Baylee “Bay” Higginbotham

Content & Trigger warning – descriptions of sexual assault and harassment, abuse, and graphic descriptions of sexual activities.


Ale Bonilla is a predator that has infected the DFW beauty community for nearly two decades. While his pattern of targeting young and new stylists has been widely discussed and gossiped about within the community, it has never been directly addressed or publicly called out. This lack of accountability has allowed Ale to slowly create a cesspool of abuse and to continue luring new stylists into his salons. The manner in which he targets and manipulates his victims is predictable, and has remained the same for at least a decade. I speak from experience. I was one of those young, new stylists that he took advantage of. I’ve also spoken to too many others who had similar experiences. As I am currently writing this, I am not aware of any move to hold him accountable for the damage he has caused. I want to change that. By sharing my story, I hope to begin a conversation—a public conversation about Ale Bonilla and Esoterica Studios. I also hope to inspire others to come forward, as well. By sharing our experiences, maybe he won’t be able to do this to anyone else.

Since June of 2021, I have been unwinding the trauma left by Ale. Like many victims of sexual assault, I didn’t know that what I experienced was assault. My therapist equated this delayed recognition to not noticing a gaping wound for five years. I told her it was more similar to losing a limb, only noticing five years later that it was the source of the immense pain radiating throughout my body. I have been working hard to clean my wounds, mend, and heal them. Part of my healing is sharing my story publicly. I worry deeply about anyone working for Ale and any students in beauty schools across DFW. I am sharing my story to warn others and to ideally protect future professionals looking to start their careers. 

I want to preface my story with a common phrase used to describe abuse and why people endure it. It goes like this: “If you put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out because it is boiling water. However, if you put a frog in water and slowly boil the water, the frog will remain in the water until it dies. This is because the frog adjusts to every temperature increase and is unable to tell when it has become fatal.” This is the same for abuse.

Ale Bonilla groomed me into being his “secret” side person in the fall of 2016. I graduated from Paul Mitchell in August, and I turned 20 in September. In mid-September I began working at Esoterica Studios, with Ale as my direct supervisor, and by the end of October he was inviting me over to have sex. Over that period, he slowly turned the proverbial water temperature up until I was complicit in what he wanted.

In July of 2016, I was given two tickets to a local hair show by one of my advisors at Paul Mitchell. I was told that the school was only given four tickets, and that this was a salon they thought I would enjoy working for. One of my friends got the other two tickets, so I used my extra to invite another friend of ours. We were so excited to go! We made sure we looked super cute before heading out to Landmark Bar in the West 7th area of Fort Worth. Three people were testing out of Esoterica’s “bootcamp program” by presenting several models as part of their final test. My friends and I were very impressed at the time, taking photos of the models and commenting on how good everyone looked. The three of us even took a photo together with Ale. I filled out an application along with one of my friends that night, and we left super thrilled about the idea of working there.

The day after the show, my friend who had filled out an application and I were talking. Ale had added her on Facebook overnight, and he had gone through liking all of her profile photos. She was thrilled about it and talked about how hot she thought he was. I couldn’t relate and told her I didn’t think he was attractive at all. The next day Ale added me on Facebook, and I received a similar burst of notifications from him as my friend did. Not long after that, late one night, as I was smoking my after-work cigarette in the backyard, my phone rang. It was Ale, and he was wondering if I wanted to come out to West 7th to meet him for some drinks. He said he was riding his bike around and wanted to see me. Confused, I said, “No, thank you,” and reminded him that I was only 19. He said that wasn’t a problem and that he would buy my drinks. He persisted as I reasoned about my busy schedule, my age, and that it was currently midnight. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, not letting me off the phone without at least saying that maybe I would come out if I changed my mind. I felt really weird about it after getting off the phone with him. He called me late at night a couple of times after that, but I didn’t answer again. I don’t remember ever giving him my phone number at that time. To this day, I still have a strong suspicion that he got my phone number from my job application.

