by W.B. King –
In a concerted effort to permanently silence voice-over actor/coach and Irvington resident Peter Rofe, 55 women have come forward accusing the owner of PDR Voice Over Coaching of sexual assault.
“He touched me incredibly inappropriately multiple times in the guise of helping me get into character. He tried to kiss me. He said it was a ‘sexy read’ and I had to be ‘uninhibited,’” said Heather Costa, recounting a late 2008 voice coaching session with Rofe at his Manhattan studio located above The Strand Bookstore on 12 Street and Broadway.
For roughly two months, Costa, now 36, worked with Rofe. He came highly recommended. She said he was often inappropriate after sessions, asking about her sex life, and, unprovoked, he would detail his sexual escapades. During one session, he got too close for comfort. At the time, Costa, now a Los Angeles-based voice-over professional, recently had a baby with her husband. She initially wrote Rofe off as “forward” and a “flirt.”
She reluctantly continued to work with Rofe for a short time period because she paid a significant amount of money for her demo reel that he was producing. She was also fearful that if she said anything about his behaviors he would taint her reputation in the industry. Additionally, during certain sessions an engineer would be present, so the alleged assaults were sporadic.
“At this point, my brain is not telling me I was assaulted. My brain was telling me something awful happened. I knew it was wrong,” said Costa. “I didn’t tell my husband. I was embarrassed.”
Westchester Student Sexually Assaulted
Costa is among a growing number of women who have alleged that Rofe sexually assaulted them. The list of victims includes one Westchester resident who did not want to use her real name. She preferred an alias: Janice.
In 2016, Janice was looking to switch careers and had always wanted to try voice-over work. Rofe had recently moved his studio from Manhattan to Irvington.
“I felt like it was kismet. The studio was so close and I could finally take these classes,” said Janice. “He was actually a great teacher, which is why you fall into this trap. He acts completely appropriately until he doesn’t.”
Janice had signed up for a four-week course at a cost of $600. The three-hour classes were attended by both men and women. The next step was to record a “demo reel” in hopes of getting commercial work. The fee was roughly $2,100, which included script selection and a private coaching session in Rofe’s Irvington studio.
“From day one he told us everything was about sex—always selling sex. He wanted to do a two-person read about a resort vacation with a man and a woman—flirty copy that he provided. He was really getting into it,” said Janice. “He said I wasn’t loose enough and had to free my inhibitions.”
In order to meet Rofe’s expectations, Janice tried to shake out her limbs and get more into character. Rofe, she said, always stressed that voice-over work was actually “voice acting.” Janice had no prior acting training. She found herself questioning her ability to do the work and placed her trust in Rofe’s teaching style.
To encourage Janice, Rofe referenced another female student who had just completed her demo reel. Her voice was akin to the sultry character “Jessica Rabbit,” Janice recalled from class. “He said she got so into it that she practically had an ‘orgasm’ in the sound booth.”
“Would it be Cool if You Didn’t Say Anything?”
The Hudson Independent was unsuccessful in trying to contact Rofe’s last known attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, for comment. While the New York City Police Department has publicly stated it is investigating allegations against Rofe, Irvington’s Chief of Police, Michael Cerone, said there isn’t “an open case” on Rofe, and added that the department has “no comment” on the allegations related to his Irvington studio. Rofe’s website, www.pdrvoicecoaching.com, is no longer in operation.
According to VoiceOver Universe’s website, Rofe, 50, is a professional voice actor and voice-over coach. He cites clients such as Advil, AT&T, Exxon, General Motors, Verizon, Pizza Hut and Pepsi, among countless others.
“I’ve been a voice over and stage actor for 20-plus years and have been one of New York’s most sought-after voice over coaches and producers,” Rofe wrote in the “about me” section of his profile. “I have produced hundreds of some of the best voice over reels in the industry, and most of my clients have signed with top voice over agencies and have landed lucrative work in all areas of voice over.”
When Sara Asselin was a 23-year-old aspiring actress, she signed up for Rofe’s voice-over sessions at his Manhattan studio. An agent told her that Rofe was the “gold standard” in voice coaching. It wasn’t until the third or fourth session that a red flag was raised.
“He said we were going to do sexy copy because sex sells,” recalled Asselin, adding that the read took place in his studio in a locked room.
“I was reading this copy—something to do with chocolate or decadence—and I look up. He was about a foot away,” she said. What Asselin said she witnessed was a nearly naked Rofe acting inappropriately.
When the traumatic reading was over, Asselin said Rofe stood up and unlocked the door. He explained to her that he was married, and that he and his wife were expecting a baby (the child would be a girl). He told her she was in no “danger” and “would it be cool” if she didn’t say anything.
“I said ‘yes’ and left. I made a deal with myself that it didn’t happen and that it wasn’t going to be part of the narrative of my career,” said Asselin, 37, a theatrical writer and director.
“I didn’t tell a single soul for almost 15 years,” added Asselin who is married and has two young sons. “When I found out that the rumors of his sexual assault were going around social media—it was like the Earth opened up. I thought I was the only one.”
