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Darren Sharper, People Who Say The Right Things, and How You Can Tell

May 16, 2014

I’ve written before that when people say they rape people or say they hate women, we should believe them.  But there are some people who say all the right things, and who are rapists.  They say all the right things as a cover,  so that nobody will believe they’re capable of it, and they can get their targets to trust them.

So am I saying that everyone is a rapist?  No.  The research shows that rapists are a small proportion of men, and an even smaller proportion are serial rapists responsible for the vast majority of rapes.  The research on undetected rapists in the population so far is limited to men, and it will be important over time to expand that, but it’s the information we have now.

So if it’s only a relatively few people, but some of them say all the wrong things, and some of them say all the right things, how are their targets supposed to know who the predators are in advance, and avoid them?

They can’t.  This is the point that antirape activists have been trying to make about prevention education forever.  There is no magic prevention bullet.  If it was easy to spot the rapists and avoid them, nobody would get raped.

Is Darren Sharper A Serial Rapist?

The New York Times ran a long story this morning about former NFL standout Darren Sharper.  He had a reputation, not as a misogynist bigot, but as exactly the opposite — a guy who liked women, stood up for women, stood against misogyny in football culture.  He wouldn’t be the first NFL standout to face multiple rape allegations.  I’ve written about Ben Roethlisberger before, and the police who helped ensure there was no meaningful investigation of the allegations in Georgia.   And Dave Meggett is one of the few genuinely well-known sports figures actually convicted of sexual assault against an adult woman.  There was an arrest for an assault on a sex worker in Canada, and then an unrelated misdemeanor conviction before the felony that finally put him behind bars.  But neither of those guys particularly had a reputation for standing up for women.

Not that I’d call Sharper a feminist.  The former All-Pro defensive back, a safety who played with three team over fourteen years and won a Superbowl, seemed to be more about chivalry than equality.  But he sponsored an NFL camp for women, and participated in an NFL dads-and-daughters campaign.

I’ll just summarize the allegations: that he had a pattern of spiking women’s drinks with generic Ambien, causing the women to become completely incapacitated or unconscious, and then raping them.  He allegedly did this to one woman, then when she awoke hung-over and with no idea he had drugged her drink, offered her something to take the edge off her hangover, which he had spiked, and then raped her again.  There appear to be nine women so far saying that Sharper did something similar to them, in different cities including New Orleans, LA, Miami Beach and Phoenix, but who knows how many may come forward now that the story is in the Times.  The Times quotes some prosecutors saying something I’ve long said based on research, which is that the predators pick a tactic that they get away with, usually one involving intoxication rather than overt force, and they do it again and again.

There are two things I want to note here, which are really separate topics that deserve longer treatment somewhere.  (1) It always comes up with celebrities and athletes that they don’t need to rape to get laid.  While the second wave maxim that rape is about power and not sex is oversimplified (for at least many rapists, the two are not separable), it has explanatory power.  A guy like Sharper clearly had plenty of consensual sex options; and if he did what’s alleged (I’m very confident he did given the frequency and commonality of the allegations from different women in disparate locations), he clearly preferred rape to, or in addition to, consensual sex.  There are reasons why, having to do with masculinity and entitlement, but I’ll leave this here for now.  (2) Alcohol is the most common date rape drug.  But I’ve seen MRA propaganda asserting that women who say they were drugged can never show it, that they were always or almost always lying, that the toxicology screens always come back negative, and they really just didn’t realize how drunk they were.  That’s always been bullshit; I’m hoping that the proof in the Sharper cases will provide a highly public, evergreen counterexample to that.

Talking The Talk

Remember Kyle Payne?  Remember this guy? The guy I called Boris in this piece?  That guy led the crusade to put another serial rapist out of action, and I have friends, friends who call themselves feminist and antirape, who absolutely stand by him.

Some of the guys who claim the feminist label, who claim to be against rape and misogyny, do things like try to murder their girlfriends, sexually assault their friends (or just engage in run-of-the-mill sexist mansplaining and shutting down of things women are trying to say).  How can they do that?  Doesn’t the cognitive dissonance cause them to burst into flames?  If does not.  Some of them have Axis II personality disorders — terminology is controversial here, but variously antisocial, sociopathic or psychopathic, and narcissistic personality features cause people to lie with not the slightest discomfort and, when confronted, with absolute comfort to spin another story to cover the lie.  Maybe some of them are tortured by their own consciences, maybe some have powerful rationalizations to excuse what they do, and some clearly have no allegiance to any conception of right and wrong.  I can’t divide it up more than that.  It matters, for purposes of how to deal with them, and I would like to know much more about how they think and how they operate.  I’d like to see research on this that isn’t specific to male predators, too.  We don’t have that.  Yet.

