Vic Mignogna, the voice of Broly in Dragon Ball Super, has been accused of sexually assaulting women at anime conventions. In the wake of these allegations a cultural divide has formed that reflects our society as a contrast between #MeToo and #FakeNews.
One female victim alleges that around the year 2009 an unnamed voice actor and another man intoxicated her, took her up to their hotel room, and raped her. Afterward, this unnamed voice actor told Vic Mignogna that she was a “con slut,” and then at subsequent conventions Vic Mignogna treated her poorly and sexually assaulted her. Yet no criminal charges have been filed and Mignogna denies the allegations.
Such an allegation toward a celebrity may seem like a one-off and hard-to-believe story that perhaps is the cost of being famous. However, numerous allegations of sexual assault have shadowed Mignogna’s career and continue up to today. During the research for this article, over 100 independent allegations surfaced, dating back to 2003.
These allegations are affecting Vic Mignogna’s career and social life, as conventions are cancelling his appearances and fans are arguing on his social media pages. This comes right after the premiere of the box-office record-breaking film, Dragon Ball Super: Broly, where Vic plays the titular villain. The poor optics of these allegations may even lead to him losing voice acting roles, including Broly.
Are the allegations true? In this article we’ll examine these allegations, hear stories from women who claim to be victims of his assault, talk to Dragon Ball voice actors and industry insiders who have worked with Mignogna, discuss the response from his primary employer FUNimation, analyze fan discussions on both sides of the spectrum, and highlight conventions that book Mignogna as a guest or ban him from attending.
This website’s purpose is to record the culture and history of Dragon Ball’s development and the way it influences our society. This article’s subject is not about Dragon Ball’s content as much as it’s about the industry at large and the people that work on the series. It serves as a historical record and chronological narrative of the information that is available.
Remember that allegations are not a guarantee of guilt. No judgment is being made, nor intent to libel, and no unspoken intentions of any sort are implied.
It’s important to understand the cultural context that these allegations against Vic Mignogna are arising from. Sexual assault allegations in our society are a hot topic and divisive issue because of social phenomenon like the #MeToo movement, where countless people who claim to have been sexually assaulted or harassed have come forward to share their story.
Famous examples of the fallout of this movement include the Harvey Weinstein scandal, as reported by Ronan Farrow, who won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for his efforts. Also actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., Bill Cosby, Michigan State University gymnastics physician Larry Nassar, and the powerful men on news channels such as Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Matt Lauer who have had their careers damaged or ended by victims coming forth after years of silence.
The news of these scandals spread around the country from 2017 to 2018 and continued to rise in intensity as more and more victims added fuel to the fire with their stories of frustration, fear, and loneliness. And even with this movement inspiring them to speak out, there was still the anxiety of coming forth because of the backlash of being shunned or mocked for telling their story, or for being designated as ‘not smart enough’ to avoid the situation that led to them being victimized. And as we discovered, it was rampant in every industry of our society.
Until now there has never been a bombshell report about a man in the anime industry using their fame and influence to manipulate women for sex. But according to recent news, one might be led to believe that Vic Mignogna is such a man.
Vic Mignogna Intro
Vic Mignogna is a 56-year-old voice actor who began acting in 1999, and is most well-known for playing Edward Elric in the English dub of Fullmetal Alchemist, released in 2003. The success of this series launched his career into playing hundreds of roles in anime, cartoons, and live-action. He’s also a multi-talented musician, producer, stage actor, and singer.
This same year he was hired by FUNimation Entertainment, the official licensor of Dragon Ball in the United States and other English-speaking countries, to play the role of Broly in three Dragon Ball Z films starring the character, released from 2003 – 2005.
In the following years he would perform as Broly in each of the dozens of Dragon Ball video games, right up to 2018 with the release of the megahit Dragon Ball FighterZ, which sold more than 3.5 million copies in less than a year. So throughout the course of his career, Dragon Ball fans have always associated him with the role of Broly.
But Broly is not where most of Vic’s fans come from, and most of Vic’s fans are not the typical young male fan of Dragon Ball. But instead, young girls.
Vic Mignogna’s Fan Club
Many of the roles that Vic Mignogna plays are in shows catered to girls and children. For example, Ouran High School Host Club (2006), Free! Iwatobi Swim Club (2015), and Digimon Adventure Tri (2015).
Every independent actor has to build their own following through their work and through social media. Vic has created a loyal following through a website dedicated to him called the Risembool Rangers. The Risembool Rangers are named after the fictional town of Risembool in Fullmetal Alchemist, and it is the hometown of the main character that Vic Mignogna plays.
Fans congregate here to buy his merchandise and to discuss Vic, his work, and Christianity. Vic is an open Christian and will often hold ‘Gospel of John’ panels at conventions around America, where fans come to hear him read and preach the gospel. He has a music CD where he does the same, played to piano, and he makes it available at conventions. And on his fan club’s website he sometimes asks his fans to pray.
It’s common for the Risembool Rangers to have a meeting at whatever conventions Vic goes to, as organized through their site and Facebook page. Here he will often give special attention to his Rangers, including hugs, kisses, personal advice, and motivation. It’s easy to see why young girls would be attracted to Vic. He voices many characters that are in anime that appeal to girls, he’s handsome, has a bright smile, and is supportive of his fan’s dreams.