Would Anyone Believe Me?
During one of Janice’s sessions in the Irvington studio, she said Rofe was sitting on the sofa. His engineer and assistant were in the next room behind a closed door. He began pulling his pants down and exposing his buttocks.
“I was horrified but remember thinking, ‘I guess this is what method acting is,’” said Janice. “I had never been in a situation like this and was trying to normalize it—he is a trained actor. I was really embarrassed. He was still reading the copy and then pulled his pants up.”
Rofe then told Janice to walk into the small soundproof booth in his studio to rehearse for the demo reel. Behind closed doors, Janice and Rofe were face-to-face with copy in their hands. There was no room to move.
“He grabbed my hands—my papers had dropped—and in one motion pulled my hands toward him and puts my hands on his naked behind; he pulled his pants down with my hands,” said Janice. “I was mortified.”
Rofe then allegedly said to Janice, “I showed you, now you show me.” He began feeling Janice’s chest and trying to remove her top. Janice pulled away. When he realized it wasn’t going any further, he pulled up his pants and said: “Let’s do the read.”
Janice recalled being so confused and wondered what the engineer and assistant would have thought if they had witnessed what transpired.
“From the outside eye it may look like it was consensual,” she said. “I didn’t scream and wondered if I should call the police. Would anyone believe me?”
Among the women who have come forward is comedy writer and actor, Elizabeth Laime. She was the first to post her account on Facebook last October and began receiving messages from other former students. These victims first connected through an e-mail chain that grew into the private Facebook group, “The No Fun Club,” which was created by Costa and is fully supported by Laime and Asselin.
“I was the canary in the coalmine, but we (Heather and Sara) are all doing the legwork. The Facebook group keeps growing,” said Laime, adding that many of the women reported that Rofe told them they had a “sexy voice” and in order to book work they would have to lose their “inhibitions.”
In 2005, at the age of 24, Laime alleged she was sexually assaulted by Rofe during a coaching session. After the incident, she tried to rationalize what had occurred.
“I didn’t know there were others. So, I thought maybe he was just trying to get an uninhibited sexual read out of me and took things too far, which is embarrassing for him, but it wasn’t worth blowing up his business,” said Laime. “I thought there was something about me that led him to do this—it is victim blaming.”
Victim blaming or shaming is a common feeling and response for victims of sexual attacks, explained Lyn Yonack, a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in private practice in Great Barrington, MA. She is on the faculty of Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute and currently serves on the American Psychoanalytic Association’s (APA) Social Issues Committee on the Status of Women and Girls.
“Victims feel all alone and that it is only happening to them. There is a lot of shame,” said Yonack. “It’s a lot easier as a culture to blame the victim. But this doesn’t honor human nature and how confusing some of these interactions and behaviors can be. Anxiety by its very nature doesn’t allow a person to think rationally.”
Yonack further explained that sexual perpetrators often have what their victims, who are in less powerful positions, want and need, such as a job or a recommendation. “They confuse and control by dangling enticements with one hand and wielding threats, implied or explicit, with the other,” she noted.
Hoping for Jail Time
Laime said the 2005 assault occurred during the third or fourth session with Rofe. He suggested they practice a dual read. The intended commercial was two beer cans that were talking to each other. The subtext was sexually suggestive. Rofe told Laime that he did the same script with another student and in order to “nail” the scene they got naked. He asked Laime to take off her shirt, which she did.
“He told me I had to push myself to be uncomfortable. He asked me to take off my bra and said he wouldn’t look and turned off the lights in the studio. I did and trusted he wasn’t looking,” recalled Laime. “He then asked me to get completely naked and I just couldn’t. I felt bad that I couldn’t commit. Before I knew it, he walked into the soundproof room completely naked and closed the door behind him.”
It was at this moment that Laime’s “survival instincts” kicked in. In an attempt to not “humiliate” Rofe, she read the copy. But as the read continued, Rofe began “gyrating” on Laime and “tugging” at her jeans.
“That’s when I pushed past him and got myself out of the booth,” she said. “He tried to play it off, telling me the read was much better. He was standing there naked talking to me like that was normal.”
Laime never saw Rofe again after that session. She said he is a calculated predator and sociopath who deserves “without question” to be in prison. Among several reasons she didn’t come forward at the time of the assault was that “back then” if a woman wasn’t “raped,” there was “no recourse.” The “#metoo” movement has changed the perpetrator/victim paradigm, she said.
Numerous allegations against Rofe—some dating back to 1999—have been reported to the New York City Police Department, explained Laime. She is optimistic that a victim will come forward who was assaulted within the last two years, which would be within the confines of the statute of limitations.
“The detective we have been working with at the NYPD has been very supportive,” said Laime. “We are just waiting for the person who has legal recourse against him (Rofe)—most of us are outside the statute of limitations,” added Laime who is married with two children. “I know there are others out there, and he was presumably still doing this until recently. We are hopeful.”