After this incident, I changed my mind about interviewing at Esoterica. I didn’t think working there would be worth the sexual advances nearly guaranteed by Ale. I instead interviewed at several other salons and shadowed a few stylists to try out assisting. I spent several weeks after graduating in August trying several different places. Nothing was really fitting well, though, and I was beginning to get discouraged. One day while feeling down, I saw on Facebook that my friend Jackie from beauty school had started the “bootcamp program” at Esoterica. She had uploaded a video of the whole staff together taking a braiding class. A Sebastian representative had come out to teach the class, and they looked like they were having such a fun time. There were several other people in the video, suggesting that the staff was relatively large. Despite all the rumors I heard and bad feelings I had about Ale, I thought the positives would outweigh the negatives. Especially with the large staff of women, I thought I would be safe for sure. I thought I would be able to focus on my career, brush off flirting from Ale, and grow my skills. I called and scheduled my interview that afternoon or the next day.

In September of 2016, I began working at Esoterica Studios in Fort Worth. Immediately after starting there, Ale started giving me special treatment. He was kind to me and was extra helpful, which wasn’t how he treated the other stylists. This created a growing sense of animosity from my coworkers right from the beginning. He flirted with me often and asked me to keep my station next to his much longer than everyone else had. Typically, the new stylists would work next to him for a week, but he kept me beside him for a month. This created an even bigger feeling of disconnect from my coworkers, because the stylist stations were on the other side of the wall. I felt increasingly judged and shut out from them. I didn’t feel comfortable telling Ale to back off, though, because the nicer he was to me the easier work was. The kindness kept escalating, with him insisting on doing my hair or being available to help me with any client possible. The nicer he was, the more he would give me lingering gazes, stand very close to me, or make suggestive comments. 

As my uneasiness grew, so did my fear. I had noticed early on how he could treat his staff, and it made me very uncomfortable. Ale could be very mean, and he wasn’t ashamed of his behavior. Often, he blindly believed he was right and wouldn’t hesitate to boldly make this point. The longer I worked there the more I saw of him. I feared that if I told him to back off, he would become angry, make work difficult, or both. I naively thought I could be kind to him, not flirt, and he would leave it there. I thought he wouldn’t escalate things, and that he wouldn’t have brought it into work. One of Ale’s favorite lies to use when it comes to him and me is that “we dated and it had nothing to do with our careers.” His actions alone prove that statement is a lie. By October of 2016, I saw two options for myself. I could either quit Esoterica and start over looking for a new salon, or I could remain passive and stay on his good side. Even though it was early, I could tell Ale wouldn’t stop pursuing me if I was around him. I was desperate to start my career, and I didn’t want to start over looking for another salon. I chose to stay and began to fall down the Esoterica sinkhole. 

Ale and his senior staff talked so very highly of the “bootcamp program” that we were taking. They suggested the education provided would dramatically boost our careers and the experience would broaden all of our opportunities in the future. They also praised working at Esoterica, saying how it was the best environment to grow in. Even though I was feeling less and less safe in my workplace, I mistook my intuition for anxiety. Being so young with an undiagnosed panic disorder and working in a brand-new industry, I was not able to look out for myself or protect myself. Instead of trusting myself, I ignored my inner voice. I thought the conflict was in myself, and that if I just focused on the salon and my career it would benefit me in the end. Without realizing it at the time, this taught me how to ignore myself and how I felt. In a sense, it helped make me that much more vulnerable to Ale’s advances soon after.

The first few times Ale and I went out together outside of work were in a group environment. He sprung dinner on our group of four new stylists after class one evening. He knew we would have a hard time saying no after just having some small talk about no evening plans during class. So, Jackie and I went to dinner with Ale, Matt and Nekesa. We all had a nice time together, but I felt Ale’s eyes on me all night. I ignored this and brushed it off as if I was reading too much into it. Another time was at a BBQ he had at his apartment. He was more preoccupied with others that night, which let me tell myself that he wasn’t interested in me after all. He made sure to message me later thanking me for being there though, and the week after his BBQ was the first time he took me out one on one.