But some people, including former members of the group, consider it to be a cult of personality. For example, in a recruitment video described as the “official promo for the Risembool Rangers“, images of the members and Vic appear alongside text saying, “We have a great and loving leader… We are friends… We are family… Are you ready? Join us…” This video can be viewed as silly fun, or as something rather strange. Their website even has a page on it that attempts to convince visitors that they are not a cult.
Another strange factor is the way that he focuses on young girls to be his biggest supporters. According to Anime News Network, 43% of Risembool Rangers were underage in 2006. This issue is exacerbated by his age, as any 56-year-old who spends so much time interacting with young girls on a website, without parental supervision, and who then embraces and kisses these children at conventions, is going to raise eyebrows, even if it’s innocuous.
From what I can tell, there aren’t any other clubs like Vic’s in the anime community. Every anime fan has a series they enjoy, and some of them become curious about the voices behind the show, follow them on social media, and get to engage with them. Maybe one day they get to meet them at a convention for a signing or panel. But a forum dedicated to talking about one specific actor, their roles, their personality, and their merchandise, with volunteers pouring countless hours into maintaining and moderating it, and that lasts for decades, is unheard of.
There may be a darker side to this fan club, which is how Vic might be taking advantage of his fan’s desire to please him and receive validation from him. For example, by putting them to work without pay. Anime News Network describes a volunteer thusly: “One former store manager described her schedule as working her normal job from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. and attending college courses for 11 hours while managing the fan club store for a few hours in between classes. She then would ship all the store’s orders each Friday.”
Likewise, how at Animazement 2008, in Raleigh, NC, Vic asked members of his club to work for him in an unofficial and unpaid capacity to sell his CDs and manage his lines. And how afterward he said ‘thank you’ in a reportedly seductive voice to one of those club members, and then kissed her on the neck.
Allegations of misconduct or rude behavior have shadowed Mignogna for years. For example, a site was created in 2011 for the explicit purpose of giving a platform for people to complain about him, called Vic Meggnogna Horror Stories. It ran for 6 years. Allegations here and elsewhere include treating staff poorly at conventions, being banned from conventions for preaching his Christian faith at panels, kissing underage girls without their approval or request, saying things to minors that are laced with sexual undertones, being homophobic and refusing to sign gay fan art of characters he played, making people feel upset for not being Christian, and being anti-Semitic.
The more research I performed on Vic, the more stories I read from people who claim to have worked at conventions where he was a nightmare of a guest. Sometimes he’d get banned by the staff, but there were just as many conventions willing to book him and companies willing to hire him. The essential point that each anecdote conveyed was that when the camera is on him, he’s one person, and when it’s not, he’s another.
These rumors continued for years, but it was a Twitter thread on January 16, 2019, which coincides with the premiere of Dragon Ball Super: Broly in America that lead to our current situation. Twitter user ‘hanleia’ wrote, “Vic Mignogna is a homophobic rude asshole who has been creepy to underage female fans for over ten years and I’ve been screaming about this since 2010 but every year nothing changes.” It has received over 8,400 Likes, 4,200 Re-Tweets, and 440 replies by the time of this article’s publication, and the responses led to more fans sharing their stories on their own accounts.
The numerous people discussing Vic on the eve of the film’s premiere and the days after led to people creating the hashtag #KickVic. The goal being to kick Vic out of conventions, out of the anime community, and ultimately out of a job. Like before, they claimed he was homophobic, anti-Semitic, rude to convention staff, and touched people inappropriately.
In response, On January 19, Vic had a two-hour chat session with his fan club members on his Discord channel.
In this chat he said, “These rumors and gossip have been slung around for many many years. None of these outrageous stories are true, and there is not one shred of proof or evidence to support them. … I have been very open and warm and welcoming to fans for many years, and that includes hugging them, taking pictures and occasionally giving them a kiss on the cheek or forehead. But all of the outrageous stories that keep getting passed around are simply desperate attempts for attention.” He adds, “I am NOT homophobic, NOT anti-semitic, NOT a predator of any sort.”
He says, “I’ll hug 1000 people and 999 will say ‘he’s so kind and open and friendly with his fans’ and 1 will say ‘he hugged me too tight and it was creepy.’ … So it appears that I am going to need to revise the way I interact with fans at conventions.”
When a fan asked why people are attacking him, he replied, “Because they are sad and lonely. They don’t like to see others having fun or enjoying themselves, and feel some sick need to trash anyone who doesn’t see things their way.”
Vic went on to say that he was going to push back against these allegations after years of “rolling over.” “I never wanted to pursue this before because I knew these were preposterous lies with no substance, and I didn’t want to be perceived as a jerk who goes after people. But now they are trying to destroy my career and livelihood. That’s not funny.”
He then advised his club members to defend him on social media. “Please do whatever you can to counter these lies and negativity. Remember the old saying… ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.’”
Following their leader’s request, in opposition to #KickVic his fan club members created #IStandWithVic.
