My name is Evan Gambardella and I am an actor living in Brooklyn, New York. In 2012 I was sexually assaulted by Al Chase. I am here in person today so the full impact of his crimes are brought to your attention.
Al Chase was someone I deeply trusted and loved as a mentor. I looked to Al for guidance on everything in my life. He always encouraged me to expand my comfort zone; to do new things that scared me.
His interest in my life made me feel special at a time when I felt alone, deeply conflicted, and lacked self-confidence. He would tell me how special I was, how talented I was, and that I was destined for greatness.
I trusted Al above all others. He knew more about me than anyone else in my life. Al was the first person I opened up to with questions about sex, sexuality, my newfound attraction towards men, and masturbation —all of which were things I was too afraid to explore on my own, or talk about with anyone else.
I had never opened up to anyone about these things before, but Al made me feel safe and not judged. I trusted Al to keep my secrets safe, and believed his advice would help me feel less pain and inner turmoil. He felt like a grandfather to me, I introduced him to my closest friends – and even my immediate family. I trusted Al with my life.
Then Al Chase betrayed that trust when he sexually assaulted me. I have never felt so violated and helpless in my entire life. No one had ever been intimate with me before; I hadn’t even experienced a first real kiss. This assault was my very first sexual experience.
While it was happening I thought I was going crazy. I remember feeling my body freezing up as his hand moved from my thigh to grip my penis. I remember feeling a powerful buzzing sensation surging through my limbs and face, making everything go numb. I later learned that this is a common physical response to traumatic events, known as “fight or flight“. But I did neither. I froze.
Despite the facts, I felt deeply ashamed and emasculated. I felt as though my inability to defend myself was a sign of weakness. I carried this disgust with myself for many years afterwards.
On the bus, I remember not being able to cry, because my throat closed up and I was too scared to scream. I remember clawing at the window next to me on the bus, hoping it would magically open and I’d be able to get away. I remember struggling with general motor functions and being unable to move my body correctly.
When we arrived in Boston a couple of hours later, I grabbed my bag and began to quickly limp towards the exit of South Station; my legs were still numb and it was hard for me to walk. Al followed after me and asked me what was wrong. He tried to gaslight me by acting like nothing had happened, and for a moment I thought it was all in my head. But he eventually admitted it. At that moment, all of the doubts in my head–the ones telling me I was imagining everything–were gone in an instant. It was real.
The first person I opened up to about who I was, the first person I exposed myself to–parts of myself I was deeply ashamed of and scared of–left me feeling shattered.
I screamed. I quickly limped out of the station to a nearby cab driver. He asked why I was crying, and I told him that my closest mentor had assaulted me.
“Why didn’t you hit him?” he asked.
“I don’t know…I couldn’t move.”
“You are a pussy. You need to learn how to be a real man and defend yourself. If you couldn’t fight him, it’s your own fault.”
Unable to move my legs, the driver pushed me out of the cab and left me on the side of the street, crying in a fetal position.
This was the first experience I had with telling somebody about my sexual assault. I’ll never forget it, and it embedded a deep seed of shame and unworthiness within my subconscious for years afterwards. I thought something was wrong with me. I felt not only violated, but emasculated. I was ashamed of myself.
That morning I made a decision: no one could know I was questioning my sexuality. I would never reveal the deepest parts of myself to anyone ever again. I would never discuss my attraction towards men with anyone else, because someone could take advantage of me like Al did. I blamed myself for revealing too much to him and I decided that was the reason he took advantage of me. Because of Al, I knew I could never trust anyone. As a result, it took me years before I became intimate with other men and even longer before I came out of the closet.
Thanks to my friend and hero, Cassie, who called the police, I immediately reported what happened. When a police officer later told me Al was on file as a repeat sexual offender, I was stunned. With this information, I thought it would be all over soon and justice would be served quickly. This was in September 2012, nearly seven years ago. Since that time, I endured great pain at the expense of Al Chase’s sexual gratification.
The impact this had on my emotional health was severe. In the weeks following the assault, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and I was deathly afraid to tell my friends and family what was going on. I didn’t want people to think less of me , or thinking I was gay. I couldn’t close my eyes without reliving what had happened. I began receiving support from Maureen Mahoney, a therapist and director of BU’s Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center.
