How do you handle the emotional pressure of sorting out possible courses of action and deciding what to do? “It killed me, it broke my heart,” says Kai Zen Bickle, echoing the raw, devastating feelings of many who’ve discovered relatives are perpetrators of sexual abuse. “I loved him; I experienced a different side of him. I believed, trusted, and saw the best in him.” After processing his grief, Kai says he was left with “the other guy,” an accused serial rapist with an alleged decades-long pattern of sexual predation, not the man he knew as his father. Kai has since taken his mother’s name, renounced any possible inheritance, and channeled his energy into helping victims find justice.
“I was in a position to save him if I wanted or I could have just walked away,” Kai recalls. “The third option was to roll up my sleeves and do everything I could to ensure his accusers could face him in a court of law.” Kai chose to work aggressively, at great personal cost, to make it possible for his father’s alleged sexually abused girls and women to have their voices heard. In recognition of his efforts, Kai is being honored this year as the recipient of CHILD USA’s Voice of the Voiceless award.
Kai’s father, Peter Nygard, whose net worth was calculated at more than $900 million in 2020, rose to prominence as a fashion mogul. He founded Nygard International in 1967 as a Canadian design, manufacturing and supply concern. The business expanded into the United States and internationally, becoming one of the world’s largest women’s clothing manufacturers. As his success and fortune grew, he cultivated a public lifestyle patterned after Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame, purchasing and developing a lavish estate in The Bahamas, accompanied by a constantly changing group of female companions.
In May of 2019, during one of Nygard’s trips to Los Angeles, he held a dinner party that Kai attended. After the meal, during the shuffle while attendees transitioned to a poker game, Kai believes he saw Nygard secretly and inappropriately touching an eight-year-old girl, whom Kai now believes his father was sexually grooming.
Sick at heart, Kai took all the correct steps to report it, was attacked for it, and experienced how difficult the process can be. In February 2020, formal accusations against Nygard came in, for which Kai gives much credit to the civil attorneys and the brave accusers from The Bahamas who were involved. “Once those accusations came out and when the FBI raided his offices, more and more people began to come forward with information. I was listening to all sides, including addressing the matter directly with my father in an effort to be fair. But after I received credible information that Nygard was still actively drugging and raping women, even after the public accusations, that is when I knew I was dealing with someone who was totally out of control. I needed to do everything possible to stop him from evading the justice process.”
After getting in touch with the civil attorneys through one of his brothers, Kai discovered the attorneys had an additional 47 women and children who alleged abuse at Nygard’s hands. “The pattern of behavior followed him wherever he went,” Kai notes, “and dated from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The victims included 14-year-old girls and drugging, so Kai reasoned it shouldn’t be too hard to stop because children and drugs were involved. “That’s when I started to find out how truly difficult it is, and that the headwinds victims must navigate through in order to pursue justice are filled with loopholes that make it extremely difficult for due process to move forward.”
Despite helping to facilitate the reporting of abuses to the FBI and to police in the United States and Canada, Kai found these organizations’ hands were essentially tied in many of the cases due to jurisdiction loopholes. On top of that, authorities couldn’t stop Nygard from fleeing due process until an arrest was imminent. “His passport could not be flagged, and he posed a significant flight risk. It kept me up at night, wondering what he would do for the rest of his life if he simply took a flight to a jurisdiction out of reach. It took 10 months before he was arrested, and he could have fled at any time” Kai recalls.
Behind the scenes within the company, Kai worked to slow down the liquidation of company assets, engaging in business battles to delay Nygard from moving them offshore. In the summer of 2020, he found out his brothers had an abuse claim and encouraged them to take action against Nygard. His brothers claimed Nygard hired the same sex worker to statutorily rape them to “make them into men.” They were minors at the time of the incidents, which occurred 15 years apart. “They didn’t feel good about it, it damaged them, but they knew that filing a report would encourage more survivors to come forward. I’m very proud of them,” he says. “They knew there likely would be no financial compensation and that any chance at inheritance would effectively be over, but they went forward because it was the right thing to do.”