But their posts weren’t enough to turn the tide, and the discontent with Vic grew louder.
On January 20, Vic posted a rebuttal on his Twitter account where he says “This is heartbreaking,” and then defends against the main allegations.
He says he is not homophobic because, “Some of my dearest friends are members of the LGBTQ community,” and he hired several into a live-action fan-made production of Star Trek that Vic produced and starred in. “This is a blatantly false statement.”
Regarding anti-Semitism, he says this came from a panel he did years ago where a lot of noise was being made in the room next door and he “jokingly” referred to it as “a holocaust.” He says it was a metaphor, and he was not referring to the literal Holocaust. “Could I have chosen a different word? Sure, in retrospect I could have. And, of course, I am sorry that it offended anyone.”
Regarding being rude to convention staff, he apologizes, but says that one time he arrived at a con and the contractual arrangements that had been made before the convention were not honored, and “that made me frustrated. That does not excuse making anyone feel badly and I am deeply sorry.”
He also apologizes to anyone he has made feel uncomfortable through his unwanted embraces. “It was meant to show gratitude or support. I come from an affectionately expressive family where such displays are commonplace. But I understand that not everyone feels the same way. Hence, I will not be interacting in the same way with fans in the future.”
Each of these statements can be analyzed, and that’s exactly what MarzGurl on Twitter did when she posted a 32-part critical analysis of his rebuttal.
After this, Polygon reported on this growing issue on January 25. This brought it to the mainstream media’s attention.
Jessie Pridemore Speaks Out
Following the surge of people coming out to share their story, on January 28, a cosplayer and photographer named Jessie Pridemore posted her own painful experience with Mignogna on her Facebook page. In this post she recounts her experience of being taken advantage of while drunk at a convention by two unnamed voice actors. She goes so far as to call it rape. Within that story she also accuses Vic of sexually assaulting her by pulling on the back of her hair and insinuating that the only reason she liked a certain anime was because the voice actor who had sex with her was in it. She was so frightened she didn’t know what to do, and then ran away in tears.
Jessie said she never spoke out before because of retaliation. “I know this will probably tarnish me getting invited to cons. It’s why I started moving away from working for anime companies. I’ve become really good at ignoring shitty people over the years. But it is long past time that this comes out to light.”
The noteworthy thing about her story is that she did not name the people she said raped her, but she did name Vic for making a sexual assault that by any definition is a lesser (albeit equally valid) assault. So by placing the two allegations in the same narrative it leads your mind to associate Vic with the rape, when that’s not the case. Not naming the alleged rapist left a lot of unanswered questions, along with the fact there was no supportive evidence for any of the claims.
Despite that, almost all of the commenters supported her and were female, including famous voice actors. They said, “I love you and always support you. Your talent and reputation transcend this.” And, “Thank you so much for being so open and honest about this… You are an incredible person and your strength is inspiring.” The rest of the comments echoed sentiments of how bad a person Vic is, and how he was, “A creeper and known issue in conventions. … On a list of ‘guests who are to never be invited again.’”
It must be noted that when Jessie was asked for comment for this article-in-progress, she blocked me from her Facebook account.
Following Jessie’s statement, Anime News Network followed suit with their own report about these allegations against Vic. It consists of numerous anecdotes and pictures from fans who personally conveyed their experiences with Vic to the writer of the article. They described how they met Vic at a convention, did a photo-op, and were then made to feel uncomfortable or violated by Vic’s closeness, unrequested kisses, hugs around the waist, and even a hand underneath their clothes. This led to its own surge of hundreds of comments where fans shared their stories about Vic, many of which corroborated the article, but others which questioned whether this was gossip and even counted as news.
Allegations, Analysis, and Evidence
We need to take a moment to grasp the magnitude of how many allegations there are against Vic Mignogna, and that this situation has continued for such a long period of time. It is self-evident that the powers-that-be and that continue to hire and book Vic are for the most part content with ignoring the allegations, or are unwilling to take specific actions considering that they may be baseless.
However, given the sheer amount of allegations it feels like some are bound to have veracity. The problem is that there’s no way to confirm which ones are true or false because there’s such little evidence. The only thing that is public record is pictures of Vic hugging and kissing his fans, and being dropped from conventions over the years for various complaints, but the exact reasons for why remain unspoken, or as mere rumors that he is difficult to work with.
In regard to oft-hand allegations, anybody on the Internet can create a social media account or blog and then fabricate a story about a celebrity, and yet it will still be added to the list with the others and absorbed into the social consciousness. From there the court of public opinion will condemn the actor and their life will be affected. Such false allegations create a detrimental effect on the named celebrity and they weaken the validity of those that are genuine.
Without evidence, how can someone who was sexually assaulted, drugged, or raped, prove it years after the fact? If they didn’t take pictures, record audio, or file criminal charges, it’s near impossible. Conversely, how can someone accused of such behavior prove they didn’t do it? It’s more difficult to prove a negative than a positive. As a result, he-said, she-said is the order of the day.