The Chair of the Acting program and the Director of the Boston University School of Theatre questioned my standing in the school’s program. They held a meeting regarding whether or not I could stay in the program due to my mental health.
In the week following the assault, blood came out from my penis. I admitted myself into the student health center but could only be seen by an older male doctor. I was terrified to have another older man touching me. I cried and I shook as he examined me. Many of the same numbing sensations returned as I became paralyzed with fear of another man touching me. According to the doctor, the blood was a stress-induced injury from Al’s assault and would stop eventually.
Months afterwards, I decided to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. I chose Cape Town, in large part, because it was billed to me as the ‘Rape Capital of the World.” I wanted to see and hear people in pain from sexual assault, because I thought it would put my own pain into perspective. While I learned a great deal from other peoples’ pain, it wasn’t enough for me to heal.
The following summer, I traveled up the coast of the African continent–putting myself in danger as much as possible because I truly wanted to die; I thought Al’s grooming and manipulation had turned me gay, and I hated myself for that. I was overwhelmed with confusion about myself and my sexuality.
After I returned from my semester abroad in 2013, I was asked to come to the Boston Municipal Court as a witness to deliver my victim impact statement. I unfortunately never got the chance. The court date moved several times, my victim witness advocate changed, people working on the case stopped contacting me, and I never knew what happened to the case. I capped my feelings and moved on with my life.
At the same time, Al emerged from the shadows and was welcomed back into the Boston Theatre scene. He received free tickets to shows all over Boston and remained on the IRNE committee–which was considered the most respected awards committee in New England.
Your honor, retelling the details of my sexual assault to the police, to my teachers, and to Boston University administrators was not an easy thing to do. I had no desire to tell anyone what had happened to me. But if I didn’t, I feared Al would hurt someone again. I felt strongly that my community needed to be protected.
By the books, I did everything right. I told people in power about Al’s crimes within hours after being sexually assaulted. And yet, the case was seemingly dropped and Al was off the hook.
I felt like I exposed myself for nothing. It felt as though I had endured the painful experience of detailing my assault to the police and my university, only to have my experience disregarded. I felt rejected by a community that seemingly didn’t care about what had happened to me.
In 2014, I performed in New Repertory Theatre’s production of “Assassins.” In an interview with the Boston Globe, I’m quoted in a Q&A saying I was sick during our preview weekend. That was not the whole truth; I was sick with fear and anxiety knowing that Al Chase was reviewing my performance in the audience. Al’s presence in the Boston theatre scene was the biggest reason why I decided to leave the city and move to New York. I was terrified of letting his presence jeopardize my performance again.
The feelings I had capped unexpectedly returned. In the weeks following, I was suddenly overridden with fear about my sexuality and my abilities as an actor:
‘What if Al Chase made me gay?’
‘What if all of the advice he told me, all of the grooming, the manipulation, and the assault just made me confused about my sexuality?’
‘What if Al’s compliments towards me were all lies?’
‘Maybe I wasn’t as talented as he claimed.’
‘Maybe I wasn’t destined for greatness after all.’
After the show was over, I knew I needed to do something to stop myself from feeling attracted towards men. I convinced myself I wasn’t gay. I convinced myself I needed help to reclaim what I thought Al had taken from me–my straightness.
In November 2014, I sought out a cult in Costa Rica that would help me get back in touch with my masculinity. I thought if I could be attracted towards women again, it would replace my experience with Al Chase as my default sexual experience. This did not work.
This cult was traumatic. We were starved, people were emotionally and physically abused, and everyone lived in a constant state of fear. I eventually came to my senses, got out, and managed to get others out with me. I returned to Connecticut to live with my parents, spiraling into a deep depression and suicidal self-loathing. I was too afraid to talk to anybody about what was really going on inside of me.
In 2015, months after returning to the northeast, I began actively dating men while remaining in the closet. Unfortunately, these dates usually ended in tears and anxiety attacks. I struggled to open my eyes while being intimate with men. My body often froze up and I couldn’t move–similarly to when I was assaulted by Al Chase. It was as if my body and mind treated every intimate experience with a man as a dangerous threat, even if they weren’t. My reactions felt out of my control.