In October of 2016, Ale invited me to a haunted house with him. We closed the salon together on a Saturday, which is something that he didn’t typically do. He asked me to shave his sides, and while I was doing so a young woman came in. She was selling handmade jewelry to help fund something for her school. I had watched Ale throw out solicitors in the past, but to my surprise he was so kind to this woman. He bought me a pair of yellow heart earrings from her, and I still have them today. After that we left to go to Hangman’s House of Horrors. He was friends with the owners, so we got free tickets and skipped all the entrance lines. Inside the haunted houses, he would hold my hand as he walked in front of me. Sometimes he would reach his free hand back to rub my thigh. Instead of telling him to stop, I didn’t react. I felt paralyzed by fear, unable to respond. We spent a good amount of time there, going through each house and checking out the other vendors. Then he took me back to my car and got out to say goodbye to me. He leaned back against his car and maintained eye contact, so much that I felt like he was going to make a move. I felt like if I lingered much longer, he would try to kiss me. I didn’t reciprocate that, so I thanked him for a fun night, got in my car, and left. He texted me later that night confirming my assumptions. He said he liked me and had wanted to kiss me, even referring to this as “taboo”. I was uncomfortable and wanted to tell him that. I wanted to remind him I was his new employee, freshly 20, and was not interested in him. Instead, I just acted like it wasn’t a surprise. I wasn’t lying, but I wasn’t telling him the truth either. I was scared and was confused about how to react. I didn’t know if he would fire me or treat me poorly at work if I refused him. At the same time, I didn’t want to encourage this either. I settled on trying not to make him upset, still naively believing that I could keep him at arm’s length.

He began to take me out on “dates” after the haunted house. I didn’t like drinking, so he couldn’t go his normal route of flirting over alcohol. Instead, he would take me out to dinner somewhere in Fort Worth, usually right around where he lived. He only took me out a few times before things escalated again. While out one night he asked me to come up to his apartment to give him  a shot. He was giving himself B12 shots at the time per doctor’s orders and wanted me to give him that evening’s dose. It seemed unnecessary asking me to do it, but he insisted and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He took me up to his apartment on West 7th and we went straight into his bathroom. While I was giving him the shot, his girlfriend Sara came home. I had left my things in the kitchen and upon walking in and seeing my stuff, Sara turned around and left. Instead of being honest, Ale began to lie and gaslight both of us. He told me that she was super jealous and overreacted all the time. He played it off like it was all just a misunderstanding, as if it was all innocent. As I got in my car to leave West 7th apartments, he got in the car with me. I still don’t know why he had me drive him down, but with hindsight I can guess it was to back up whatever lie he was telling Sara. It was here in my car saying goodbye that we kissed for the first time. I don’t remember what he said or how it exactly happened, but I do know it was a work down process. It started with me refusing because I didn’t want to, his girlfriend, anything. But I eventually agreed when he kept refusing to take no for an answer. I had to fight my body’s desire to recoil in order to kiss him. He got out of the car quickly after, and I watched him walk into the apartments again. A little dazed with a heavy fog of confusion, I drove home.

About a week after kissing me he invited me over for a sleepover. A lot of this night is blocked from my memory, but a few key moments remain strongly present. We might have eaten dinner at his apartment together, but whatever we did it wasn’t long before he was wanting to take a shower. He undressed as he asked me if I wanted to shower with him. He told me I didn’t have to, but he did want me to join him. I felt myself disconnecting from my body as I watched him walk into the bathroom. I slowly took off my clothes in a nervous daze. I remember sitting on the corner of the bed naked, looking between the bathroom door towards him in the shower, and the front door towards the parking garage. I wanted to get up and leave. So much I wanted to stand up and get dressed and just run towards the exit. Despite the signals my intuition was screaming at me, I thought that my intuition was wrong. After nearly two months of the water temperature slowly being turned up, I couldn’t recognize that it was beginning to bubble. I was paralyzed in fear, unable to rationally think about what was happening. My brain had gone into a fight, flight, freeze response, and ended up choosing freeze. Unable to think about what was happening, I went into a sort of autopilot. The path of least resistance wasn’t leaving. Leaving required too much work and risked too much. The least resistance option was to just go along with it. It would be easier to ignore my internal pain, disconnect from reality, and go get in the shower with him. I told myself work would be better in the long run and that this wasn’t a big deal. My career will be easier because he’ll be nicer to me, and I’ll learn more. Just let him use my body for a little bit; it’s not a big deal.

