She helped put her attacker in jail. Speaking out has brought her more horror than she could have imagined


Reluctant to talk about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her ballet teacher, Katie Wee realized it was up to her to stop him from hurting more students.

So, in the winter of 2017, she agreed to hide a recording device in her purse and go to a cafe in Daly City to meet the man who assaulted her more than a decade earlier. The police hoped she could get a confession or an apology.

It worked and Viktor Kabaniaev, a former Soviet ballet star, was arrested in January 2018 and now 59, he is serving 20 years in Avenal state prison after pleading guilty to four counts of assaulting two girls.

But Wee, who was previously known as Jane Doe 1 before agreeing to use her real name publicly for the first time for this story, said she felt little justice. Instead, she recounted in a moving 90-minute interview with The Chronicle, years of retraumatization after reporting to authorities, testifying in court, enduring a mistrial and confronting a juror. She said she was speaking out to raise awareness of a broken criminal justice system and a fragile dance world where young girls and their parents must often maintain an allegiance to instructors in an industry with little safety instructions.

Katie Wee, 14, dances at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. She speaks out about her abuse to raise awareness of the dance industry’s failures to protect young girls.

Provided by Katie Wee

“I sleep easy at night knowing Viktor is in jail and can’t abuse little girls anymore,” Wee said Thursday from his parents’ Lake Tahoe home, dabbing his eyes with a tissue. “But I’m more horrified now than when I started the process.”

On August 1, Wee, now 33, filed a lawsuit against Kabaniaev and her former employer, the Contra Costa Ballet Center in Walnut Creek, alleging abuse by her 12- to 16-year-old instructor. and the dance studio’s failure to protect her. In January, another Kabaniaev alumnus sued him and the Westlake School for the Performing Arts in Daly City, alleging similar charges.

“The teacher-student relationship is built on trust, and as educators, we have a responsibility to fully honor that trust,” Contra Costa School said in a statement to The Chronicle. “We do not condone or condone abuse in any way. The Contra Costa Ballet Center is and always has been committed to protecting our young people and supporting their aspirations.

Westlake School did not respond to a request for comment.

Wee, now an actress living in Los Angeles, grew up in the world of ballet where she said comments about weight and body, and frequent close contact, were constant. From 2000 to 2004, Kabaniaev abused her at the dance studios, her car, as well as her parents’ yoga studio and their Lake Tahoe home. He was in his late thirties and she was in college.

She did not tell anyone about the abuse. The years have passed.

In 2017, she got married, landed roles in hit shows like “Modern Family” and “Shrill,” but waves of flashbacks began to flood her daily life. She started therapy. It wasn’t his fault, his therapist repeated. She didn’t believe it.

Her brother had a daughter and as a new aunt she began to see the world differently. His therapist asked if Kabaniaev was still teaching children. He was, and Wee worried. Her therapist informed her that she was a mandated reporter and should report it, but asked if Wee would help as she would be more credible. She accepted, but wanted to remain anonymous.

Katie Wee, shown in her garden in 1994, was abused by her ballet teacher, but she hasn't told anyone.  It wasn't until years later that she reported the abuse and saw her abuser go to jail.

Katie Wee, shown in her garden in 1994, was abused by her ballet teacher, but she hasn’t told anyone. It wasn’t until years later that she reported the abuse and saw her abuser go to jail.

Provided by Eileen Wee 1994

She said she called a Child Protective Services office and a receptionist urged her to call the police. She called two police departments. A police dispatcher told her she would have to share all of her information if she wanted action taken.

“I felt very exposed,” she recalls.

Eventually Walnut Creek detectives called her back and asked her to recount the abuse. She wanted them to investigate Kabaniaev because she thought there might be more victims, but they were interested in his story. They told her they believed her but needed proof and asked if she would surreptitiously record it.

Thus, in December 2017, she found herself sitting at the bar of a Daly City Starbucks, surrounded by plainclothes police, as her attacker approached her.

“You look amazing,” he said, according to a transcript of the exchange Wee shared with The Chronicle.

“I know I never stopped you, and I never said stop or anything like that, but now that I’m older, I see a 12-year-old shouldn’t have to say that,” she told him.

“I was a stupid idiot, you know?” he said. He tried to explain himself, saying there was a “great attraction” at the time. He offered her all his money, and to kill himself, and to kiss her feet.