I often became emotionally triggered and would violently shake whenever somebody touched my inner thigh; I still to this day see memories of the assault flash before my eyes when people touch me there.
In the summer of 2015 I kissed a man by a small window; it reminded me of the bus window I clawed at while Al assaulted me. After we kissed, I broke down crying and shaking. Needless to say, my date never saw me again after that.
Seeing Al speak with my friends and colleagues on social media gave me a deep pang of fear and guilt. I reached out to these friends privately and warned them about Al. Some friends heeded my advice, but several people didn’t believe me or didn’t take me seriously. It filled me with shame each time I shared my story, only to have it rejected by the very people I was trying to protect.
I hoped the Boston University faculty would have warned the students, and I told an administrator via Facebook of the dangers Al posed. But no one took any action. Al Chase continued to be given free tickets to theatrical productions all over Boston.
Despite informing others that Al was dangerous, no action was taken. It felt like no one cared. .
In October 2015, Al Chase found me while I was working at 2econd Stage Theatre in NYC. He made a comment to me saying, “I figured you’d be working on this project,” which made me concerned. I wondered if he was stalking me.
Al attempted to claim that he has “a condition where he does things in his sleep.” I held my ground, denounced his lies, and demanded he get help; he said he was. I also made him promise that he would stop pursuing young people in Boston and never do what he did to me to another person. He gave me his word and we shook hands, but I wasn’t ready for that yet.
After we parted ways, I went back into the theatre and cried in the bathroom. I told my boss what had happened, and they immediately were concerned I was emotionally unstable. I was so embarrassed.
It took hours for me to fall asleep that night, in large part because seeing Al brought back so many painful memories I kept trying to push away. As a result, I regretfully woke up late the next morning. I arrived to work hours after I was supposed to. I was fired upon my arrival to the theatre and was immediately asked to leave. I wonder if I would’ve been fired if Al had never met me outside the theatre the day before.
That same Fall of 2015, I began casually seeing a man who was physically abusive. I allowed him to hit me in the face until I bled, both in private and in public. I didn’t enjoy being physically abused, but I felt as though I deserved it. After all, I was a reject for being fired from my job, I was unable to stop Al from turning me gay and making me an emotional wreck, and I was just like that cab driver described: “a pussy” who couldn’t fight back.
In January of 2016, things were looking up. I fell in love with a man for the first time in my life. He gave me a reason to come out of the closet to my friends and family, and we traveled around the world together. I had never been happier.
There were moments in the relationship where I would lapse into anxiety without reason; I pushed these anxious episodes aside and I hoped they would go away on their own. Little did I know, they were warnings from my subconscious.
I had not healthily dealt with the trauma from my sexual assault, and I was refusing to admit it to myself.
In November of this past year the #MeToo movement erupted into the national conversation. I remember feeling angry with victims coming forward and not understanding why I resented them so deeply. In time, I learned I was jealous: they were busy healing and protecting others, while I was still in denial and blaming things outside myself for my problems.
Ilana Brownstein, one of my professors from Boston University, contacted me via Facebook. She told me “current actors are feeling targeted by” a theatre reviewer who was “being skeevy.” She confirmed this man was Al Chase. After two years of keeping Al and the assault out of my consciousness, I was suddenly triggered. I became overwhelmed with guilt and fear that Al may be planning to hurt someone else.
Ilana Brownstein assured me that she’d help me. I wanted to avoid going public with my assault, and was hopeful she could talk to the IRNE committee in private. She and I arranged times to talk on the phone. To my surprise, Ilana abruptly stopped replying to my texts and never returned my phone calls.
I was devastated and felt abandoned. I still have never received an explanation, despite her promising to give me one. I still she hope she does.
I immediately spiraled into a massive anxiety attack and a deep depression. I unfairly pinned much of the blame of my suffering onto my ex. I abruptly ended our relationship, and continued to make up excuses that had nothing to do with the real problem: I had never gotten over this traumatic experience. Al Chase’s crimes still lived on within the deepest levels of my subconscious.
