Earlier this month, accusations started circulating about William Francis, the former lead singer of emo band Aiden who goes by the stage name William Control.
William Control has released multiple albums and toured extensively in the U.S. and U.K., cultivating an image that deals extensively in BDSM themes and imagery. The William Control websites link to his brand, Submit Clothing; a 2015 interview with the musician is titled “Dark Meets Domineering.” But according to accusations made by multiple women, Francis only purported to practice BDSM; in fact, they claim, he physically and emotionally abused women, ordered many of them to get matching tattoos of his initials, and even demanded contracts from his sexual partners or “slaves,” signed in their own blood. An excerpt from a pledge obtained by The Daily Beast reads, “My body is His to use in any way He should choose, and I will never object to any actions He chooses to perform, or have myself perform on Him. There is no limitation to what kind of pain I am willing to endure for my Master.”
The June accusations came in the form of a Facebook post by Vitoria Chan alleging that she was “groomed” into William Control’s “cult” beginning when she was 14. (Chan later emphasized that, “To her knowledge, William Control has not had sex with any underage girls”). She posted a Twitter DM conversation between herself and Francis, which took place when she was 16. “To give some context,” Chan wrote, “William and another woman who had been grooming me [from] a young age had started to get worried about people noticing that I was texting him. Concerned about my age, it was encouraged for me to change his name on my phone and also to ‘date’ someone of my own age to avoid suspicion.”
This isn’t the first time William Control’s name has been circulated as an alleged abuser. In October 2017, according to a screenshot, Francis issued a now-deleted “real and sincere apology to anyone in the world for any hurt I have caused.” He continued, “My methods of punishment were rather extreme and I never meant to cause anyone any real physical or emotional damage.” Also in October, he announced that he was retiring from touring.
The Federal Way Police Department in Washington confirmed the existence of the case while refusing to provide copies of any police records, telling The Daily Beast that they are “waiting for the King County Prosecutor’s Office to make a final determination.” This week, they declined to prosecute Francis.
Francis, meanwhile, posted a statement to his official William Control Facebook page on June 7, writing, “The truth is: I went into the police for questioning about these allegations earlier this year. After showing the detective my side of the story, including private communication, he recommended no charges be pressed, because it was clear the behavior was consensual.”
Francis’ post continued, “I have, in the past, engaged in heavy role play and bondage relationships WITH consent. However, I do not engage in that sort of play anymore. And for anyone who feels as though I have hurt them or violated their consent, I am sorry. It won’t ever happen again. There are lots of things that have been said that are outright lies. I have never been with underage girls. I have never been involved in a ‘sex cult.’”
The next day, he announced that he would be “shutting everything down completely,” adding, “I’m sorry to everyone but it’s best that I focus on my family and not have any more communication with the outside world.” (Francis did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.)
One of Francis’ alleged victims, Lily*, has some insight into why it took so long for the accusations against the artist to stick. Lily tells The Daily Beast that she tweeted out Francis’ apology with her own, less-than-satisfied response. “As soon as I made the statement, I knew something bad was about to happen,” Lily recalls. Within “like five minutes of me tweeting that,” Francis had emailed Lily. In the emails, which were reviewed by The Daily Beast, he included what Lily describes as “sexually explicit text messages that I had sent to him after we had hooked up consensually.” He alluded to the “pictures and videos you sent me,” presumably as further evidence that their relationship was entirely consensual. He continued, “I’ve spoken to my lawyer. He’s mounting the paperwork for a defamation of character lawsuit. We’ve got all that we need to seek damages in the tens of thousands.”
Lily is 25 now, and says that she was a “big fan” of Aiden when she was a preteen, and “loved his solo project” as well. At a William Control show in Fort Lauderdale in 2012, he told her how “beautiful” she was, and that “he had been waiting for me to turn 18, cause I had also met him prior at another show, I think the year before.” They had a consensual sexual encounter on his tour bus.