Though my memories are not consistent from this night, I do know the gist of what happened. I was on the bed, debating on running. I heard him call my name from the shower. I swallowed my anxiety, felt my mind shut off, and I carried my zombie-like body into the shower. I was mostly pushed against the wall, opting to let him take charge rather than pursue him at all. His lips were weak and the way that he touched me wasn’t inviting. I remember feeling like a piece of meat rather than someone he wanted. He used the shower head in a hollow attempt to get me off or arouse me. We had some kind of awkward standing-up sex in the shower, then we had sex in his bed too. I remember the bedroom light was off and the bathroom light was on. This lighting combo has been a trigger for me in the years after him. I don’t remember how we had sex or for how long. It was all about him though, no consideration on how I was feeling during it. It’s easy for me to see in hindsight that my body was giving clear signs of not wanting this. The way I moved, let him lead, shut down, dry vagina, etc. I can also clearly see in hindsight that he wasn’t doing these things because he was interested in me in the way he claimed. If that were the case, he would have checked in with me or realized something was off. He wasn’t interested in me as much as he was interested in the power this gave him.

As a test out for the “bootcamp program”, Jackie, Amber and I were to present five models each in a hair show. The show was in November and there was a lot of prep work to be done. One night I was staying late to work on my model, Pervi. We were doing an oil slick look, and I was taking a long time because I was still a beginner and internally panicking at all times. Ale did not ever stay late, especially to help an assistant with a model. Yet here he was, staying late with me, alone in the salon. He would not stop eye fucking me the whole time. He made comments and small moves on me the whole time I was finishing Pervi’s hair. Once I was done, I walked Pervi out to her car to talk about some wardrobe options she had brought with her, but it was also to get a break from Ale. After a few minutes, I waved goodbye to her and slowly went back into the salon. Ale pretty much grabbed me immediately as I came back towards the break room, away from the huge windows. We made out for a while in the salon before I went back to his apartment with him. I remember him saying how much he had wanted me the whole time he was helping me do her hair. As if I hadn’t known that from the way he had behaved all night. I would have bet that even my model could tell. It made me feel really uncomfortable, and fully set the tone for my entire professional career at Esoterica.

This time around my bootcamp show was incredibly stressful. I wasn’t eating or sleeping right, my untreated anxiety was spiking, and I was still such a beginner to the industry. I wasn’t comfortable at Esoterica, and the combination of all of these stressors made it impossible to think clearly about anything. Especially my boss coming onto me. I was becoming Ale’s secret side piece and I didn’t have the brain power to recognize how bad the situation was quickly becoming. Every aspect of work was tainted by his narrow-minded lust. It changed asking for help with my client to Ale undressing me with his eyes and openly flirting as he advised me. He would offer to take the trash out with me sometimes just to walk alone with me, he kept taking me out to lunch more, and he made sure he got to keep doing my hair. Everything was different because he wanted to fuck me, and his desires were on full display. My coworkers treated me differently, often joking about Ale’s and my lunch dates or how much he’d help me or did my hair. It made me feel so alone and embarrassed. I didn’t want this treatment, but I didn’t know how to make it stop. Quitting and starting over would be much harder, it was easier to just disconnect from myself and go with this. The water only got hotter, and I viewed this as something I just had to endure.

The night of my bootcamp show Ale used every opportunity to push my limits further. This was supposed to be a night that I remembered as a big stepping stone in my career. Instead, I remember it for the pure panic I felt at all times, and for the way that Ale hurt me.  During the show, he held my hand a lot on stage and was obviously being sweet to me. However, after the show was over, he tried to fuck me in the upstairs bathroom. He followed me up the stairs, giggling about something and kind of directing me towards the bathroom. Once inside, Ale locked the door and began to touch me and kiss me. By the time I realized what was happening, he had already undone my pants. Horrified, I pushed him back and buttoned my pants as I left the bathroom. At the time I wrote it off as him just trying to have some fun, but with hindsight it’s obvious he was intentionally pushing my boundaries. He was trying to gauge how far he could take things—how far I would let him go. There was a waitress upstairs cleaning up some of the mess, and I felt a pit in my stomach open up as I looked away from her expression and hurried downstairs. 

