Self-help guru Tony Robbins accused of sexual misconduct, berating victims of rape

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Tony Robbins speaks on stage during "Tony Robbins LIVE: Unleash the Power Within" in July 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.
(Photo: Rajiv Sankarlall/Team Tony Robbins)

Tony Robbins speaks on stage during “Tony Robbins LIVE: Unleash the Power Within” in July 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. 

Self-help guru Tony Robbins is now in the cross-hairs of the #MeToo movement, accused of sexual misconduct by former fans and staffers, and of regularly berating victims of rape, violence and abuse as a form of “therapy.”

The allegations are contained in a lengthy story posted by BuzzFeed News Friday after the online news outlet conducted a yearlong investigation based on leaked recordings, internal documents, and dozens of interviews with fans and insiders.

Nevertheless, some of the men and women interviewed have mixed feelings about Robbins: They might be offended by some of his past behavior but remain grateful to him for “saving” or “changing” their lives, they told BuzzFeed. 

Through his powerful Hollywood law firm, Lavely & Singer, Robbins has vehemently denied the allegations contained in the BuzzFeed story. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY. 

Robbins, 59, the “most famous self-help guru in the world,” according to BuzzFeed, skyrocketed to rock-star fame in the 1990s, filling arenas around the world, hailed by thousands of screaming fans. People who said they were victims of sexual and physical abuse, who struggled with addiction or mental illness, paid thousands of dollars to see him on the promise he could teach them to stop thinking of themselves as “victims” and thus overcome pain. A self-described enemy of “victimhood,” he claimed he had the power to “transform your life.” 

BuzzFeed claims Robbins’ empire is policed by strict confidentiality agreements and contracts forbidding attendees at his coaching camps from recording what goes on inside. He was supposed to be helping people; instead, he subjected his followers to unorthodox and potentially dangerous “therapeutic” techniques, BuzzFeed reported.

Robbins has not been a fan of the #MeToo movement: Last spring, leaked video emerged of him calling the movement an excuse for some women to “try and get significance” by “attacking and destroying someone else.” He apologized later.

“Secret recordings and transcripts from inside his events reveal Robbins has unleashed expletive-laden tirades on survivors of rape and domestic violence after inviting them to share their stories in front of a vast audience,” BuzzFeed reported.  

“She’s (expletive) using all this stuff to try and control men,” Robbins reportedly said after one woman said she had been raped. In 2018, after another woman said her husband was physically violent and emotionally abusive, Robbins accused her of ‘lying’ and asked, “Does he put up with you when you’ve been a crazy (expletive)?”

Experts on domestic and sexual violence who reviewed transcripts of Robbins’ private events said berating traumatized women and blaming them for their reactions to abuse is a dangerous strategy.

“It’s not only secondary trauma, but a secondary assault,” said Ruth Glenn, president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told BuzzFeed. “This behavior from a self-touted self-help expert is just beyond egregious.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, when Robbins’ fame was at its height and before he married his second wife, multiple women told BuzzFeed he engaged in sexual misconduct.

Two former followers said in sworn statements he sexually harassed them by repeatedly pursuing them after they made clear they weren’t interested. Two other former assistants said Robbins expected them to work alone with him when he was naked in his hotel room or in the shower. Another former employee said she was fired after having a consensual sexual relationship with him.

One secret recording from 2018 captured Robbins laughing as he told a woman in the audience that he wanted her to “come up onstage and make love to me.”

Meanwhile, two former bodyguards told BuzzFeed News they were sent out to search audiences for attractive women on Robbins’ behalf, behavior that two women told Buzzfeed they witnessed or experienced themselves.

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Their allegations were supported by Robbins fan-turned-security chief Gary King, who was one of the men the motivational speaker tasked with collecting the phone numbers of attractive women at his seminars.

“Ultimate power corrupts,” King told BuzzFeed. “I watched it like a movie unfolding.”

Robbins’ attorneys at Lavely & Singer have pushed back against BuzzFeed and his critics, threatening legal action with “devastating” consequences.

“Three of the women who said Robbins had mistreated them initially agreed to speak publicly but later withdrew permission for their names to be published, saying they… feared reprisals from Robbins and his lawyers,” BuzzFeed noted in its report.

“He’s very connected, he’s very powerful, and he’s very wealthy and able to squash bugs,” an ex-employee identified only as Kay told BuzzFeed. “And we’re the bugs.”

Still, some of the former employees interviewed by BuzzFeed said they could not tear themselves away from Robbins’ world even though they had experienced behavior that crossed a line. Other former employees interviewed said they had never experienced sexual harassment by Robbins.

Kate Rittase, who worked for Robbins from the late 1990s to early 2000s, told BuzzFeed she had to work with him while he was nude, and that he would call her into the bathroom while he showered.

It might seem weird, she told BuzzFeed, but she just saw it as part of the job. “Yes I could be a victim, I could go down the victim road but I just chose not to.”

Even a woman who was publicly berated by Robbins when she talked about her husband’s “emotional abuse” at one of his events told BuzzFeed she didn’t take it personally and she wasn’t the one who leaked an audio of the encounter. 

She later published an account thanking Robbins for his teachings: “In no way, shape, or form I would like to give the wrong impression that I found the interaction with Tony to be damaging to me or that I found it not useful,” she told BuzzFeed.

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