How Can We Tell?

We can’t.  Not reliably.  There is no not-a-rapist seal of approval, not one that can be inerringly trusted.  That means that the option of spotting them before we hear that they’ve done anything horrible isn’t a panacea.  Nothing is a panacea.  The solutions to rape have to be widespread and systemic:

  • We have to be on the lookout for people who say they’re rapists or say misogynist things, because it’s essentially propaganda that allows them to normalize what they do, and hide it.
  • We have to create an environment that fosters acceptance and transparency for survivors, because unless they come forward we will always lack the data to spot many of the predators.
  • We have to publicize tactics and normalize intervention.  If we can’t spot the people, we may still be able to recognize the actions; a pattern of isolate & intoxicate is never really a good thing.

If it was easy, and free, and didn’t cost anybody anything, and didn’t require much of any of us, then we would have fixed this problem already.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. associate permalink
    May 17, 2014 1:03 pm

    “Some of the guys who claim the feminist label, who claim to be against rape and misogyny, do things like try to murder their girlfriends, sexually assault their friends (or just engage in run-of-the-mill sexist mansplaining and shutting down of things women are trying to say). How can they do that? Doesn’t the cognitive dissonance cause them to burst into flames.”

    You’re a deeply brilliant writer, activist and much better human being than myself (disclosure ~ I had a relationship with a 16-year-old when I was 21, which, while the age of consent in Britain, made for an indefensible power imbalance). I do think you have shut down female commentators before though. In the instance I’m thinking of, I think your argument was justified, but I’m not sure if it’s entirely fair to place yourself entirely outside of a position of cognitive dissonance.

    In particular, I’m thinking of a response to a commentator last year who wrote about having relationships with men in their early 20s when she was a teenager, which, she said, was legal in her country. You replied, “Your insistence that the times you were fucked by grown men as a minor were positive experiences does not alter my policy position”, which upset the original commentator, who replied:

    “I would by the way suggest a different way of addressing this, unless you want to shame or slut-shame me. I slept quite consensually and also quite legally with these men, according to my free choice. And they with me. I consider it less than proper to call it “fucked by” which to me at least isn’t a benign or friendly or even just polite term. It’s vulgar, aggressive and hurtful. It actually is extremely offensive and I feel sullied by you. These men were my lovers, each of them a partner of mine for several years, and I parted amiably with all of them.

    Additionally “fucked by” insinuates that I had no say in this, or that all that mattered was their maleness or activity. Which wasn’t the case. I’m not telling you to change your position, but on the other hand it really goes against much of what you claim to stand for that here, with derogatory and profane terms, you try to denigrate my agency, take away (more than 20 years after the deed) my choices and try to shame me in the process. Shall I say congrats?”

    The commentator made it really clear she felt that her narrative had been aggressively over-written and that you were talking to her in a derogatory, profane and shaming way.

    Your reply was:
    “I am simply not willing to infer that your experiences (1) can be generalized to other kids; or (2) exonerate adults who were sexual with you in your mid-teens.

    It cannot be a radical position that a thirteen year old should not be sexually active with a forty year old. I’m about to simply ban anyone who disagrees with that.”

    The implied threat of banning struck me at the time as really unfair since nowhere did the commentator state that a thirteen-year-old should be sexually active with a forty-year-old. She spoke explicitly about being 15-17 and having sexual relationships with men in their early 20s.

    Obviously, her comment stuck out for me since I was (as mentioned) the older party in such a relationship. In my case, I think it was a terrible idea and I think the age discrepancy meant that my partner stayed with me longer than she actually wanted to, because she was anxious about disappointing me and, latterly, too anxious to say ‘NO’ when we was no longer comfortable. Your writing over the last few years has done a Hell of a lot to move me to take complete ownership of such shitty, detestable behaviour and to offer my ex-partner if she wanted to press charges (she said she didn’t see what legal charges there would be to take and that I was being really over-the-top, so I’ve left it there). My experience basically stands in testimony to your point that an adult male should not be doing anything sexual with a teenager – I agree with your argument. However, the commentator’s experience was her experience and it really did seem like you were saying, “You were raped and you are in denial about the fact – shut up” and I was pretty shocked about it. I showed it to my partner and they agreed.

    I don’t believe you have ever done anything as awful as pushing a partner’s boundaries or dating someone of an inappropriate age – clearly, you’re not Hugo Schwyzer. But, I think if you are going to put mansplaining on a spectrum with rape and suggest that those self-identified feminists should burst in to flame through the cognitive dissonance, you should offer some kind of retraction to your comments in this thread because ‘Anne’ clearly did feel talked over.

    That said, that should have come from Anne, not me, so it’s totally your prerogative to just tell me to f-off.


  1. People who say the right things… | Dolphin

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