Some actors at the edgy, full-contact Akron Fright Fest in Springfield Township have been suspended amid allegations of a mock rape scene this past weekend in one of its haunted houses.
This was the second weekend for the new haunted house attraction at Melanie Lake at Kim Tam Park, where promoters promised an edgy, adult, haunted house experience with actors who will get physical with patrons and hurl insults and swear words amid "risque" scenes.
But concerns were raised by a handful of patrons who complained to the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com that they were injured by actors who shoved them and, in at least two instances, pushed onto a mattress, where actors simulated a rape on the patron.
Late Monday night, park owner Jeremy Caudill said he was "shocked and appalled" that some actors had apparently crossed the line over the weekend.
He said they are still sorting out exactly what transpired in some of the scenes, as there are "confusing, inconsistent reports" from some patrons and the actors.
"When we know more, we’ll act based on what we learn," he said in a prepared statement. "But I want to emphasize this point: There is no place for anything like this at our park."
The employees working in the scenes in question have been suspended while the matter is being investigated, Caudill said.
"We are immediately employing additional security and adding monitoring systems in each of the haunted houses to have a safer environment for our customers and our staffers," he said.
They also are planning to donate a portion of the gate proceeds to the Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties.
Terri Heckman, chief executive officer of the Battered Women's Shelter and Rape Crisis Center, said she appreciates the gesture but is disappointed that anyone would think rape is entertainment.
"This is both disgusting and disheartening," she said.
Since the #MeToo movement and high-profile news stories like the Bill Cosby case, Heckman said, the rape hotline (330-434-7273) has seen a spike in calls with the daily average going from 12 to 24.
Heckman said she has offered to sit down with Caudill to discuss the matter.
"I am pleased that society has said this is wrong and this crossed the line," she said.
The haunted attraction's raw subject matter created a furor on social media over the weekend.
Patron Sarah Emily said she was at the Akron Fright Fest on Saturday night with some friends and was pushed around despite screaming that she has a disability as a result of a shoulder injury.
She said a male in her group was pushed down on a bed and an actor told him he was going to be raped despite his and her protests for the actor to stop.
"[He] was trying to get up at this point, but the actor pushed him back down," she said in an email sent to area media. "He then started to hump my boyfriend with force.
"My boyfriend was struggling to get up."
Another patron, whose name is not being used in this article because her son is a minor, also complained via email that the teenager was thrown down on a bed and subjected to a simulated rape.
The uproar prompted so many calls to Akron City Hall about the venue that city officials reached out, asking members of the media to point out that they have no jurisdiction over it since it is in Springfield Township.
And the attraction is not breaking any township laws, a Springfield spokesman said.
While "the township is pretty horrified," township Administrator Warren Price said, there's little officials can do. It is a legal business that complies with the community's zoning ordinances and fire code regulations and that's about all state law enables a township to regulate.
Caudill readily acknowledges these are edgy haunted houses that are not kid-friendly and present some raw themes, but rape is not one that should have a place inside the attractions.
"Obviously, rape is a horrible act," he said. "Even a mock rape scene has no place as part of any entertainment. And it has no place at our park."
Craig Webb can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3547.