the “whisper network” for years. But nobody ever says anything publicly. Who wants to be the nobody accusing the acclaimed criminal justice reform advocate of sexual misconduct? Who wants to admit they, too, were a stupid girl?
It starts getting hotter — Adam lays low. Books fewer gigs. Deletes his Twitter account.
Then, after a few months, he pops back up; new Twitter, new gigs, new friends. Same Adam.
Recently, I watched Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You.
“I’m here to learn how to avoid being raped.” says Arabella, the protagonist.
Did I go to that hotel expecting to have sex? Yes.
Did I go there expecting to be fucked in my sleep? No.
Would I have gone at all if I didn’t believe all the things Adam told me — that he “cared” about me, that we were “kindred spirits” with a “special connection”? Probably not, no.
It was what Coel would call a “theft of consent” even before it was a straight-up destruction.
I’m here to learn how to avoid being raped.
There are many like me.
Because behind Adam the feminist lives Adam the rapist. Not just Adam “the player” — not even Adam “the predator.” Adam the rapist. Adam the destroyer.
Most of the women I’ve met who’ve had bad experiences with Adam are scared to speak up about them because of who he is, and because (in many cases) he technically didn’t do “anything illegal.”
So we’re left to rely on this whisper network; privately warning other women of this destroyer, if and when we can.
Sure, Adam knowingly spreads disease. He deceives. He cheats. He physically and emotionally coerces women into consent they would likely not otherwise give. He withholds important information, and actively lies, further rendering the conditions of this consent invalid. He targets women in professional settings, leveraging his position as a leader and role model to gain our trust. He creates intense emotional ensnarements, embroiling women into not recognizing this abuse as it happens, or even being able to articulate it particularly well in retrospect.
Nothing illegal about any of that.
Now, not that I believe legality is the moral standard we should hold our social justice leaders to; but in my case, something illegal did happen. I know that now.
I wrote this for the women who’ve been lied to, infected, manipulated, violated, gaslit, “played”: whose experiences sit in the grey area of legal inhumanity.
Your stories are valid. You are not alone.
I wrote this for the men who walk that line; who seem to have impunity even within our most progressive, liberal, forward-thinking spaces, simply because incessant misogyny, dishonesty, deceit, disrespect, and generally being a “dog of a man” is not illegal.
I wrote this for those who have known Adam, for those I hope never will, and for those who continue to enable and support him.
Whispers do not stop wolves. It’s time to shout.
If you have had an experience that you want to share with people who have gone through something similar, please reach out to us. You are not alone.
Since posting this piece, a number of women have publicly shared their experiences of harm inflicted by Adam, across social media, and others have reached out to me personally.
You can find these stories across platforms, under the hashtag #adamjohnfoss
I have also tried to repost as many as I can on my Twitter page here.
I have also recently been made aware of a new medium post, written by a group of women who were knowingly infected, by Adam, with Herpes. Whilst I was fortunate enough to not be infected by Adam, these stories are important, and I stand with these women.