Adam John Foss: a Virus in the System
A false champion has infiltrated the criminal justice reform space, and women are paying the price.
We are a group of women who have connected since the release of The Wolf and the Whisper Network four weeks ago, who have come to similar harm at the hands of Adam John Foss.
We join an alarming number of women and girls who have also come forward to share their stories about Adam, on Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #adamjohnfoss.
Some of us wish to remain anonymous, but feel compelled to share our truth.
A: Ella Dawson
I met Adam Foss on March 16, 2017 when he visited the TED office to film a video for the TED2017 conference. He approached me at my desk to thank me for my work as a sexual health advocate. Later that afternoon he DMed me on Twitter to tell me that he was a big fan of my writing about herpes specifically. He said he had herpes and that he struggled with the STI’s powerful social stigma. He admired my willingness to talk about it openly and said I was one of his heroes.
When I told him that I faced a lot of harassment online because of my writing, he said that he was there if I ever needed to talk. He DMed me: “i’m here and have been through this shit right along with you albeit not as a woman and not having disclosed about myself as much as you have been brave enough (and inspiring enough) to do but you are a mentor even if you don’t know it. and i owe you for that.”
Read more about Ella’s full experience with Adam here.
I was having what I would later learn was an outbreak. I made an emergency appointment with my doctor.
I remember having a very vivid thought during my appointment: I’m horrified at the reality that I can feel that AJF gave me an STD even before the results came in.
The results came back positive for HSV2, otherwise known as Herpes. It is incurable, and infectious.
I called AJF. He was quiet for a moment, before saying: “Who’d you get it from?”
He knew where I got it from. He knew I had only been in a sexual relationship with three other men prior to our relationship. He knew I kept up with my health. He knew I got tested after my previous partners.
The next day I received a google chat:
AJF: “If you stay with me, you wouldn’t have to worry about telling anyone else because we both have it. Think about it.”
So he did know.
I thought about it. I thought he was right. The thought of having to tell someone about something so intimate made me never want to date anyone else.
So I went back.
For years he repeatedly cheated. I went back.
I went back after he threatened suicide if I left him; he made me feel like my existence in our relationship was responsible for whether or not he’d make it to the next day.
Each time I left, he would claim to be suicidal, and send multiple lengthy e-mails.
It took me almost a year of therapy to deal with the aftermath of my relationship with AJF.
I’ve had to disclose my status to two partners so far. I wrote a lengthy e-mail to the first one, and a hand-written letter to the second. I had to balance not over-explaining the toxicity of my relationship with AJF, but explaining enough to make it clear that I didn’t have this disease because of my carelessness, or because I was sleeping around.
I’ve had to defend what seemed to be bad judgement on my part. I’ve had to explain how manipulation and abusive relationships work, and how my inexperience, and our 10-year age gap, coupled with AJF’s suicidal threats kept me there and put me in the position I’m in today.
I didn’t opt-in to risking my health; this decision was made for me. Without my consent.
Living with HSV2 is a permanent reminder of the most toxic person I’ve ever met.
So to the women out there that AJF has lied to, manipulated, or convinced that you must have been infected by a prior partner, or that he “didn’t know,” I’m here to tell you that he did know. He’s known for years.
But know this:
You are not alone.
You did nothing wrong.
You have nothing to be ashamed of.
A human being with any decency would not rob you of your consent, and willingly risk your health for his own sexual gratification.
I hope that by sharing our stories, even anonymously, we can put an end to the immeasurable harm, pain and anguish he has inflicted on so many women and girls.
I’ve always been responsible when it comes to my health; sexual health included. Testing, condoms, and communication are my practices with any prospective partner. I didn’t have sex with Adam John Foss the first night I met him, the second or the third, but when I did, I made sure I was responsible.
I started with a simple question. “Do you have anything that I should know about or a history with STDs?” Adam assured me that he didn’t. I shared with him that I had recently been tested and that the results were negative. We started having consensual sex. Adam was 14 years older than me and I assumed he was equally as responsible. I trusted he would have disclosed any incurable and infectious STDs. I would come to learn that my trust was misplaced; he did and does have an STD. He took advantage of my trust and chose not to disclose.
I learned the hard way.
I woke up one morning, with chills, full body aches, and a low-grade fever. I walked into the bathroom, pulled down my pants and noticed a tiny bump. Like any professional hypochondriac would, I took to the internet and went down a wormhole. Everywhere I looked I saw the same answer: Herpes.
I immediately texted Adam who was traveling for work. I told him I found a small bump on my vagina and was in total freak out mode about to call my doctor. He told me he was sure it was nothing, but that if it would make me feel better, I should make an appointment. I made an appointment.
The results came back and sure enough, they were positive for HSV2 better known as Herpes. I immediately texted Adam telling him the news. I couldn’t talk on the phone; I was in hysterics and the most confused I had been in a long time.