Eventually I sought out therapy, the first help I’d received since I was assaulted in 2012. I went with the intention of working through my recent heartbreak, but my therapist quickly connected the dots: The same day I broke up with my ex was the same day Ilana Brownstein ignored my texts and calls. The source of my anxiety became glaringly obvious.
Until that moment, I had no idea the struggles with my relationship all stemmed from my sexual assault. In retrospect, I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out.
I worked through the pain I had been suppressing for over 5 years. I stopped making up excuses to avoid revisiting my traumatic past. For the first time, I admitted to myself that the problems with my relationship had to do with me.
I instantly felt a surge of regret. I knew I had made a mistake breaking up with my ex. I still was in love with him.
If I truly wanted to stop hurting people I loved, and potentially win back my ex, I learned I needed to heal; I needed to relieve myself of the guilt I felt. I needed to stop Al from hurting other boys in Boston.
I never wanted to make a public statement, primarily for fear of public persecution and non-acceptance; I had already been rejected several times already by coming forward about my assault, and I was afraid of getting hurt again.
But heartbreak is a powerful feeling. The love I had for my ex overshadowed the fears of rejection and ridicule that once dominated my psyche.
I summoned the courage necessary to share my story publically. I was willing to accept the blows to my personal image if it meant I prevented another assault by Al Chase from happening in the future. My goal was to heal: I was done letting this trauma control my life.
I released my #MeToo Statement on my birthday last year in 2018, and used my birthday to ensure more people would read my statement. In reaction, and to my surprise, Al resigned from the IRNE committee, the committee condemned his actions, and I began receiving messages from hundreds of people a day. I was overwhelmed by the response.
Several of these messages were from men who claimed Al assaulted them in years prior. These men claimed to have been assaulted by Al in Boston, as well as when Al was a pastor living in New Hampshire. I even received messages from a woman who claimed her then-17-year-old boyfriend was assaulted by Al in a car.
Unfortunately, no one was willing to come forward on the record, due to very real fears they faced. But these messages kept me up at night. I felt so much grief and sadness as I learned how many lives Al allegedly destroyed. I was horrified as I learned how similar their stories were to my own. I felt angry at myself for not coming forward sooner.
Soon after my #MeToo statement was posted, I received a call from Anne Foley, my Victim Witness Advocate. She told me that my case was not dropped, as I previously thought. Instead, my case was simply misfiled while moving from court to court, and lost for years. I was angry and frustrated. It felt like my case wasn’t being taken seriously.
This past April 2019, after I shared that Al had been located by the authorities, I received messages from two of Al’s own sons, Ti and Christopher Chase. Christopher told me Al assaulted his friend when they were only children. This was devastating news for me to hear, and kept me up at night.
I understand you cannot try Al for crimes that are not a part of this case. I understand you cannot take other assault accusations into account while determining his sentencing. Hearing these other stories about Al assaulting so many others has caused me great pain.
Al Chase was arrested and convicted of sexually assaulting a child before I was even born; he never served a day in jail. Decades later, he’s back in court today for sexually assaulting me. Al Chase’s assault on my body was avoidable. He had the opportunity to change, and he did not.
Your honor, the system failed to protect me from Al Chase’s crimes. My guilt, shame, heartbreak, anxiety… all of it was preventable. But it’s not too late for you to protect other young men like me.
Old habits die hard, and I do not have faith that this criminal will ever learn his lesson. He is a danger to boys and young men in this community. He brought great pain to me, my family, and the people I love.
If I had the power to lock up Al Chase for the rest of his life, I would. I understand the maximum sentencing period for Al’s crimes against me is two and a half years. I also understand Al’s guilty plea gives him sway in lessening the impact of his sentencing. But I hope it doesn’t. He can’t be allowed to get away with sexual assault for a second time.
Your honor, I ask for maximum sentencing and implore you to make sure he is placed on a sex offender list made available to the public immediately. People need to be able to search his name online and see the danger he poses to the community. Precautions must be taken to ensure that once he is released from prison, I am the last person he will ever hurt
Your honor, I ask you to keep our community safe, and keep him away from young men and innocent boys. Please keep him away from us for as long as you can.
And please, your honor, bring an end to this painful chapter in my life. Give Al Chase the justice he deserves. I pray that the pain I’ve endured the last six years will not be in vein. Thank you.