Later that night, I was downstairs at the bar with Ale and several other people. He offered to buy me a drink, but I said no. I didn’t like alcohol, and I was underage. He kept pressing though, eventually convincing me to take a shot with him and a few others that were nearby. I told everyone there—including the bartender who was pouring the shots—that I was only 20. Super fresh 20 too. They all shrugged and encouraged me anyway. It was my big night; it was fine! So, okay, I eventually took one. Possibly two. I don’t fully remember. It wasn’t enough to make me drunk, but definitely enough to make me even more exhausted and impair my judgment even further. After this, Ale asked me to come over to his place. He told me that he was having an after party, but he wanted me there early. I assumed it was to fuck around a bit, but in the way we usually did at that time. The sex we engaged in was always focused on him, with very little action dedicated towards my pleasure. I didn’t ever expect intimacy or good sex from Ale. This night in particular however sticks out in my mind as the worst vaginal penetration I’ve ever experienced. Not only was nothing directed towards my pleasure, but I also wonder if he even saw me as a human being in those moments.

As soon as I was through his apartment door, he was pulling me into his room before I had a chance to think. Once in his room he turned me around and forced my torso onto the bed, bending me at my waist with my butt against his crotch. My brain barely had time to realize what was happening before I felt him pulling his dick out. Instead of standing up and pushing him off, I just froze. Fight, flight, and freeze. I wasn’t turned on; I didn’t want to have sex with him. He didn’t ask to have sex. I viewed this as a threat—as an assault—and my brain chose to freeze. Without missing a beat, he pulled my pants down and shoved himself in me. No lube or spit, just pure force. He used me for less than five minutes, raw dogging me and causing immense pain. He never asked, and he willfully ignored my groans of discomfort. I likely told him to stop, or at least told him to hurry. He pulled out and came on my back soon after. I don’t remember him getting me a towel or anything; he just wiped himself off then left the bedroom to get ready for his after party. I cleaned myself in the bathroom after. I was still fully dressed, heels and jacket completely on. I was wearing pretty tall heels that night, I remember because I was surprised that they didn’t make me too tall for him. I was wearing my Paul Mitchell jacket too. I wish I had taken photos of myself, because I can see myself in his huge bathroom mirror that night vividly. I had buzzed short hair that he colored pink, wearing smeared makeup that was at least two days old, and black clothing to hide my insecurities. I was a sad mess. 

The “after party” consisted of all girls, most of them drunk or drinking, and all under 25. I stayed long enough to cram myself on his balcony with five other girls to smoke a cigarette. He opened the blinds to grab our butts through the glass. He was very distracted so leaving wasn’t hard to do. I vividly remember driving home that night as well—the sweet relief I felt being done with that event, of being away from him. I can still feel it to this day as I drive on that same stretch of highway.

Through each sexual encounter we had escalated everything more and more. It came to the most intense part before the end of the year. Faking my pleasure was becoming harder and harder. I did not enjoy the sex, and it was often obvious how uncomfortable I was. He really enjoyed blowjobs, so I began doing that more often to finish him off. Because that was when the sex was over—when he was finished and not a moment before then. During this time, I was blowing him so much I discovered that my jaw really hurt when I kept it open for long periods of time. I would eventually find out I needed my wisdom teeth pulled, and it took a while to get that taken care of. The first couple of times I asked to stop blowing him early it wasn’t that big of a deal. We might have actually even stopped the first time or two. Very quickly though, Ale’s need to get off took the highest priority. The first couple of times he said to keep going, I powered through the pain. I thought it wasn’t that bad, it’s just a little pain right now. It steadily became our routine, though. We would have sex for a while until I said it was hurting too much. I would then switch to blowing him. After several minutes of blowing him, I would ask if we could stop. He would say something about how close he was, just a bit longer, anything of the sort. Tears would often begin streaming down my face as I tried so hard to keep my mouth open. The longer it went on though, the worse it got. After a certain point I just could not physically hold my mouth open any longer. This caused me to scrape him with my teeth or bite him on accident. Every time I did, I always apologized and put myself back in pain for his pleasure. It wasn’t over until he was done, and the faster he got off the faster it was over.