My mind was going wild. Had he lied? Had he cheated? Had I somehow gotten it from a previous partner and my test results were wrong? This couldn’t be it. I had gotten tested. I was responsible. I knew I didn’t have herpes prior to having sex with Adam and in the back of my mind I was sure I got it from him.
The first text I received back from Adam was “jeez bb. I have been faithful to you. I swear bb.” I remember being quite mad that he geared the conversation towards infidelity rather than being more worried about my health and wellness. His sole focus was persuading me that he hadn’t slept with someone else.
The next two days consisted of Adam texting me and asking questions about what herpes was and how it was transmitted. He texted me like herpes was a new subject matter for him. He asked what the long-term impact would be and guaranteed that none of it mattered anyway because we were going to live a long and happy life together. He reminded me that I was the love of his life. He drilled into me that he hadn’t cheated, that he had been faithful, that I was the only one he had been with. He also told me over and over again that he had never had anything “down there.” I naively believed him. I somehow went from knowing I got herpes from Adam to convincing myself that maybe it had been undetected in the past. Adam reinforced this thought. Adam’s manipulation had me believing him over science and my own doctor.
I began beating myself up assuming that I had put Adam at-risk unknowingly. I spent a year thinking how lucky I was to have a partner who wasn’t angry with me for not knowing about my herpes status and putting him at risk. An entire year of believing that Adam didn’t have herpes.
Adam and I broke-up after he “fell in love with someone else.”
During one of my last conversations with Adam after we broke up, I brought up my status. He shrugged it off and said “I’m willing to bet that once you get back out there, you’ll realize way more people have it than don’t and way fewer dudes will care if it means they get to hook up with you. The worst part is just telling people and having to say it out loud.”
I started doing my own research and consulting my doctor. Things reached a turning point after seeing articles online about Adam being accused of rape and other horrendous misconduct. I messaged a few of the women who were clearly involved in the past.
That’s when it became incredibly clear: Adam knew. He’s known for years. He knowingly infected several women before me and continued to lie to my face about his herpes status.
It’s been a journey coming to terms with my herpes status. My experience has impacted me in ways I never imagined. I haven’t been able to go on dates, or even freely flirt with a guy since Adam infected me. I’ve spent hours crying to my therapist, trying to figure out how someone who I loved and trusted so much could have such blatant disregard for my health and well-being.
My herpes isn’t just herpes. It’s a tattoo of Adam John Foss. A tattoo I never wanted and never consented to getting. A tattoo that I have to carry with me for the rest of my life as a reminder of the abuse, manipulation, and infection that I endured at the hands of Adam.
This isn’t “cancel culture.” This isn’t a ruin the “good work” Adam’s doing movement. This is about protecting women from Adam. It’s a movement to ensure that Adam stops having the opportunity to knowingly infect and abuse women. It’s about ensuring that individuals and institutions stop elevating his status and giving him the platform to continue targeting women. Adam will continue to abuse women by using these opportunities to be the charming, magnetic, handsome, infectious predator that he is.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was so mortified that I ran to urgent care, terrified that I had contracted a disease from someone I thought I could trust.
The night before, I had agreed to meet him at a bar after he had texted me the week prior, “can we meet up later to talk.” I thought nothing of it. I thought that I was getting closure of what I thought was a clean break. Little did I know that that conversation would affect my life in the worst way possible.
I met Adam Foss at an event I was working for at a local prestigious institute. He was there to moderate a conversation about a colleague’s latest book. Before the event, I read up and watched Adam’s TED talk. I was impressed and excited to meet someone who seemed to be “making moves” in the criminal justice reform movement. Before the talk, I had a brief conversation with Adam about my background working in criminal justice.
Later that summer I was working another event for the fellowship and that was when Adam really started noticing me. He pulled me aside and picked up the conversation where we left off. He seemed so genuine and concerned about his work and the people it was impacting. After the day’s programming, some folks decided to hang out at the hotel bar where they were all staying. He sat close to me so he could hold my leg or lower back. We talked all night and exchanged numbers, and then he left for Miami the next morning.
The following week we went on our first date, and I felt as if Adam wanted to get to know me on a deeper level and not just get me to bed. I was excited to get to know him. I remember thinking, “wow this very established man that is 15 years my senior seems to really like me.”
After that one date, our conversations turned quickly into sexting. I was dealing with some personal things with family and found comfort in speaking with Adam. He was easy to talk to and always had the right things to say. He would very last minute ask me to jump on a plane and meet him at whatever state he was in for a talk. I was flattered, but never took him up on those offers as I had a 9–5 job that didn’t allow me the luxury of calling out. He would call me names like “babe” “bb” “my love” and “my lover.” He shared things about himself that I assumed were hard to talk about; depression, personal family issues, and how much he felt overwhelmed by his work. I felt bad for him and made sure to be there for him anytime he needed someone to talk to.
I didn’t see him much. Adam seemed to always be traveling and only home briefly do laundry and pack for his next trip. The next time I saw him was after a day of traveling. He showed up at my door very late wanting to spend the night. After sexting so much I assumed that it would be the first time we would have sex. I would later regret this decision.