“Then a few months later, we’d been texting, and he kind of propositioned like whether or not I’d like to be his ‘slave,’ and being 19 and not really having any kind of direction at that point, I was like sure,” Lily recalls. “And what kind of ensued was this awful, abusive relationship under the guise of BDSM. And he had me sign a contract, and the contract had to be signed in my blood. And a few other women have said that… He also at some point wanted me to get a tattoo, like a way of branding without actually calling it branding, but I never got the tattoo. He wanted me to change my appearance, lose weight—I developed an eating disorder. There were rules, and he would make me film myself doing various degrading sex acts.”
Lily says she ended up driving to a William Control show in Orlando in November 2012 “as part of my ‘slave duties.’” “So that night, it was just, maybe the sex started out consensual, but it was just brutal, way beyond like spanking or biting, it was like he broke skin when he bit me and I was crying, and there was a point where he had said, ‘I can’t do this if you’re going to fucking cry like that.’ And then he flipped me over and I definitely said no, and I was definitely still crying, and he anally raped me. And then he left me there to go sound check for his show.”
A few weeks ago, Lily was added to a group message of other women, “and the group chat was like let’s talk about the sex cult.” Lily says that “that was the first time I had really heard anyone besides me call it a sex cult.”
“And everyone was sharing photos of their tattoos, their brandings, and just going over these horrible, awful things,” she continues. “They were in it for longer than I was. It was six months, and then after the Orlando incident I knew I had to get out of there.”
“I’m still learning, six years later, all these new things that he’s done to other girls,” Lily explains. “What really frightens me about him also is his fan base. There are so many women, because his whole persona thing is being a dom, BDSM, and the shitty thing is, it’s like the Fifty Shades of Grey thing of ‘oh it’s not abusive, it’s just kinky,’ and that’s the way he plays it off. And it’s like no, that’s abuse.”
A 2015 “op-ed” by Francis, posted on the William Control website, reads, “In my experience, most people who are into BDSM do not engage in it because they want to act out or relive abuse. Some people probably do, but many people use it to challenge themselves physically, to gain control over their minds, bodies and emotions as an escape from the chaos of the real world. Some like it for the role-playing, others for the outfits. My cock simply throbs harder when she is in a full state of submission, the ropes are tied tightly and there’s blood and tears circulating in the air around us. BDSM attracts a broad spectrum of fetishists, and acceptance and consent are always paramount.
“Do some people use the guise of BDSM as an excuse to abuse? Most definitely,” he continues. “But I would wager the percentage of people who misrepresent BDSM that way is much lower than the rates of domestic abuse found in the general, missionary-position population. A love of BDSM is not always caused by experiencing abuse and it is not necessarily a cover used to sanction violence.”
The Daily Beast spoke with a friend of Lily’s, who Francis contacted after she tweeted “something to the effect of him being a rapist.” Francis sent her the same sexually explicit text message from Lily, claiming that it was “one of her last emails” (Lily contests that the text was actually sent near the beginning of their relationship). He also copy-and-pasted the same legal threat, adding, “Slander on Twitter is grounds for a lawsuit. This is a serious fucking issue and takes time and focus away from REAL victims.” Lily remembers realizing that he was sending out her old texts—“it was just so demeaning and horrible.”
Lily says that she “shut up” after that: “It’s because I’m afraid of him and he has these videos and images of me, like if he could find that text so easily, god knows like what else he still has.”
Vitoria Chan, the woman behind the Facebook post that got picked up by news outlets, confirmed her social-media statements to The Daily Beast. “I met him when I was 15, but the communication with the cult started when I was about 13, 14 years old,” Chan says. “He has lots and lots of girls involved, and they all operate in talking to young women to try and entice them into the cult. I started talking to the girls when I was like 13, 14 years old.” She adds that she had tried to tell people about the alleged cult when she was 16, but “no one took me seriously.” She says that she’s in contact “with over 20 women involved in the cult,” and referred The Daily Beast to a Tumblr that “a collective of the girls have set up” in order to share evidence and information.