The following month, Wee received a text message from Contra Costa prosecutors stating that Kabaniaev was arrested the next day and that he was expecting the news, so she might want to alert her family. It was exactly what she had wanted to avoid.

“I tried to shield them from this truth for a very long time because I knew it would be so hard for them,” she said.

Reporting on his arrest included interviews with his supporters. During his bail hearing, the judge received numerous letters of support from the parents of the girls Wee had hoped to protect.

Katie Wee has shared her yearbook photo from 2000. The former Jane Doe 1 is now talking about her story using her own name.

Katie Wee has shared her yearbook photo from 2000. The former Jane Doe 1 is now talking about her story using her own name.

Provided by Katie Wee 2000

Another victim came forward and Kabaniaev was charged with indecent assault, rape and oral copulation involving the two students. As the trial approached, Wee said she asked prosecutors to deny defense plea deals. She felt like they were “spitting on her case” and considering having Wee and her parents testify as bargaining chips.

During opening statements, Kabaniaev’s lawyer said Wee’s allegations stemmed from her “lackluster acting career, mental health issues and poor self-esteem”.

She was the first prosecution witness – Jane Doe 1 – to take the stand.

“I decided to be brave and tell the truth,” Wee recalled. “I related the details of the most horrific times of my life to a room full of strangers.”

And then, as she grabbed the few remaining tissues from a box and sweat dripped from her hands, she was cross-examined.

“OK, let’s talk about the fact that you are in love with Mr. Kabaniaev. Did you tell him you were in love with him? asked the defense attorney. She was 12, she replied.

“There was a strong narrative of me being a lovesick kid with an unrequited crush, trying to attract this older man,” Wee recalled.

Kabaniaev spoke up and said Wee tried to seduce him.

In October 2019, the jury hung 6 to 6 and the judge declared a mistrial. The Chronicle spoke with the foreperson of the jury after the court adjourned and she explained her concerns: “Three alleged victims for over 20 years of teaching and hundreds of students? If he was an outright pedophile, there would be more victims.

Wee was shocked by the verdict.

“I thought it was a mistake,” Wee recalled. “How could someone hear me and say they didn’t believe me?

Katie Wee hugs her dog Penny near her parents' Lake Tahoe home.  Wee says her dog has helped her as she continues to heal from sexual abuse at the age of 12.

Katie Wee hugs her dog Penny near her parents’ Lake Tahoe home. Wee says her dog has helped her as she continues to heal from sexual abuse at the age of 12.

Bronte Wittpenn/The Chronicle

So, Wee found out where the president of the jury worked and showed up at her company to ask her exactly that. Why did she keep coming back, Wee said, the woman asked her if she was being abused?

As a second trial loomed, Wee’s life deteriorated further. Amid her anxiety and PTSD, she discovered she had a genetic mutation that greatly increased her risk of breast and ovarian cancer and underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. In 2020, she divorced.

In June 2021, prosecutors phoned Wee and said another victim had come forward and they had reached a plea deal with Kabaniaev where he would receive 20 years. His former teacher would plead guilty to three counts of sexual assault of a minor under the age of 14 and one count of sexual assault of a 14 to 15 year old – four of 14 counts initials he faced. She faced him during sentencing.

“Today marks the first day in my life that the world recognizes that what you did to me was wrong, and you will be punished, because I matter and what happened to me matters,” she said. . “I showed up and this system let me down and re-traumatized me, but today – because of another brave woman coming forward, humanity didn’t let me down.”

It is this system that Wee hopes to change.

“I kept thinking the process would be easier,” Wee recalled. “That removing a pedophile from the environment where he was teaching children would be easy.”

One of his lawyers, Stu Mollrich, said the dance industry hasn’t had its way yet as a After and After case of abuse by teachers surface.

“You’ve got an industry that’s taking a lot of money, so they have a lot of incentive to hide abuse and not let anyone know about it,” Mollrich said.

For Wee, after years of wanting to remain anonymous, she voluntarily gave up her pseudonym of Jane Doe. She ignored friends who warned her that the association of her name with this abuse could affect her career and her future.

“I absolutely want to be known as someone who put my abuser in jail and stopped him from abusing other children,” Wee said. “Sexual abuse gives the victim enormous shame… As you get older you start to realize that it’s not my fault and the shame isn’t mine.”

Matthias Gafni is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @mgafni


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