I started to question his intentions. The vast majority of our conversations were sexting or him talking about his struggles. I asked him if he was ever going to sit down and have an actual conversation and whether or not he wanted to pursue anything with me. He reassured me that we would hang out and talk.
The next day, Adam invited me to his house to “work from home.” While in the middle of a work call, he texted me “get in bed and get naked.” I thought I had come over to work from home and talk about what I thought was a relationship. We had sex that afternoon. I intended to address the topic of our “relationship” but we went from having sex to a full-blown therapy session. Adam quickly became depressed. He talked about his deep level of sadness and how it seemed to be getting worse. I put my feelings to the side and comforted him.
The next time I inquired about our relationship status, he said that because of his travel schedule we hadn’t had the chance to really get to know each and that because of that he couldn’t make the decision to make things long term. I thought to myself, how could he have thought so little of our relationship? I stopped sexting him and sending pictures and would text him less and less. He started to pick up on my absence and asked why I was not reaching out. I told him that I didn’t want to get hurt and was just trying to protect myself. Adam continuously reached out to say he missed me.
Almost two months passed before I saw him again. This time, at another event. I went thinking that it would rekindle things. It did but it didn’t take long for him to try to sext, groom, and lie again. After that I tried to move on and stop talking to him.
Months later, Adam texted me out of the blue: “can we meet up later to talk.” I assumed he wanted to tell me why things didn’t work out. He showed up looking a lot different. He looked disheveled, and physically beat. I felt myself feeling bad for him again. He talked about his struggles over the previous months and why he couldn’t commit to a relationship. He told me I should take an emotional intelligence test because of how mature I was for my age.
Then the conversation took a turn.
Adam started talking about the #MeToo movement and why he couldn’t be an advocate. How he felt pressure from others to speak on such a movement. He told me he’s used women to get ahead and felt awful about it. THEN, in a very passing way he said “you should get tested.” I stopped him and asked, “get tested for what?” to which he casually responded with “it’s nothing really. I’m sure you don’t have it.” And he told me that he knew he had an STD when we first had sex and neglected to tell me.
My stomach turned and my mind began racing. All I could think after was Adam had given me an STD and I would now have to explain this to the person I was seeing. I was freaking out and needed to leave immediately.
The next day I went to urgent care shaking and scared that I had stupidly allowed myself to be in this situation. I had gotten tested before Adam and was in the clear. I sat anxiously hoping to have the same outcome this time around.
While waiting to be called in by the nurse, I got a text from Adam thanking me for the conversation the night before and asking what I had been doing. I told him that I was sitting in urgent care waiting to get blood work done and his response was “that’s good. you’re fine but it’s good you’re there.” I texted him saying he should have been up front from the start about his STD status. His response was “WE should have been more responsible… WE should have asked questions… as your friend, just don’t assume.”
I went into the patient room and a nurse came in and asked what I was in for. On the verge of tears, I said “ a guy I had been having intercourse with told me last night that he could’ve given me an STD, so I want to get tested for everything because I have no idea what he could’ve possibly given to me.” I was shaking in anger and fear that I had contracted a disease and that I was being punished for something that was not my fault.
A week later, he came to my work holiday party unannounced. I was at a table talking with colleagues. I turned around and was met face-to-face with Adam. I made up an excuse and walked away. I spent the entire night hiding and waiting for him to leave. The level of entitlement, and selfishness it must have taken for him to show up disgusted me. How could he think it’s okay to show up to the party unannounced and enjoy himself at MY work holiday party after all of the pain and guilt he caused me.
I wanted nothing to do with him. I gave myself over to someone who didn’t care for my well-being and tossed me aside like I was nothing but a temporary fling.
For years I’ve struggled with feeling confident in my own skin and trusting anyone I find myself dating. I’ve struggled with my sexuality. I’m guarded.
Call to Action
We believe that what we have experienced, being knowingly infected with a lifelong disease, should be considered criminal.
We’re adding our collective voices as a call to action to the organizations that continue to enable Adam and his harmful behavior by not using their voices to denounce Adam, such as TED, Ashoka, OneWorld, MIT, Suffolk Law School, and others. We urge you to check on your communities, remove him from your platforms, and direct any victims to the resources below.
We understand how hard it is to go through this, and to feel alone in doing so. Please feel free to reach out to us at: email@example.com.
We are also aware that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, via Goodwin and Procter, as well as The New York Police Department and Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are conducting separate investigations into Adam John Foss. If you’ve been directly impacted by Adam, or know of others who were, we urge you to contact any of the individuals listed below or your local law enforcement agency:
Sarah Mathers, NYPD: MathersS@dany.nyc.gov
Manhattan District Attorney’s Office hotline number: 212 335 9373
Jennifer Chunias, Goodwin and Procter: firstname.lastname@example.org
Roberto Braceras, Goodwin and Procter: email@example.com