Nonetheless, circumstantial evidence, in enough quantity, can be effective in showing a pattern. It’s a technique that prosecutors often use to show the repeat behavior of a suspected criminal. And this large amount of circumstantial evidence is what’s at the heart of this story. You either believe it or you don’t. So unless someone with enormous clout in the anime industry, who has a good reputation, and has worked with Vic, comes out with direct evidence to prove that Vic did these things, then we’ll never know for certain if it’s true or false.
Even without definitive proof, following these recent allegations in January, several conventions announced that Vic Mignogna would no longer attend their convention. For example, on January 28, 2019, PlanetComicon, in Kansas City, announced that Vic had cancelled his scheduled appearance.
The majority of responses to this announcement were ones of relief and gratitude that Vic would not be there. For example, ‘atomic_pixies’ said, “I’ve been warned to stay away from him since I was in my teens. I’m 32.” They also said, “Thank you for listening to your attendees. It’s always such a good sign for a con and makes me even happier to attend.”
But a few fans expressed dismay at how Vic is being treated, and were disappointed that they would not get to meet him. ‘HaleyAngelo_art’ said, “I’m also sad to see his cancellation. I had a GREAT experience when I met him, as did my niece (on a different occasion) and several friends who have met him at different conventions. He’s so down to earth!”
In these responses the fans who support the cancellation presumed that PlanetComicon was appeasing their requests, when actually the staff stated Vic cancelled the appearance at his own volition. The fans said this was just the staff’s polite way of saying that Vic has been booted from the con.
Likewise, the Rangerstop and Pop Atlanta convention announced on January 18 that Vic would attend their convention, but then fans sent them the allegations and requested to #KickVic. The staff replied they had not heard of these allegations before and would investigate them. Then on Jan. 28, the staff cancelled Vic’s appearance.
This was followed on Jan 30 by Emerald City Comic Con announcing, “Vic Mignogna’s appearance at Emerald City Comic Con has been cancelled.”
So it seems like a lot of conventions are cancelling Vic’s appearances, and thus hurting Vic financially. But then again, if you look at Vic’s official convention appearance calendar, he still has convention appearances lined up for almost every weekend of 2019.
Timing and Society
Some fans question the timing of these allegations in light of Dragon Ball Super: Broly’s success. For example, on the GameFAQs forum, user ‘fancystopperman’ said, “This #MeToo shit is starting to get to me. Counting these women, this is the 84th girl I’ve heard this year claim sexual harassment and NOT ONE of them claimed it instantly. They all waited 4 years—decades. I’m not saying they’re all fake but at least one of them has to be off base.” User ‘MrReadman’ replied, “I feel the same way. Just by chance some of them are telling the truth, but the timing of this [convention] cancellation (you know, the big new Broly movie) leads me to believe that some (not all) are trying to cause controversy.” User ‘PFM18’ called the allegations “FAKE NEWS.”
Others question whether hugging and kissing a person is even a problem, and claim, as Vic does, that it’s just innocent touching. That may well be true, but most people don’t like to be touched by strangers. According to this 2015 study on touching, it is a subjective experience. “We may perceive a touch in a particular place from a relative or friend as a comforting gesture, while the same touch from a partner might be more pleasurable, and from a stranger it would be entirely unwelcome.” The conclusion being that the only people who can decide if a touch is harmless are those who are touched. And if you’re touched without asking for it, and without consent, it can be harmful.
Conventions are a place where fans are star-struck, the celebrities are paid to be friendly, the fans are young, naïve, and inexperienced, and Vic is a charming man who likes to give his fans special attention. So it’s easy to understand why so many of Vic’s young fans would be surprised by his unexpected touch, or even shocked and mentally harmed.
It’s especially questionable giving the amount of sexual assault that occurs in the convention scene.
Sexual Assault at Conventions
One of the reasons sexual assault allegations about Vic Mignogna are such a sensitive issue is because sexual assault is a rampant problem at conventions. It is allowed to occur at conventions because the people who put on the conventions don’t do enough to resolve it, and the attendees repeat their illicit behavior. This is despite the fact that sexual assault at anime conventions and Western comic-cons is a long-standing and well-known problem.
In one survey of San Diego Comic-Con attendees from 2012, out of 3,600 people surveyed, 59% said they felt sexual harassment was a problem in the comics industry and 25% said they had been sexually harassed. Given that over 130,000 people attend the SDCC each year, this amounts to tens of thousands of victims. Then consider that this is just a single convention, and hundreds of conventions occur each year across the country. It’s likely that this issue is just as prevalent at anime conventions, but I could not find a similar study to confirm it.
Assault issues at conventions include preying on underage girls, taking upskirt pictures, gender harassment, seductive behavior, sexual bribery, sexual coercion, sexual imposition, drugging, fondling, “creeping,” pressuring someone to consume alcohol, rape, and the general manner in which older men prey upon younger women. Of course, it needs to be stated that men are also victims of sexual assault.
It is especially prevalent in the cosplay community, whereby fans dress up in the costumes of their favorite characters. In part, because in the cosplay world, sex sells. For example, the world’s most famous cosplayer, Jessica Nigri, with over 3.5 million followers on Instagram, makes a point of showing off her breasts in her photographs and videos while wearing skimpy costumes. Other aspiring cosplayers emulate this model for success, and in-turn garner fans who are attracted to them for their sexuality. It’s not a stretch to say that the perception of female cosplayers as sex objects has become normalized.
