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Former Intern Who Claims iO Blew Off Her Sexual Harassment Comes Forward

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 2, 2016 10:35PM

via iO Comedy

A former intern for the improv theater iO has come forward to Buzzfeed News, claiming that when she reported a male staff member at the theater for sexual harassing and then firing her, she was outright dismissed by the theater's co-founder.

Bella Cosper, a former intern at Los Angeles' iO West, told Buzzfeed that back in 2007, Charna Halpern—the head and Chicago-based co-founder of iO—blew her off when she called to report harassment. Halpern is adamant that she never even received a call from Cosper.

The issue of whether Cosper called Halpern has been a topic of public discussion since January, when Halpern posted controversial comments about sexual harassment on Facebook, spawning a lengthy thread of comments from the Chicago improv community. But this is the first time Cosper is speaking out publicly.

Halpern began that January Facebook thread because she wanted to defend herself against Cosper's allegation, which Halpern claims she first heard of this year, via Facebook. Buzzfeed reports that Cosper posted her allegation in a private Facebook group, and it was shared with Halpern by a third party. In Cosper's post, she claimed that Halpern just “put off” Cosper and “offered her free [improv] classes" when she reported the male staffer for harassment.

“Ive never had any complaints about [the male staff member], nor wouldI handle an issue in such a shallow way,” Halpern wrote on Facebook [stet]. She reiterated the same point to Chicagoist in a phone interview, adding, "We found out who the woman was. She was never at iO.”

Cosper tells a different story of her interactions with her alleged harasser, who Buzzfeed calls “the administrator” (though Halpern called him a producer on Facebook). According to Buzzfeed:

Cosper, 42, said she had never spent any time alone with the administrator outside of her internship until he tried to slide his hands up her skirt during an after-hours party at the theater in October 2007. She told him she wasn’t interested, in a “friendly” way, she said, and never planned on reporting the incident. Then, during her intern shift the next Tuesday, the administrator yelled and swore at her throughout the night, Cosper said, calling her a “fucking idiot” and telling her she wasn’t doing her job correctly.

The next day, Cosper said, the administrator left her a voicemail telling her she was no longer needed as an intern.

This was the point at which, Cosper told Buzzfeed, she called Halpern to report the issue. She told Buzzfeed she was “crying really hard” on the call, during which she told Halpern she planned to leave the theater because she was afraid of her harasser.

Halpern, Cosper told Buzzfeed, offered her free classes and encouraged her to stay.

This is an unusually polarized case of she-said-she-said—given that they can't even agree on whether Cosper was an iO intern. But Buzzfeed did find an outside source to confirm that Cosper interned at iO: Meg Swertlow, one of Cosper's iO classmates in 2007, who already knew about the harassment issue.

Swertlow told Buzzfeed: "I can categorically say that Bella was a very active member of the iO West community and then, suddenly, she wasn’t.”

Read the full Buzzfeed story here.