Through it all, Kai maintains, “It’s not up to me to determine whether he’s guilty. However, he should have to go through due process. He needs to face his accusers in a court of law.” Consequently, Kai went to work on getting laws changed, noting the obstacles to bringing perpetrators to face due process are huge.
He was introduced to CHILD USA by actor Corey Feldman, who has been active in advocating for statute of limitations legislative changes to give victims more access to justice. Since that introduction, Kai has been working with them to change laws and loopholes that he encountered along his journey.
“We need to improve the system that empowers authorities to uphold due process,” he says. “Right now, there are a few key loopholes that need to be updated that can greatly empower authorities to ensure that accusers’ voices can be properly heard in a court of law.”
“There were three major legal obstacles that became apparent as to why Nygard was able to get away with this pattern of accused abuse for so long,” he says. One legal loophole he and CHILD USA are trying to change is that if someone has formal accusations filed against them or is under criminal investigation for heinous crimes such as child rape, authorities should have the option to be able to flag the passports of the accused until an investigation is complete. It currently is not possible to do so until a formal arrest has been issued, and people flee jurisdiction, leaving victims with no recourse. “I came out publicly in September of 2020 to expose Nygard as a flight risk; he had 10 months from when the FBI raided his offices in February, 2020 to his actual arrest in December of that year. He could simply have booked a plane ticket and gone to a jurisdiction where he couldn’t be held accountable.”
Non-reciprocal relationships between jurisdictions is another major obstacle. “Many of the incidents happened in the Bahamas, and looking back, that was by design.” Kai says. “An example would be that if two Americans go on spring break in a foreign country and one is raped by the other, then charges cannot be pressed in the United States simply because the alleged rape occurred in The Bahamas. Many of the accusations were from Canadian women or American women who were flown to The Bahamas, allegedly raped, and then had no way to press charges in the USA or Canada, simply because the alleged incident occurred on foreign soil. The law wants you to press charges in The Bahamas, except The Bahamas has a terrible track record of prosecuting rape, and Nygard is accused of having the Bahamian police in his pocket. Essentially we have a free rape zone.”
“Right now,” Kai adds, “over 125 victims have come forward, and of those only eight are qualified to press a formal criminal charge in the United States — less than 10%. Also factor in that many rapes go unreported and you have a staggering number of accusations that have not been able to utilize the justice process.”
Wealthy and powerful people also sue accusers for defamation of character, and survivors have been bankrupted while seeking justice. Kai has proposed legislation that follows precedent set in the United Kingdom: if you lose your suit, you pay your opponent’s attorney fees. This is not true in the United States, “so if you are rich and someone’s not, you can shut them down,” he emphasizes. “This was another tactic Nygard used to silence voices. He would gladly pay 500k to make you spend 100k that you don’t have. There’s a massive socio-economic advantage. We need to give more power to the financially disenfranchised to level the playing field of justice.”
In fighting to get the voices of the voiceless heard, Kai is also involved with #NotMe, a free, open phone app that makes it easy to report, even anonymously, all sorts of misconduct from racism to sexual abuse. “Within 20 minutes,” Kai notes, “A complaint can be written, filed on-record and sent out to a professional, objective third party for review, they can also connect you with PTS counselors and more. It’s a tool that empowers voices to be heard.”
After connecting with Marci Hamilton, CHILD USA founder, Kai found someone open and receptive to finding ways to promote advocacy and ways to make real change. CHILD USA’s Legal Department, under the lead of Director Alice Bohn, is drafting language to meet the problems Kai has identified.
However, there is still much work to be done, and funding is needed to continue these battles to get victims’ voices heard.
“I do what I can,” Kai concludes. “However, I accepted the Voice of the Voiceless Award on the basis that many should be recognized — the survivors in the Bahamas who are still under fire, the survivors all over the world who have come forward and those who haven’t. The former employees who have experienced abuses; the tireless efforts of the civil attorneys, Greg Gutzler and Lisa Haba, who have helped piece this investigation together and supported and allowed so many survivors to be heard; my brothers and sister who have helped behind the scenes, and the authorities who have worked within the powers they have to do everything they can to have him answer for his accusations in a court of law. I accepted on their behalf. Let us take steps to ensure that we make changes to the system in order to help support the justice process as much as possible moving forward.”