In 2014 the issue was so pronounced that a movement was started by 16-bitSirens called “Cosplay Does Not Equal Consent”. The goal was to combat sexual harassment, from “threats of violence to inappropriate touching, and from lewd Facebook messages to stalking.” They stated, “The consensus is that it isn’t safe to be a woman in cosplay.” In addition to shaming people who act like creeps, the recommendation for everyone was that, “It is always better to ask a cosplayer for permission.” And of course this highlights the message that it is not okay to hug or kiss someone without their permission. Especially underage girls.
In 2016 this helped lead to the creation of a site to combat the issue called the Survivor Support Network, which is, “an inclusive page for members of the cosplay community who are survivors of harassment, trauma, sexual assault, or abuse to find support and comfort.” They have a Convention Harassment Policies page where you can see every convention in America and whether or not they have a policy against harassment and whether they enforce it. Some have a policy but do not enforce it, while many don’t have any policy at all. As a result, sometimes harassed attendees don’t know how to respond or who to talk to, or they’re so shocked that they freeze up, look around in confusion, and by the time they regain their composure the harasser is gone—so it never gets reported. Only later do they share on social media about what happened.
And in a world where 51% of incidents of rape are committed by repeat offenders, not banning one-time offenders from a convention can lead to repeat incidents. The same thing occurs on campus universities. Predators, narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths repeat their strategies to target their prey and deflect from those who attempt to expose them. It is important to recognize their patterns, both for those who have been victimized to come to terms with what occurred, and to help others avoid being victimized in the future. This is as true for celebrities as it is for average fans. Perhaps even more so for celebrities, as they are in a position of power.
Hollywood is ahead of the anime community in its reaction to the #MeToo movement. For example, in the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, pamphlets were included in each attendee’s gift-bag that included a hotline number to report sexual harassment.
Due to the lag in the anime community for authorities to resolve the problems, fans have resorted to policing themselves and raising awareness of harassment. One of the ways they’ve done this is by boycotting conventions if they invite a certain guest, or entire conventions outright. For example, Boycott Anime Matsuri is a movement to stop people from attending the Houston-based anime convention, in most part due to the Co-Founder John Leigh’s alleged harassment of attendees. Their movement has had an impact, as many celebrities cancelled their appearances. Eventually John Leigh pledged to do better and said, “I sincerely apologize.” But for many it wasn’t enough and the controversy continues.
Self-policing and movements can be effective, but it’s difficult for convention owners to deal with the offenders when they are celebrities because the celebrities are what bring in the money through ticket sales. Conventions used to be about the hobby, but they are now a money-making business first and foremost. Just as in any industry, those with power and influence may use their influence to gain advantage over young, naïve, or fearful individuals for sexual favors. This includes voice actors in anime and video games.
As a result, fans have created a website to report offending celebrities, and a term to brand them by.
BrokenStaircase “is a crowd-sourced directory of alleged predators at US anime conventions.” Vic Mignogna is the third entry on the list, in bright red, reading: “sexual misconduct with minors, physical boundary violations, verbal and physical sexual harassment, homophobia, anti-Semitism.”
The term Broken Staircase or Missing Stair refers to a member of a community who is known to cause harm to others and who has to be worked around like a missing stair in a staircase; and then the workaround becomes so normalized that even though people are getting hurt by this person, instead of ‘fixing the staircase’ they blame victims for not applying the workaround.
The creator of the site says, “Everyone around them knows that there’s an issue, but because the problem’s been there for such a long time, people have learned to jump over it. The convention community is full of these people due to a common geek social fallacy: that ostracizers are evil and that excluding people is malicious and wrong.”
BrokenStaircase was created by an anonymous anime fan as a platform for other fans to report their sexual abusers at conventions without fear of retribution. In an interview with Kotaku the creator said, “I just got so tired of seeing so many parallel accounts of the same predators … I kept seeing people make call-out posts, but if they’re being made on Twitter, they’re just going to vanish into the ether because of time. If they’re made on Facebook, they’re not going to make it outside of a really small circle. The convention community is nationwide.”
On the FAQ section of the site the creator says, “A lifetime of abuse watched by bystanders plus an assault last year by a rapist in the convention scene have given me strong opinions on the consequences of silence.” They said on Kotaku, “I know we all want to be accepting because the reason we’re together as a community is because we’re rejected for our interests in other spheres of society. … But at the same time, there are people who are just not safe.”
On this site, anybody can make an anonymous claim against a celebrity in the anime community, and then their name will be added to the list after being reviewed by the moderator. This system protects the victim from being targeted, but it could be prone to abuse. So the way it works is that, “People accused by multiple sources will be highlighted in red. Reports made with no associated documentation will be in grey. Take everything with a grain of salt.” The creator says, “I’m not interested in punishing these people. … Conventions can punish. Law enforcement can punish. … I am here to equip people who are likely to be victimized to arm themselves and be suspicious because fear keeps us safe in these situations.”