This next part is going to be pretty graphic, but it’s what I went through. I want to get it into the light so it can stop having power. This jaw pain would eventually lead Ale to teach me about a new concept: deep throating. For anyone not aware, deep throating is when an individual takes their partner’s penis in their throat, cutting off the airway for the taker and intensely constricting the penis for the giver. Between two people who enjoy it and each other, it can be a very fun experience, just as all sex should be. This was never the case with Ale though. After I couldn’t fuck him anymore because my vagina hurt, and after I couldn’t blow him anymore because my jaw hurt, he would want me to take his pale dick in my throat. I didn’t do this as often as he would have liked; it was a pain that I eventually just could not endure. My throat would burn, and mucus would pour out of my nose. I threw up on him two separate times that I can remember. Those times I got kind of excited, thinking that finally there was something that would stop the sex other than him cumming. But no, not a chance. He told me it was soo hot that I threw up on him, and that I just had to keep going. So okay, deep breaths and back into it. Just a little bit more pain and it would be over.

My therapist has helped me understand these specific encounters for what they really were. This was all about control and power. Not just sex or any feelings he might have said he had for me. People who are engaging in sex out of a desire to be close to the other person check in with their partner, especially when they are crying or have vomited. Most people would not be turned on or in the mood to continue if their partner was in pain. Ale didn’t see me as his partner or equal though. He saw me as his toy or pet, something to play with when and how he pleased. Even though I didn’t realize any of this at the time, the knowledge wouldn’t have made it easier to leave. I didn’t know if he’d snap at me or force me if I refused. I was also afraid of him firing me or making work even worse if I refused him at this point. Ale was the boss, the ultimate “leader” at Esoterica. Sometimes he would say “I am HR.” He was joking, but he wasn’t at the same time. I knew anything that happened between Ale and I would affect my job at Esoterica, so this made it all the harder to break away.

As a new stylist in the beauty industry, I wasn’t taught how to tell if the information the salons gave us was accurate. The image and experience that Ale markets as Esoterica can be very enticing. From the outside looking in Esoterica appears to be a cool, inclusive and fun salon. After nearly two decades in the beauty and media industries, Ale has learned how to present his business as if it’s fully booked and staffed all the time. He often talked about his many different connections and friends within the DFW beauty community. He seemed to have all of this influence within the DFW community, and as Esoterica employees we were often reminded how we had it so much easier than other stylists. He talked down about people leasing their own suites or stations, explaining how unless they were booked all the time, they were losing money. The way he paid his employees and took hidden costs from them would only reinforce these ideas. Ale takes a “house fee” for every service performed in the salon. For example, when I would do a men’s haircut, the shop would keep maybe $2. My client pays $40, and I’d get my

percentage of the $38. This is where Ale maintains his profits. Stylists are paid about 48% of their commission, after house fees, with Ale taking 52% of their commission. This uneven pay scale discourages stylists and only reinforces the idea that they couldn’t make it out on their own.

In 2017, I tried to distance myself from Ale more and more at the salon. Sometimes it worked, and I would spend the day with my coworkers. Other days it didn’t, and I assisted Ale even when he didn’t have clients. Regardless of how much I wanted to leave, I didn’t think it would end well if I did. I was too afraid that he would be angry if I cut him off and quit, and that the anger could potentially ruin my career. So instead of addressing the pain I was feeling daily, I continued to focus on my skills, working to build my craft as much as possible. In March or April of 2017, I shifted my primary location to the Dallas location instead of Fort Worth. I was thrilled about this because that was not Ale’s home salon. I wouldn’t see him on a daily basis and there would be more distance between us. I was still sleeping with him at this time, it was just becoming a little less regular. The long stretches of days apart made it easier to avoid him.

On Fridays he often came out to the Dallas salon, and he took me to lunch super frequently when he visited. Sometimes he would invite Nekesa or Megan, but usually it would just be the two of us. These were often dates, most of the time spent with him asking if I’d been seeing anyone else. When he moved out of his apartment in the summer of 2017, it briefly increased how much I saw him outside of work. I was rather unhappy with so many things in my life at that time, and I was looking at everything except the source of the problem. I thought that hanging out at his house in his backyard, smoking some cannabis, and playing with his dog would solve the deep pains I was feeling. Ale and Sara were still dating, and they seemed to be fighting a lot at the time. He would invite me over on the nights she didn’t stay there. The three of us had this weird dance for a few months where Ale would encourage us to talk and become friends, then others when he would tell us all this garbage about the other and sort of pit us against each other. This period was when the gaslighting was at its worst. I often found myself questioning reality,  second guessing my instincts, and my depression really started to reeve back up. The more I tried to push him away the more he tried to pull me in. I kept lying to myself, thinking it would end when he moved, or when I moved, or when I got another job, anything. It was never ending though, and the longer it went on the more my stark reality really set in. 

