UPDATE 7/13/2018 8:40pm. I’ve re-included a photograph and the name of my abuser (A former update stated that they were removed to protect other victims’ identities, but it’s far enough removed that they no longer have any links to him on their pages). I found out that he had started a new cult under the name of Alex Sojo, formerly AJ Riley, also known as Alejandro Riley or Alejandro Sojo. He lives in Santa Monica and has continued to practice his recruitment tactics, as well as photography, out of his home. His accomplices are Tim “Ryan” Larson and Scott Riley, a hypnotherapist and AJ’s husband. The three of them have a website called Unity2012media.com, and an instagram called @unity2012media.
UPDATE 10/13/16, 12:50am. My abuser’s Twitter, website, and Facebook page (all using some form of @AJRileystudio) have been deleted.
This isn’t an easy thing for me to write. I’ve been putting it off for almost a year, hoping I wouldn’t have to. Hoping I could just move on. But the ramifications of what happened continue to persist in my life. I need to get it out. I need to tell my story. If I can stop what happened to me from happening to even one other person, it will have been worth it.
I moved to Los Angeles for the same reason many young, enthusiastic dreamers do: to become an actor. I landed here excited, as there were endless possibilities for what could happen with my career. I hit the ground running, sending out headshots, resumes, and cover letters to every agent and casting director whose address I could find. I just knew, after everything I’d done before I got here, that something great would happen. And it would happen soon.
And something did happen. I attended a group event for actors and writers to share ideas and read each other’s work, a way for writers to hear their writing out loud, and a way for actors to get a little more acting in. As a writer and an actor, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to start networking. Once there, I met a girl who invited me to another group that she was involved with, one that met every Sunday, which she affectionately called, “Actor Church.”
The perks were incredible: It was free, it was filled with actors who wanted to better themselves, it was an acting class combined with motivational speaking, and it was taught by someone who worked in casting at Warner Brothers. How could I possibly pass that up? It felt like the Universe was responding to everything I had asked for, and things were lining up even faster than I could have imagined. I happily attended Actor Church my very first week in Los Angeles.
The class was everything I could have hoped for. It began with a motivational speech about how to be the very best version of myself, it continued into doing research on actors who had made it big seemingly overnight, and finding the key points on how they did it, and then we practiced “entering the room” for an audition, and what to say to a casting director upon meeting them. The “right” talking points with which to answer their questions. Some of this felt familiar to an acting class I had taken in Charlotte, so I was happy to be able to continue the work I’d been doing without the price tag.
My mistake was never questioning anything. My mistake was never checking whether or not this man was who he said he was. I did do a quick Google search, and didn’t really find anything other than a very brief imdb page which listed him as a producer on a short film that I’d never heard of. But that fell perfectly in line with what he had said, that his job wasn’t meant to be public. He had been hired to see how actors behaved when they didn’t know they were being watched. His job was to see if the actors could be professional on set, without sabotaging the production by being unruly.
I wrote it off. It was the first sign that things weren’t quite right, but I ignored it.
I attended the meetings weekly. It gave me the encouragement I needed to continue pressing on in Los Angeles when nothing seemed to be happening. It gave me a group of actors who supported each other and pushed each other to be their very best, to take risks, to defy all odds, and to never give up. There was a whole lot of good that came out of those early few months. The people I met were on top of their game, everyone was excited, everyone was positive, everyone knew that their careers were going to happen at any moment.
After a couple months, our “life coach” took me aside. “You really have what it takes,” he said. “Not everyone in this class does. I say they do, but they don’t. Obviously, not everyone makes it. But you’re really close.”
In my mind, this was a casting director at Warner Brothers telling me that I was about to break through and become a star. In my mind, this was irrefutable proof that I was going to be cast in a film or television show, and soon.
“If you can just be completely consistent, at your very best, and never mess up, for one whole week… I’ll take you to a dinner with the executives. I’ll introduce you to them. They’ll see.”
