A complaint against Youth Interactive, a nonprofit arts and entrepreneurial academy for at-risk youth in Santa Barbara, was filed in San Luis Obispo last week, alleging one of the nonprofit’s former mentors raped a participant who was 14 years old at the time. Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Cary Matsuoka sent out a district-wide message to parents last night directing all staff and students to “immediately stop participating in Youth Interactive programs until further notice.”
The complaint was filed by the Ernst Law Group, a San Luis Obispo–based personal injury law firm. Attorney Taylor Ernst, who is representing the plaintiff, called Jane Doe in the filing, said he could not comment on the reason for filing in San Luis Obispo, but the complaint states it is believed the alleged rapist lives in that county now. (The Santa Barbara Independent is withholding the name of the alleged rapist until details of the complaint can be substantiated.)
“Our firm speaks truth to power,” Ernst said. “Conduct occurred here that shouldn’t have, and once it did, it should have been reported immediately.”
According to the complaint, Jane Doe, now 19, was considered an “at-risk youth” because she allegedly had been molested by her father and grandfather before joining Youth Interactive. The nonprofit’s CEO, Nathalie Gensac, was reportedly aware of Doe’s traumatic history and, in 2014, invited Doe to live with her in her Montecito home, where the alleged rapist also reportedly spent the night occasionally.
The complaint states that the alleged rapist, then 25, taught art at the Youth Interactive facility and was assigned to mentor Doe. It states he allegedly raped 14-year-old Doe in 2014 on Gensac’s sofa after Gensac went to bed. It also claims that in the same evening before the rape, the alleged rapist and Gensac were drinking wine and smoking marijuana together in front of Doe; they then smoked marijuana with Doe.
“Jane Doe reported the incident to one or more Youth Interactive employees,” the complaint reads. “Despite the fact that Youth Interactive and its employees had control over Jane Doe’s welfare … [a]nd despite a law that required Youth Interactive and its employees to report the incident to the police, no such report was made and the perpetrator was permitted to continue teaching at Youth Interactive.”
The complaint says that months later, she was assaulted by the same person again, this time at the previous Youth Interactive facility at 209 Anacapa Street. The alleged rapist reportedly violated Doe when he was painting her body as a “work of art” to “apologize [for the prior rape] and make her beautiful through his painting.” When Doe tried to get away from him, the complaint contends, he picked her up so she couldn’t run. He offered her marijuana again, jars of which were reportedly stored at the Youth Interactive office.
The alleged rapist was employed with Youth Interactive for several years after the assaults, the complaint states.
“There is no merit to the allegations of the complaint,” said Gensac’s legal counsel Catherine Swysen. “We are confident that Ms. Gensac will be vindicated through the court process and that she will be able to return to her mission of helping the students of Santa Barbara who need it the most.”
Swysen only represents and speaks for Gensac; Youth Interactive is represented by Robert Forouzandeh. The Independent could not confirm whether the alleged rapist had secured legal counsel; he did not respond to a direct request for comment by press time.
In January 2017, according to the complaint, Doe reported the rape to Gensac directly in a meeting. The complaint claims that Gensac took the report to one or more of Youth Interactive’s Board of Directors, and she was told not to take action.
“Nathalie Gensac was told by the board that if a rape occured in her home, she would be held responsible,” the complaint says. “Further, the Board was concerned that allegations of rape would destroy the good work she had done through Youth Interactive.”
Forouzandeh said that his legal team had reviewed all the Youth Interactive board minutes and spoke with everyone who was on the board at the time. He stated there was no evidence that sexual abuse of any kind was ever reported to the board or other Youth Interactive employees.
He also said that the complaint incorrectly called the alleged rapist an employee of Youth Interactive. “He was never employed by or paid in any way by Youth Interactive,” Forouzandeh said. “He was a student who went through the program himself and then was a volunteer.” Forouzandeh said he could not confirm or deny the complaint’s assertion that the alleged rapist was 25 years old in 2014.
Forouzandeh said his team has hired an independent investigator to further investigate what he says are meritless claims. Gensac’s legal team will do the same.
“Ms. Gensac has a stellar reputation in our community and elsewhere,” Swysen said. “She lived her entire life following high ethical and moral standards. We are confident that the allegations levied against her will be proven to be baseless.”
As for Doe’s legal team, they have a similar plan of action.
“Our next step is to continue our investigations and begin taking depositions,” Ernst said.
This story was corrected to fix the following error: The second assault took place at the old Youth Interactive facility at 209 Anacapa Street, not the current address at 1219 State Street. We regret the error.