In reading through the list of alleged offenders I was surprised to see another Dragon Ball voice actor’s name: Todd Haberkorn, the voice of Jaco the Galactic Patrolman in Dragon Ball Super. Todd’s entry reads: “providing alcohol to someone under 21, inappropriate comments about body, invited attendees to sleep in hotel room.” The linked statement says this incident occurred at Colossalcon 2011, in Sandusky, Ohio.
BrokenStaircase’s existence is a symptom of a much larger problem. While this site may serve a beneficial purpose, it can also be considered a blacklist of actors not to interact with, and in-turn, a list of people for companies not to hire. This can damage that person’s career, and with voice actors in particular, who are self-employed individuals, it can amount to decades of work going down the drain. The fact that anybody can post anything they want about someone, and then it’s open to subjective opinion, should be frightening to every celebrity out there. And maybe that’s the point: To hold these people accountable when the system fails to do so.
Voice Actors Are Not Perfect
It may be difficult to view voice actors as fallible creatures who make mistakes or have a history of purposeful abusive behavior. I suspect it’s because we hear their voices so often that we become familiar with them in an emotional and idealized way. Oftentimes this emotion is comforting, uplifting, inspirational, funny, or nostalgic, and we associate their voice with this feeling.
It’s especially difficult if they do things for the community, inspire their fans, or help others on a personal level. We say, ‘They couldn’t have done this bad thing here because look at all the good they’ve done over there.’ Likewise, if you’ve had a positive experience with a celebrity at a convention, you might make the false assumption that somebody else could never have a negative experience with them.
For a counterpoint to this argument, a lot of people thought Bill Cosby was a kind old man who made millions of people laugh every week on The Cosby Show, and we giggled at his silly commercials for Jell-O Pudding, but then it turned out he raped dozens of women through drug-facilitated sexual assault. Cosby was convicted in 2018 of three counts of aggravated indecent assault after 60 women came forward to accuse him, years after their assault occurred.
It’s also common for fans to admit that yes, perhaps the celebrity has some quirks, but it is the victim’s fault for not realizing this and treating the actor with the proper care. They say, ‘You shouldn’t have dressed like that.’ ‘You shouldn’t have drank so much.’ Or, ‘You shouldn’t have gone up to their room.’ This shifts the blame to the victim. Hence, the need for the Broken Staircase label.
The Comics Alliance posed the question, “Which one of these statements makes more sense to say: ‘These people need to find more ways to stop people from harming them.’ OR: ‘These people should stop causing harm.’ If you ever find yourself saying the former instead of the latter, take a moment and ask yourself why.” The Missing Stair entry on Wikipedia states, “the problem is the missing stair (the predator) and the solution is fixing the stair (stopping the predatory behavior).”
So with all of these allegations about Vic Mignogna floating around, what has one of his biggest employers done about it?
FUNimation has hired Vic to perform as Broly for the last 16 years. Allegations against Vic have been well-known in the industry for 16 years. FUNimation has known about these allegations, yet continued to hire him. Fans are upset by this, and that’s why the Twitter post on the night of Dragon Ball Super: Broly’s premiere went viral.
FUNimation has been contacted for comments on sensitive issues before, including executives, producers, and social media managers, but they have never responded. This time it seemed better to ask former FUNimation employees to comment, thinking that they’d be able to open up. But no, they did not respond. Similarly, when Polygon published their article on Mignogna, they wrote, “When Polygon reached out to FUNimation … the company declined to comment on the allegations.”
FUNimation has never stated their private business decisions for why they continue to hire Vic in the face of so many allegations, so for the time being one can only surmise.
From a legal standpoint the allegations against Vic have not resulted in criminal charges or provided direct evidence of guilt. So firing Vic because of these allegations, no matter how numerous, may have produced legal repercussions against FUNimation. Even if FUNimation provided a detailed explanation for their rationale behind the decision, it would still leave questions that may never receive answers.
From a business perspective, fans expect Vic to reprise his role as Broly because they associate him with the character. Replacing him may result in backlash by fans against FUNimation, against the new voice actor, and result in reduced ticket sales, which would upset those who are invested in the company.
Furthermore, it would tarnish the company’s image, bring trouble to the cast and crew of each series he’s been involved with, and blight everyone in the industry who has worked with Vic, yet said nothing and did nothing.
There’s also the moral question of ruining a man’s career because of allegations that cannot be proven.
FUNimation has, however, taken action with similar incidents in the past. For example, in 2015, voice actor Scott Freeman was convicted to 3 years of prison for possession of child pornography. FUNimation stated, “In May of 2015, FUNimation became aware of the legal matter involving Scott Freeman, at which time we suspended our relationship with Scott. In the wake of recent news, we have permanently ended the relationship.” So in a situation where there is direct evidence of criminal conduct and actual conviction, FUNimation severs their ties with an actor.
But in regard to Vic Mignogna, on the surface it seems they’ve done nothing. However, it’s likely that FUNimation and their parent company Sony Pictures are conducting an internal investigation into these allegations about Vic. The results and subsequent response remain to be seen.