I should point out now, that this sort of thing doesn’t actually happen. There is no such thing as a casting director who brings a no-name actor to a dinner with “all of the executives” so that they can decide whether to use him or her in a production. It’s not a real thing. The casting process is long and arduous and no casting director worth his or her salt would ever put an untested actor before the “executives” unless they had seen a number of auditions and trusted them completely. And certainly not at a dinner—it would be in a casting office.
I didn’t know this at the time. This man had so many elegant stories of “the truth behind Hollywood” that seemed to make so much sense to me at the time. So I did what he said. I did my very best to be “consistent.” To be “flawless” for one whole week. And I felt like I did a pretty good job. And at the end of the week… Nothing happened. It was as though our conversation had been completely forgotten.
At this point, I had begun to take special, private classes with this man. He called them “one-on-ones,” where we would meet alone together twice a week to discuss everything that was holding me back, and everything I could do to better myself. We talking about acting, we talked about my personal life, we talked about every traumatic thing that ever happened in my past… We talked about a lot of unprofessional things. And this “bonus” class, outside of the free Sunday classes, could be mine for only $250 a month.
I know. It seemed worth it at the time. It felt like 8 private acting classes / therapy sessions for $250, with someone who had the power to hand me a career. I already felt like I was ripping the guy off by attending his “free” classes every week on Sundays, so I paid the money and I attended the “one-on-ones.”
In one of these one-on-ones, after my week of perfection, I brought up the idea of meeting with the Warner Brothers executives. “You’re not ready yet,” he said. “I thought you were in a different place, but you didn’t show me you had it this week.” And of course, I was devastated. What had I done? How had I messed up this great opportunity? Clearly, this man had seen something. But he wouldn’t tell me what it was. I started tearing myself apart in my mind, analyzing every single action I had taken over the course of the week. “Well, I overslept on Wednesday, but there’s no way he could know about that…”
It was maddening. It was overwhelming. But I knew, deep down, that things were going to work out. I had what it took. I would prove myself.
Then my fearless leader revealed that he was a photographer. And he had been a photographer in Florida for many years, after another many years being an international model. “I want to take some pictures of you,” he said. “You’re very attractive, but I don’t think you see how attractive you are. So I want to show you.”
We headed into his photography studio, which was in his garage, to take the photos. He started the process out by giving me a “test.” Just to see how comfortable I was. To see how comfortable I could be. “Take off your shirt. How comfortable are you on a scale from 1-10?” I said 10. I wanted to be the very best me I could be. “Now your pants. Scale from 1-10?” I said probably an 8.
He put down the camera. “We can’t shoot today. I can only work with models at their maximum level of comfort. If you can’t be comfortable around me… I can’t be comfortable around you.” I changed my tune. I was a 10. I just needed a second.
So we started shooting the pictures.
“If I wanted to take a picture of you, and I wanted people to know you were sad, what’s something physical you could do to show sadness?”
“I guess I could cry.”
“Right. A tear. And if I wanted to show the audience that you were happy… what’s something physical that you could do?”
“Right again. And if I wanted to show the audience that you were turned on…”
“Exactly. It takes everyone else so much longer. I knew you had it in you.”
And he went on to explain his theory about star performers, and star actors. “It’s all about sexual energy. You can’t be a star without it. You have to be able to look someone in the eyes and make them want you. The way you do that is by turning yourself on. If you’re turned on, the audience is turned on.”
It made sense in a perverse, twisted way. It felt like a secret code. Something that most actors hadn’t been able to unlock. I just had to actually be horny when I entered the room.
Then he told me a story about the first time he discovered that he had the ability to be sexy. I had already told him about my own past, about how I used to be extremely overweight, how I never felt confident that anyone could be attracted to me. And he said he felt the same. He said that he grew up believing he could never be attractive. And then he got over it. And this was how.
