Drama Teacher Karen Sklaire Accused James Toback of Assault, Now She May Change Her Name

#AfterMeToo: “This is not the way I wanted my name to get out there,” Sklaire tells TheWrap

Karen Sklaire, a drama teacher and playwright, has written a play about her experience with director James Toback, whom she accused last fall of sexually assaulting her in 1997. But the experience has left her so scarred, she’s now considering changing her name.

“This is not the way I wanted my name to get out there,” Sklaire told TheWrap. “I’m a teacher, you know? I need a clean Google search.”

Sklaire was a 27-year-old aspiring actress when she said Toback, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, approached her at a street fair in New York City in 1997, offering her a chance at an upcoming movie. But when she arrived at his West Village office, she said Toback began berating her with personal questions about her sex life. When she asked to leave, he handed her a script and ordered her to, “Just sit there.”

“Then, he comes up fully dressed in his track suit and he rubbed up against my leg until he satisfied himself,” Sklaire told TheWrap. “It was humiliating and deeply disturbing to the point where I wiped it out [of my memory].” 

By last count, 395 women have come forward with stories accusing Toback of predatory behavior — turning the “Bugsy” screenwriter’s name into a verb. (Toback has denied the accusations.)

“I found out later that so many friends were ‘Tobacked,'” Skaire said. “That’s how we called it.”

Sklaire said she bonded with the other accusers over their shared experiences. “We were freaking out because so many people came out. Nine turned to 20, 20 turned to 30, and after the [L.A. Times] article came out, it turned into hundreds.”

But the excitement of finding a community soon evaporated. “It was too many people, too much press,” she said. “It started becoming too stressful.” Here, she shares more of her experience.

Why did you decide to come forward?
I came forward because I thought it was really important. But for every action there is a reaction. You have to be ready for a backlash. Sometimes I can handle it and sometimes I can’t. It’s a mixed bag.

What was it like?
It got really overwhelming and I had to get off the Twitter group, there were too many voices and inevitably it got to be too much. It also upset some family members that I went public about it. I think some had wished I hadn’t. Some asked if I was doing it because I wanted to make a name for myself.

What was your biggest challenge these past few months?
It’s hard enough trying to be an artist. I’m trying to raise money for a documentary series on teachers but now I’m not sure if anyone cares… You go from everyone wanting to talk to you to, a week later, no one wanting to hear from you again. They’re off to the next story and you’re left with a Google trail.

The Asia Argento scandal seems to have thrown the #MeToo movement for a loop. Where do you think the movement is right now?
Part of me doesn’t want to hear the story. She was such a big part of #MeToo. It’s disappointing. It makes me angry. I’m very emotional right now. It’s not just Asia. Louis C.K. got up to do a set at the Comedy Cellar. I’ve performed there and I’m disappointed. Shame on the owner for allowing that to happen. He got a standing ovation? What does that say about the movement? Is Toback going to make a comeback too? It’s not OK.

Nothing has panned out. The only thing that has happened is that Toback has gone underground. He was never arrested and we’re stuck with the whole system of statutes of limitations. It has to change. We were all close through this whole thing and we don’t talk anymore because there is nothing more to say.

What are you doing these days?
I wrote a play about my experience with Toback and I’m planning on finishing it. This has made me only more determined.