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Motivational Speaker Tony Robbins Accused of Verbal Abuse and Sexual Misconduct

Prachi Gupta May 18, 2019. 21 comments

Tony Robbins, a motivational speaker who is famous from infomercials, books, and self-help seminars, has been accused verbal abuse and making unwanted sexual advances towards followers and fans.

Over the past year, BuzzFeed has collected accounts from former fans, followers, insiders, along with leaked recordings and internal documents. Together, the evidence portrays a disturbing culture inside Robbins’s self-help business. The report alleges that, in addition to engaging in sexual misconduct, Robbins “berated abuse victims and subjected his followers to unorthodox and potentially dangerous techniques.”

Robbins has amassed a devoted, cult-like following through his charismatic persona and inspirational speeches that preach a self-reliant view of the world—he argues that will-power and attitude can overcome any personal ailment or trauma. His methods are notoriously private, BuzzFeed reports, but former insiders describe the conditions at seminars as harsh by design:

Robbins’ intensive multiday events are often held in rooms kept deliberately cold and run from early in the morning to well past midnight, with few breaks for food and water. Followers are encouraged to run across hot coals. Internal company emails reveal concerns about fans suffering mental breakdowns after days of emotional exhaustion as well as “sleep deprivation and dehydration.” In this intense atmosphere, some audience members became disoriented as the days went by, said Todd Spendley, a former logistics contractor for the organization. “We used to joke about it,” he said. “People started ‘popping like popcorn.’”

Robbins’ lawyers said there have been “very few reported instances of anyone suffering any form of significant physical injury or adverse medical condition” at his “thousands of events over the past 40 years.”

Robbins’s legal team, which sent legal threats to multiple sources in the story, denied the allegations of abuse and wrote that Robbins has gone to “great lengths to ensure the safety, comfort and enjoyment of all attendees.”

In addition to allegedly subjecting traumatized people, including victims of domestic and sexual violence, to potentially triggering situations and tactics, former staff members allege that Robbins used his events as places to lure in attractive women:

Both Heather Porter, a former event manager, and Miki Knowles, who worked as Robbins’ personal chef, recalled hearing colleagues describe how the security team would pluck women from the audience on Robbins’ behalf. “The security guys would tell stories about women they’d had to take up to his room,” Knowles said. Lavely & Singer said that both women referenced their work with Robbins in a positive light in their online profiles.

Multiple former staffers and followers, including a woman named Kay, also described Robbins making unwanted sexual advances towards them:

A fourth woman, Kay, joined Robbins’ crew in the late ‘90s. She told BuzzFeed News that he singled her out immediately, frequently telling her she was beautiful. Over the next few years, she said he encouraged her to end two separate relationships, offered to fly her out to visit him, and gave her a secret phone number. The more she refused him, she said, the more he “relentlessly” pursued her.

“It’s part of what he teaches: Go after what you want,” she said. “And he wants to acquire you as a woman.”

Kay recalled one seminar where Robbins told the crowd to imagine they were having an orgasm. He then stepped down and whispered in her ear, “I wanna see you have an orgasm,” she told BuzzFeed News. Again, Kay refused. “I’m not showing you anything,” she recalled thinking, “that feeds that monster.”

Robbins’ lawyers called Kay’s allegations “false and preposterous.”

Robbins has previously come under scrutiny for his comments about sexual assault victims before. In a leaked video from a seminar in 2018, he characterizes the #MeToo movement as a movement for victimhood. “I’m not saying the movement’s wrong,” he said, “I’m saying everything has a consequence. Raise your hand if you heard me. And you want to use things in a way that doesn’t addict you to your problems and you don’t want to be a victim.” After backlash over his comments, Robbins said he has “profound admiration” for the movement.

Robbins responded to the BuzzFeed report with an open letter on Medium, calling it “an inaccurate, agenda-driven version of the past, pierced with falsehoods.”

“Let me be clear, while my open-classroom therapeutic methods are not for everyone, and while I am on my best day still only an imperfect human being, I have never behaved in the reckless, irresponsible, or malicious manner intimated by false, unfounded, and incendiary allegations suggested by BuzzFeed story-tellers,” Robbins writes. “My record is nearly a half-century long. I stand on that.”

Read BuzzFeed’s full report here.

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