“I was doing my first ‘bathing suit’ shoot as a model,” he said, “and the photographer wanted me to turn myself on. I had no idea what that meant. I was always taught not to even look at my penis, let alone acknowledge that I had one. When he asked me to turn myself on, I just stood there, confused. And then one of his assistants said, ‘I can help.’ And he came over and started sucking my dick. And once I was hard, the photographer said, ‘yes, that’s perfect,’ and started taking my pictures. As soon as I was soft, the assistant would come back in, and he would get me hard, and we would shoot again. And it went on and on like that. One of those pictures was the one that was used in the campaign. He chose me. Because I was the only model who was actually turned on.”
It didn’t make sense. It sounded absurd. It sounded like utter bullshit. But this man was in casting at Warner Brothers, and had had a long and successful career. How could I not trust him? I wasn’t working, and he was, so he must know better than I did. So I started practicing. “Turning myself on.” So that the camera could see it in my eyes. So that everyone would find me attractive. So that the executives would want me. So that women would want to be with me.
Then there was another test he would do. And it wasn’t just with me. There were rumblings that all of the men in class were subjected to these same sort of “tests.” The first time it happened to me, it happened with another classmate in the room. That’s how I justified it. “Well, he’s okay with it… so it must not be wrong.”
The guy knew what he was doing.
This test was called, “Make me want you.” What we had to do was get completely naked and stand in front of our instructor and do whatever we had to to make him want us. If he wanted us, we “won.” If he wanted us, that meant the world would want us. If he wanted me, I would have a career.
So I stood there, naked. Next to another man who was completely naked. And we took turns. “Turn me on,” he would say. And I would walk toward him, and almost immediately, “stop. Go back.” And then it was my friend’s turn. And it went back and forth like this, both of us beating ourselves up, feeling terrible about the fact that we couldn’t turn this man on, that we weren’t attractive, that we weren’t “at our best,” that we wouldn’t be able to have the career of our dreams…
It escalated. Over a few months, the game started happening more and more, and spread into our photo shoots (which were happening more frequently) and into our one-on-ones. “You need to practice your sexual energy! It’s the only thing you lack!”
I was desperate. I needed to prove that I could be sexy. To myself, to the casting director, to the woman I was interested in… It was the only thing that mattered.
So when he offered to “help,” the same way that he had been “helped” by the camera assistant in his first swimsuit photoshoot, I let him. I didn’t want to. And at this point, he had convinced me that the real reason I couldn’t get hard for him was that I was homophobic, that I had been raised with a “small-mind mentality,” and needed to overcome that. In order to do that, I needed to have a sexual experience with a man. Namely, himself.
The entire time he was sucking my dick, I was angry. But not with who I should have been—I was angry with myself. Angry because I couldn’t get hard. Angry because I was homophobic. Angry because I was a failure. Angry because I had been rejected by the women I wanted because I wasn’t attractive. I needed to overcome this mental block.
And he was not gentle. He grabbed my dick. He slapped it against his face. He nearly chewed on it. He put his fingers in my ass. He did things that I did not enjoy. Things that physically hurt me. Things that I hated him for but then pushed aside because I needed to “get over it.” I needed to “push through.”
Eventually, I closed my eyes and pretended that he was the woman that I wished I could be with. She’s the only thing that got me through those experiences. When I came, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “good job. I think you’re really getting it.”
And the reason I say “those experiences” is because it didn’t stop there. It got to a point where we had a shorthand. He would say, “Do you want to be a star?” and I would say yes, and he would say, “Show me.”
“Show me” meant “take off your pants and put your penis in my mouth.” But of course, he always made sure that I locked the door first. He always made sure nobody could know. He made it a very big deal that I “hide my treasures.” I couldn’t share this with anyone else, especially the women. They wouldn’t understand. Couldn’t understand. So I never told a soul.
He also made a big deal about not being in a relationship, with anyone. He said “having a girlfriend or a boyfriend is like having a plan B for your career. When things don’t work out, you get to go home and complain to your plan B and feel better about yourself and really you’re just giving up.” So I didn’t try to have a relationship. I just kept coming back for more one-on-ones, for more private lessons, for more unwanted dick sucking.