Is it possible that Vic Mignogna will be replaced as the voice actor for Broly, or soft-banned from voice acting entirely by the industry? If so, what would that mean for Vic, for the fans, and for the series he’s been involved with moving forward? What would it mean for the industry at large? Will people take notice? Will it spark change?
Dragon Ball Voice Actors Weigh-In
What do those who have worked with Vic think about these allegations? Five Dragon Ball voice actors and professionals in the anime industry that have worked with Vic were asked to weigh-in.
One of them was Adam Sheehan, a former Senior Marketing Manager at FUNimation. He did not respond to an initial email before publication, but his name will be important later in this story. Of the rest, only two voice actors responded, and one of them requested they remain anonymous. It can be presumed the others don’t want their name associated with this scandal.
One who did not mind speaking candidly is Kara Edwards, the voice of Videl in Dragon Ball Super. She said: “I do believe Jessie, as in my experience very few victims make their stories up. I will say I have never been assaulted by any voice actor or person in the business. Have I seen or experienced inappropriate actions? Of course. Until recently, that was part of being a woman in any industry. And I’m glad to see things changing.”
Another voice actor in the industry, Jamie McGonnigal, said, “I’ve been a voice actor for 20 years. I’ve known Vic Mignogna for most of that. I’d heard stories of him preying on particularly younger women & girls & I’ve seen his behavior up close. Now dozens of courageous women are sharing their experiences. We must listen to them. #KickVic. We need to be better. As a community, an industry, a world. We need to listen to survivors. What does it say to our daughters & sons when we say to “Prove it.” and “We don’t believe you”? It says no one will believe you. And it says go ahead and do what you want. We need to stop.”
Todd Haberkorn Speaks Out
Jessie Pridemore did not name her alleged rapist at the convention circa 2009. However, in the comment section of her post she did say, “6 out of 7 women who messaged me about the unnamed voice actor have been correct.” More people tried to guess, but she explained that she did not want to come out and name him because, “I can’t be alone when I do this. He’s too powerful in the community.” As time went on, people on Twitter started to accuse Todd Haberkorn of being the unnamed rapist.
At 1:30 EST, January 31, voice actor Todd Haberkorn made a statement on his Facebook account where he claims that he is the one who had sex with Jessie Pridemore in 2009, but that he did not rape her.
In Todd’s post he recalls the particular details of the events that Jessie referred to. He says that he was a guest at a convention with a friend named Adam, and that a “very close friend” of Adam’s would be at the convention’s weekend party for the guests. So he meets up with this friend (Jessie), and the three of them have drinks at the open bar. They flirt with one another, continue drinking, and then proceed to their hotel room, “where we engaged in consensual, adult intimacy: sex.” He says that the following morning, the two of them woke up early at around 5 to 6 am, and “left the hotel room together – she went her way and I went mine.”
So Todd states they had consensual sex between two adults. Alcohol was involved, and he acknowledges this as a factor, but argue the two both wanted to have sex and they left on amicable terms.
He says, “A week later, this young woman contacted me and we began chatting; getting to know each other a bit more. She mentioned that she was glad Adam had introduced us.” Todd provides images with his post as visual evidence of the two of them chatting in casual conversation. Todd says Jessie suggested that they become sex buddies at conventions throughout the country, having sex whenever they happened to meet up. But Todd says that he declined the offer because he was going through a divorce, and through their conversations, “I saw that she had some issues that I didn’t feel equipped to take on given my own circumstances.” Later, he says Jessie made the offer again. “After that, we lost touch but roamed in similar circuits on the con scene. If we happened to cross paths, things were pleasant and polite.”
He adds, “As a sexual abuse victim myself, I’m incredibly sensitive to anyone’s experiences with abuse in this realm. … But I also know that I am 50% of the equation and have just as much right to share my side of the story as well.”
Todd finishes the post with his own hashtag: “#Truth4Todd.”
This post generated hundreds of comments and shares. Most sided with Todd and thanked him for coming forward to counter the allegedly fake allegations. “I am so glad that you had the courage to come out and share this. Lying about rape is wrong, just as much as raping is wrong. Thank you for pointing out the truth.” “Seems a lot of females who feel slighted like to become drama queens and purposefully try and make their hook-ups into something they’re not in order to gain attention and make the man look bad.” And, “People are more willing to destroy a man’s career or life before they would consider that a woman might not be stating the truth.”
Others were confused by it. Especially with how it contradicted Jessie’s earlier allegations. They wondered if it counts as rape if both people are drunk. And if so, who raped whom? But above all else, why Todd would want to name himself prior to Jessie naming him. Did he feel that it would be best to get ahead of the story in order to frame it with his own narrative? Or was it because he felt maligned by these allegations and needed to defend himself?
In any case, the differentiator between the two stories is that Todd provided evidence of their conversations after the incident. This lends more credence to the rebuttal than to the allegation. Because you have to ask yourself, why would a woman who claimed that she was raped, then proceed to sexually proposition her rapist, flirt with him, and remain friends while hoping to be sexual partners with no strings attached?