I continued to engage with him until the fall of 2017. Although I wanted to end things with him and stop being around him all together, I didn’t feel strong enough to do so. I moved into my own apartment in September of 2017. I was 21 and wanted to move out in order to help boost my confidence. It was a small, carpeted apartment that almost immediately gave me bed bugs, but it was an important stepping stone for me. When I initially moved in the AC was out, and I was so anxious I didn’t want to report it. Likely the day I reported it was the night that Ale came over to help me with some things in the apartment. This was a strange time for me. I was gaining my independence and beginning to feel some confidence again. At the same time, Ale was offering to help me do things at my apartment the way a friend would. He bought me a shoe rack to hang on my door, a broom and some bedsheets. He also helped me put together a daybed when he came over. I don’t think we even had sex that night because of the broken AC. The lines blurred until there were no lines left at all. I had fully been sucked into being his side piece and hadn’t been able to see it for what it was. I was way in over my head at this point, completely drowned in this boiling water that was my reality.

I didn’t have the strength to cut off the sex between Ale and I until I met my next boyfriend. I’ve mentioned before how Ale is a master gaslighter, and I truly cannot emphasize this enough. I was embarrassingly new to a lot and was constantly filled with anxiety. I knew that if I told him I didn’t want to have sex anymore, the only way he would let it go would be if I were in a monogamous relationship. Regardless of what I told him, if there wasn’t another person that I was seeing then he would not stop trying to sleep with me. He couldn’t take no for an answer and wouldn’t view my refusal as serious unless I was dating someone else. So, when I met Mitch, I fell for him hard. Not only was he everything I was looking for at the time, but he was also in some sense a shield for me. He instantly made me feel safer than I had felt in over a year. Within the first week of us talking, I knew I had to tell Ale. I was eager to do so, but I didn’t expect his reaction. When I told him I had met Mitch and cut off the sex between us, he was sad at first. He was opposed to it too, not understanding why I would choose a “stranger” over him. I was able to wrap that conversation up in person, but within the next few days his tone changed from sad to entitled. He began guilt tripping me, saying we needed to hang out just one last time. He told me I owed him, that he deserved one last time. I endured maybe five days of his juvenile guilt tripping bullshit before caving. This was again the option I viewed as easier. At this point I thought he wasn’t going to stop until he got to fuck me one last time. I knew it was only a matter of time before he would bring it to work too. I grew really concerned that if I didn’t get Ale off my back now, that it was going to be even worse later on. So, I agreed and let him come over. I remember where my bed was positioned in the room, and how I laid on my back while he fucked me. I looked away for most of it, looking at the patterns that the window cast on my carpet instead. I kept reminding myself this was the last time. Last time. Last time. Last time. I just wanted to get it over with.

When my relationship with Mitch ended at the end of 2017, I was genuinely too sad to put up an act with Ale. Of course, he immediately pounced, offering his condolences and asking to hang out as much as possible. I didn’t ever take him up on those offers though. He would still be sweet to me at work, mostly just by not being as mean to me as other staff. He still took me out to lunch a good bit, trying to keep tabs on who I was seeing or interested in. In early 2018, I began working at the Dallas location full time. Now that I was spending all my time in Dallas, I felt comfortable responding to him less and less. Initially, still not fully aware of how wrong everything that happened was, I thought what we had was a friendship. Ale often made sexual jokes to me, and often reminded me that if I ever wanted to hang out again, he was down. He was still nice to me at work and treated me differently, but he also would sometimes not behave like my boss. Instead, he’d act like a guy trying to get laid, sometimes refusing to do work and only flirt. Throughout the year of 2018, I took time to examine myself and how I was feeling, realizing I hadn’t done so for over a year. I started therapy and interacted with Ale less and less. The more distance I got the clearer I was able to see things. The instances of him making me uncomfortable at work were easier to see, and I wasn’t automatically laughing everything off anymore. As silly as it sounds, the final nail in the coffin for me was something so miniscule in comparison to everything else. It was the first time I had a reaction to something he said to me though. My coworker Bear and I were wearing similar black hats one day, and Ale walked by us as Bear was working on her client. Loud enough for everyone to hear and looking right at us, Ale called us “scissor sisters”. Bear, her client and myself all looked at each other in horror. After that day I began writing my two-week notice.

