#TheStories, part 4Editorial
This is one part in a series of personal accounts of harassment, abuse, and assault in the opera and classical music industries. These stories are published as told to me, with some names and details withheld at the author’s request.
The following was submitted by American tenor Wes Hunter.
I met Greg Ruffer my second year as a student at Central Florida Community College (now the College of Central Florida). Having never taken voice lessons before, I was nervous to be joining the College choir and musical theatre ensemble that performed shows every semester. Greg, who was my voice teacher and head of the voice faculty at the College, encouraged me to change my major to voice. He often would make little sexual jokes or innuendo, but it was fairly professional in the beginning.
Deep down inside I believed the allegations to be absolutely true - I just could not accept it at the time.
While at the College, I became comfortable enough in my skin to come out to friends and family. I spent two years taking lessons from him and, increasingly, the barriers between student and teacher began to disassemble. There were rumors regarding his inappropriate conversations with (mostly gay) male students, but I turned a blind eye to those warnings. Supposedly, he would often tell male students to go to the dark corners of the theater to masturbate if they were nervous before a performance.
In my second year, word spread that a classmate was coming forward with sexual assault allegations against Greg. Because I looked up to this man, I couldn’t support my classmate in his complaint to the school administration. But deep down inside I believed the allegations to be absolutely true - I just could not accept it at the time.
The school did nothing about it. It seemed the resolution would be that my classmate would no longer be in classes with Greg, but no action was taken against him.
I can’t prove that he dropped me because I wouldn’t sleep with him, but I know I shouldn’t have been in the position I was in to begin with.
As they say, “First they came for…” It wasn’t long after that I received a few emails from an anonymous email address, the first of which simply read, “I know I am your fantasy.” I wouldn’t admit it at the time, but Greg was at the top of the list of suspects. In fact, part of the burner email address included the area code for a part of Ohio - where Greg was from. I told a few friends about it and began to reply to the emails, hoping to oust the anonymous sender.
After a few weeks I remember coming into Greg’s office to chat (which wasn’t irregular). That day he became visibly upset and claimed his husband was allegedly sleeping with a young man while performing in Mexico. At some point in the conversation, Greg looked directly into my eyes and said, “The emails can stop now.”
I said nothing. Perhaps I nodded my head, but I was speechless. My voice teacher, mentor, and head of the voice faculty at my college was attempting to seduce me through a fake email address. I didn’t know what to do. So, I continued acting as if nothing happened. I found out later that Greg had either told his husband, or perhaps only hinted, that Greg and I were sexually involved. It was a lie, but I had no relationship with the husband through which to explain my side of events. I let it go.
Every moment from that point on I was on high alert when around Greg. I still had weekly voice lessons, choir rehearsal, show ensemble rehearsals, and aural training classes with him. I couldn’t escape from this man. After my classes finished, I had a few more lessons from Greg. I was terrified to be alone with him now that we were no longer a student and teacher.
I shiver to think what he could have gotten away with all these years.
Greg probably realized that I was uncomfortable because I went from being his star toted pupil to being told I should “go teach” because I would “never have a voice big enough to perform.” I was 20. And this unexpectedly from the man who had convinced me to apply to many major music schools on the east coast just 6 months prior. I can’t prove that he dropped me because I wouldn’t sleep with him, but I know I shouldn’t have been in the position I was in to begin with.
He now works in Boston, of all places, where I live. I’ve seen him a few times, but as I’ve slowly realized the psychological damage he did to me a decade ago, I’ve now decided to never speak to him again. I do wonder how many others he has targeted. Who knows how many young men he now oversees.
But it was never just me with Greg. There are others from that school who have their own stories to share. Since he left the College, he’s worked for at least three other organizations before settling into Boston. I shiver to think what he could have gotten away with all these years.