From what can be observed from their contradicting claims, it seems like it was a night where two lonely and hurt people got drunk and made each other feel better for an evening. This happens all the time. Where the problems begin is when that experience gets defined as rape. And on the one side, Todd’s fans think he did the right thing by exposing the supposedly false narrative of a woman who claimed rape. On the other side, Jessie’s supporters continue to believe her claims that she was taken advantage of, and feel it was scummy for Todd to contradict her and publish private conversations.
A divisive contrast of #MeToo versus #FakeNews.
Adam Sheehan Speaks Out
Later that same day, at 5:48 pm, EST, former Senior Marketing Manager at FUNimation Adam Sheehan posted a 16-part rebuttal to Todd Haberkorn’s original rebuttal on his Twitter account.
Even though Adam’s last name was not mentioned in Todd’s statement, he comes forth as the one being mentioned. Adam says, “He decided to include me in this response so I wanted to help add to the narrative.” In this rebuttal he questions why Todd would come out at all. Also, “I’ve known Todd for many years and like most people he’s a mix of good and bad. I’ve been friends with other VAs that we all thought were good guys and shocked to find out they were very much not that after all.”
Just as Todd did with Jessie, Adam shares images of private conversations between himself and Todd about Vic Mignogna. Their discussions indicate that sexual assault allegations surrounding Vic Mignogna were an open secret within the voice acting industry.
He then describes his own recollection of the party. He says, “Jessie was repeatedly given more to drink, again and again. Someone should have stopped people from giving her drinks. Someone should have stopped her leaving with Todd later that night to go back to his room…. That someone should have been me and a few others. … It doesn’t matter the excuse, I didn’t help. I was a bad friend that night.”
He states that both Jessie and Todd are good friends, as Todd taught his daughter theater and Jessie was the photographer at his wedding. So it’s not about loyalty. “This is about Todd jumping on Jessie’s very brave post about Vic when he wasn’t named in it to save his own skin.”
Adam questions Todd’s intentions. He wonders, if Todd’s so sensitive to people’s experiences with abuse, then why put out this statement while Jessie is going through such turmoil for speaking up about Vic? Why not take this moment to speak up about Vic, or about his own abuse? “I know Todd is not a Vic fan so this could have been a moment to step up and publicly address things he’s seen. But he did not. Instead he went after Jessie. Easy target.”
Commenters appreciated the added context and balance, but were just as divided. A woman said, “This adds way more transparency and fortifies my stance to believe Jessie. You may not think you were a good friend that night but you are certainly being one now.” A man said, “God I hate this #MeToo movement bullshit. I’ll always support Todd! Looking forward to seeing him at cons this year.”
Ultimately, all of these issues became public because the problems with these celebrities and within the anime industry were not addressed years ago, quietly, and in private. Multiple people who are in a position of authority at major companies, voice acting studios, and at conventions have heard these allegations about Vic Mignogna for years, and yet chose to do nothing about them. So then when Vic is cast once more as Broly in Dragon Ball Super: Broly, and it becomes one of the most successful anime films of all time, a limelight is cast on Vic and his years of sexual assault allegations. This causes fans to speak up about Vic, which leads to Jessie Pridemore accusing someone of raping her and tying Vic into the story. This draws attention to her story, and also to this unnamed alleged rapist. People start guessing that it’s Todd Haberkorn and this makes Todd come out with a rebuttal, where in the process he names Adam. So then Adam comes out with his own rebuttal, and the entire can of worms explodes in our faces!
This is where we’re at, so let’s take a moment to think about this complicated situation.
The allegations against Vic Mignogna have not been proven. But logic dictates that if hundreds of people across a span of 16 years come forward to share their stories of how they were sexually assaulted or offended by the same man, and none of these people know one another, then there is likely some truth to their claims. A normal employee in any industry would not be receiving assault allegations over a span of decades if there weren’t something fishy going on. Likewise, if colleagues of this man are aware of these allegations and talk about it amongst themselves as if it’s an accepted fact, then maybe that really is the case. But without evidence, what should be done?
In some cases it may be necessary to throw a Broken Staircase out of a group because the harm they cause is too severe and they have already been given enough opportunities to change. In other cases, they may be able to make amends and alter their behavior. At the very least, we need to recognize them. Tolerating the perpetrators to such a degree that it enables them to continue doing heinous acts needs to end. Look to the Catholic Church sexual abuse cases involving priests and thousands of underage boys to see how ignoring the problem, or arguing that it’s too embarrassing to address, can enable it and make it worse.
What’s the worst that can happen with keeping a Broken Staircase in place?
With Vic in particular there has been no definitive evidence to convict him. This divides people, and they say, ‘He’s finally getting what he deserves!’ Or ‘Our society is condemning an innocent man!’
But how are we supposed to know the truth if the people on the inside won’t allow the truth to come out? Don’t people deserve to know who they’re dealing with? Who they’re giving their money to? And to be protected from harm? We’re left to wonder, ‘How many Broken Staircases are out there?’
There’s more that can be said, but what’s here is enough food for thought. What was discussed is a symptom of bigger problems. Vic is just one more example in a long line of lessons. But at what point will the entire Staircase collapse? And will the repairman ever fix it?
As Vic once stated: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”