The Tumblr features incredibly disturbing images and videos, as well as statements from various women. They include photos of multiple women with W tattoos above their crotches, one of which is captioned, “The W and roses was the first part. I later got him to write ‘whore’ on me and had that tattooed on. The lyrics are his and were added summer 2017. He made out that only the select few got collared, and an even more select few were allowed to be branded. It felt like such an honour at the time. Now I know there are countless women walking round with his initial on their pussy.” Another post submitted by an “anonymous 21-year-old woman” shows the trace of a W carved into her rib: “This is a scar branding that William gave me on Feb 2nd, 2016. I refused to get his name tattooed so instead he tied me down and carved his initial into my chest.”
There are multiple posts referencing an alleged victim named Sarka J. One of them shows what appear to be receipts from Western Union transactions, paid to William Francis for “his needs” and “the future [he] had been planning for me.” In a longer statement, Sarka wrote, “BDSM isn’t definitely about beating the shit out of anyone, about building the relationship only on fear, dependency, manipulation and one-sided abuse. And consent isn’t definitely about just saying ‘yes’ because you simply don’t have any other choice.”
She continued, “I couldn’t consent because I was scared to death. I couldn’t consent because of the loaded gun being forcefully pulled to my mouth which is definitely the threat of force. I couldn’t consent because being beaten to the pulp isn’t definitely the right way how to be consensual and trying to refuse always meant only more torture until I gave up. I couldn’t consent because being beaten heavily with fists to my face and head temples as well as being choked made me unconscious.” Sarka told Salty that, “She was financially extorted to the tune of US $100,000 over the course of three years,” and tells The Daily Beast that she stands by her online claims.
Sarka’s allegations of “financial domination” are mirrored by Stormie Somers, a longtime former girlfriend of Francis’ who has now become one of his most vocal accusers. She’s posted a number of videos aimed at lending support and validation to other survivors, saying, “If you were fucking whipped and beaten and had to go to the hospital, I hear ya.”
Over the course of their nine-year relationship, Somers tells The Daily Beast that she sustained serious injuries including a collapsed throat, dislocated jaw, and black eyes. She also says that she was ordered by Francis to work as a cam girl, stripper, and dominatrix to make money for him. Additionally, she alleges, she was tasked with recruiting and grooming other women to follow in her footsteps. Somers describes “what [Francis] considers BDSM—basically he just beats the shit out of you and brainwashes you to believe your sole purpose is to serve him and to worship him and that’s your job,” adding, “It went from crossing lines of consent to totally physical annihilation.”
Somers pointed to one particularly traumatic incident, which she says took place in October 2010. “He had texted me and he was like, ‘I’m in L.A., you have an hour to get to me,’” she recalls. “I could never disobey when he summoned me. I had to be there, or there would be dire consequences. I met up with him at this hotel, he came to the door, and I was thinking like, oh, I’m really excited to see him. And he just started punching me in the face.”
“I was like, wait a minute, what the fuck is going on, and then he just kept punching me. And I couldn’t wrap my mind around what exactly was happening, and then he grabbed me by my hair and began slapping me back and forth across my face and I started crying, and I was like stop! And he grabs me, throws me across the room, he busted—like my arms were all beat up, he tore my left leg out of socket, and then he just proceeded to climb on top of me and keep beating my face in. My only thought was, ‘I’m going to die, and my mom has no idea where I am.’ Like, what is going on? How could someone that I love do that to me? And I couldn’t move, I was paralyzed.”
“He collapsed my throat, dislocated my jaw, he gave me black eyes, a contusion to my spine, I had like an out of body experience,” she concludes. “I thought I died. I was watching him fuck me unconscious, and I couldn’t do anything about it… He’d never done anything like that.”
Somers says that Francis continued to assault her on the drive home from the hotel: “Every time I started crying he would smack me across the face. And he took me to my place and he basically kicked me out of the car, and I had to hide in the bushes because I was completely butt naked, and I had to call my little brother to come pick me up, and I’ll never forget the horror on his face.” She adds, “I started spiraling completely after that.”