I never enjoyed it. I never wanted it. I never felt like I was growing. At a certain point, I started to realize that even if he worked at Warner Brothers, he was never going to follow through on his promises. It had been 8 months, and nothing had happened. But still, whenever I was at his house, he would inevitably find a way to get everyone out of the studio, and it was the same thing.
“Do you want to be a star?”
“Don’t share your treasures.”
Sometimes, the girl I loved was literally only a room away from me. The door was locked, and I would just pretend it was her. Eventually, I let it happen because it was just easier to take the abuse than to try to do anything else. “It won’t last long,” I would think. “It’ll be over soon.”
“It could be worse.”
One time, it went further. He always made a big deal in our group classes about how I was the “trend-setter.” I was the person who would go farther than anyone else. I was the person who would be given a task, and rather than just complete it, I would also go two or three steps again. I was always going to be ahead of the curve, and that’s what made me special. So, all that in my head, during one of the “show me” sessions, he took his own pants off. His dick was hard. He looked at me. I “knew” what I “had” to do.
I could write an entire novel about all of the ways that he manipulated me. The ways that he manipulated our entire class. I could fill hundreds of pages. I could write a fucking manifesto. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to wallow in the misery of what happened anymore.
Eventually it all came out. Another guy in the class had his first ever “show me” experience and didn’t follow the “don’t tell” rules. He told a girl in the class, the girl who had invited me to be there in the first place, 10 months earlier, and she lost it. She told everyone. People took sides. The class broke apart. From there, the sexual abuse ended. The mental abuse continued for a few more months before I finally had the courage to leave.
I’m out of it now. The man never worked at Warner Brothers. He never had a job in the film industry. He was trying to motivate us all enough so that we would make it and bring him along with us. He fully believed in the adage, “You are what you speak.” So if he claimed he worked at Warner Brothers… eventually it would be true. He just couldn’t stop himself from sexually abusing his male students.
The man’s name is AJ Riley. He also goes by Alex Sojo, or Alejandro Riley. The police said there’s nothing they can do without solid evidence. He is not in jail. In fact… he’s still teaching. Before I left, he told me he was “getting ready to start a new cycle.”
That was chilling to me. It was almost a threat. But I cannot allow that to happen. I cannot allow this man to build up his own ego or his own power anymore. When people like AJ get into power positions, they think they can do anything. And the more power they have, the more they think they can get away with.
This is a photograph of AJ Riley the last time I knew him. He is a rapist, a manipulator, an abuser, and he has never worked for Warner Brothers, Disney, FOX, Universal, or any of the film studios he claims to have worked for.
If you’re in a group and you have even the slightest feeling that something might be wrong… please ask questions. Ask the men and women in your class what’s happening to them. Don’t take no for an answer. They will lie to you. I flat out lied for AJ, plenty of times. People would ask me if anything weird happened, and I would say no.
AJ angrily declared that the man who accused him of sexual abuse was a liar, that he had never sucked his dick. But I knew that wasn’t true… because I had seen it happen. And yet, I said, “I know! How could he have said that?” It’s manipulation. It’s mind games. It’s fucked up. It’s horrible. Nobody should have to go through it.
I am ashamed of so much of what happened… but I’m out of it now. I’ve learned from it, I know what to look out for, and I have made it a part of my mission to prevent this from happening to other young, susceptible people.
Things are looking much better for me lately. Since finally freeing myself from the pressure of being perfect and attempting to please the man who could never be satisfied, my career has actually leapt forward. I’m in a movie that has been playing the festival circuit and comes out on DVD next month. I’m about to produce and star in another feature film. I’ve published a novel. I’ve been approached by a literary agent to represent another of my screenplays. Things are looking very good. And I know it’s because I’m finally out of my depression. I don’t want to kill myself anymore, like I did for about 6 months after getting out of the cult.
I live for me, now. I live to stop the spread of hatred, prejudice, and manipulation. I live to spread joy, love and equality for all.