When I quit Esoterica, I felt like I was leaving an abusive relationship. I was stressed, practicing what I was going to say, and worried about him getting angry. I had typed out a letter and printed it out. We went to lunch together and I just handed him the letter. He read the first half of it, up until reading my last day. He didn’t seem too bothered by it, saying he understood. I was happily surprised, thinking that this wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. It wasn’t until we had gone outside that his tone and his mind shifted somewhere else. He started by having some friendly chatter while I smoked a cigarette outside. When we began walking back to the salon, he asked what I was thinking about doing for my client list. This was just a list of the clients I had seen over my employment at Esoterica, maybe worth $100, but even that’s stretching it. I told him it wasn’t necessary for me to get it but asked the price out of curiosity. He told me that he usually charges employees $500 for the client lists, but that he would do something special for me. He said he was willing to give me my client list for free, just as long as we “hung out again like the old days.” I acted like I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, because I did know exactly what he was talking about and didn’t want to go there. I brushed it off and just said no, walking back with him to the salon. 

Later in the day he came up to me in the back color area with the intent to change my mind. He came up to me as I was folding towels and brought it up again. I don’t really remember how he brought it up, but it was something to just make sure I understood the offer stood until I left Esoterica. I could ask him any time, and we could meet up. He offered we could just hang out, we could smoke, play with the animals, and then I’d let him fuck me. I told him I heard him, and no thank you. I did not want him in any way like that.

After my last day at Esoterica, he continued to message me, but I ignored the majority of his messages. In October of 2019, after he asked why I didn’t talk to him anymore I ended up telling him a very brief version of the truth. I told him I never would have gone along with anything he wanted if he hadn’t been my boss. I would have never slept with him had he not been my boss. He had taken advantage of me and used me for himself. He denied it, saying it wasn’t true and that it was all a mutual thing between adults. I told him no; that I was 19 years old when it started. He said, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” going on to tell me I was wrong about my reality. It was exhausting but grounding at the same time. I blocked him not too long after that. I felt relieved at that moment. It would still take me so long to face reality head on.

It’s taken me about three months to get this story together. I know it’s long and heavy, so please know I am grateful that you took the time to read it. This isn’t a story I wanted to share. It’s not a story I wanted to tell or wanted to relive and face as intimately as I have. But that’s only because I didn’t want to go through these things. There are other young women out there who are in danger of also going through these things if I don’t speak up.

In my first therapy session about this back in June I realized that part of my healing would be some act to scream about what Ale has done. If I thought that there was no way this could happen to anyone else, I would not have come forward. I never would have spoken if I did not have to. I speak my truth for myself and for all the other people who have not come forward. The process to get from recognizing the trauma to talking about it is excruciating. If you’re reading this and thinking about how you experienced similar things with Ale, please reach out to me. Not only am I here to listen, I am here to help make a difference on our behalf.

Ale Bonilla is a predator, a rapist, and an abuser. He preys on young, new stylists and treats his staff like children. Ale’s behavior and Esoterica’s culture has been known in the DFW community for some time, but now I am demanding more accountability. I am following up this testimony with a website that will be a designated space to present all testimonies. I also intend to send my story and all future ones to all beauty schools in the DFW community, local businesses and organizations partnered with Ale and Esoterica, as well as companies he has partnered with in the past like Wella and Sebastian. Furthermore, I intend to continue to only increase the volume on this issue through the end of this year and into 2022. Any help and assistance would be so deeply appreciated. Sharing and amplifying this story and the website are great places to start.

I don’t know how to end this, so I’ll end it by sincerely thanking you from the bottom of my heart for reading through it. Seriously—even if it’s Ale reading it right now, I’m still grateful for that. This is a period of my life that I have ignored for five years. I was in so much pain, and I feel so lucky to be on this side of it. Thank you for reading my story; your awareness helps prevent him from harming anyone else. Please share this story, and maybe go leave a Google review with your experience with Ale if you’ve had one.

Much love, Bay