Somers maintains that Francis made her work to support him. She tells The Daily Beast, “He had me camming and I was a dominatrix and I was a sugar baby, and he put me out all over on these websites to make him money. I’d send him money constantly; I’d have to do jobs to make sure that he had money. Even if he didn’t need the money, it was still my job to supply him with money. I was going to get signed on to Burning Angel to be a porn star, because that’s what he told me I was going to do.” Somers’ other job was “recruiting” women. She described how, last year, Francis came to see her for her birthday with an assignment to take another woman under her wing. “My job was to help her basically branch out, and take her to local strip clubs,” Somers says.
“I had to drive her to the bus station, and she’s glowing and beaming and so excited to be a part of this,” an emotional Somers recalls. “I cried the whole way home. I was like, what have I done, I just destroyed another human being’s life. Why? I feel a tremendous amount of guilt that she’s still stripping and doing whatever for him, and she’s just a fucking kid. She’s like 19.”
Over the years, Somers says that she witnessed Francis physically abusing other women and demanding payments. She recalls one instance where Francis ordered two women to get married so one of them could get a green card. The Daily Beast spoke with one of those women, Amanda, who confirms “he had me marry a woman to get her her citizenship,” adding, “That woman has since left him and I can no longer find her online anywhere.” In March, Amanda uploaded a picture with Francis at the wedding ceremony to Instagram. According to messages that were reviewed by The Daily Beast, Francis promptly texted her, “Now that you’ve broken the terms of the NDA you signed, I’ll have my lawyer serve you with papers soon I’ve got a screenshot of your IG so don’t worry about trying to delete it.” She maintains that she never signed an NDA.
Another alleged survivor, Sarah*, referred The Daily Beast to a journal entry she had published online a month ago about her three-year relationship with Francis. It began, “This was a D/s relationship, except it wasn’t really. He uses the guise of BDSM to inflict pain and violence on women. To bully them. There were never any safe words or aftercare.”
She went on to describe the dynamic as “cult-like,” writing, “We were brainwashed. He had us all get his initial tattooed on our pussies—his ‘brand’…He also financially extorted me, and many others. I’m thousands of pounds in debt because of the things he insisted I buy for him and pay for—the expensive shoes, the posh clothes, the fancy hotels, the flights, the shirts for his son—and he made me change my will and pension payout to make him sole beneficiary. I also had to send him money every month.” The Daily Beast reviewed over a year’s worth of PayPal confirmations of monthly payments made by Sarah to William Francis/William Control LLC, ranging from £250 ($331) to £400 GBP ($529).
Sarah also says that Francis physically abused her, recalling one incident of particularly brutal “assault” as well as multiple retinal bleeds from slapping her face. However, she emphasizes that “most of the physical stuff was consensual and the worst of my abuse was emotional/psychological.” She notes that he took intimate photos and videos of her without her consent, and wrote, “He also twice sent me pictures of him having sex with other women. I doubt they gave their consent either. That’s one reason why I’m frightened to do anything about all of this, in case he publishes any of it as revenge porn.” Sarah says she had knowledge of at least two women who Francis shared intimate pictures of her with, saying, “I sent him plenty myself and I was flattered that he wanted to have these pics of me, but the point is that he never asked permission to take them in the first place and went against explicit instructions in sharing them.”
For Somers, who has only become more vocal over these past few weeks, Francis’ outing has had a positive effect. “Seeing all these women come forward, in a fucked up way it was such a relief,” she says. “Hearing so many other stories that are similar to mine, I felt like finally someone believed me. I felt validated for what I had experienced, and for so long I was told I was crazy and it didn’t happen. Nobody in their right mind would want to create this kind of stuff. No one can consent to rape. I didn’t have control over it, I couldn’t say no. None of these poor girls could say no. You say no and you get his wrath twice as hard.”