During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we share information and tips designed to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from becoming victims of sexual assault. Regardless of the setting, we start with a common understanding—we cannot spot a sexual assault perpetrator by looking. But we can spot suspicious behavior, over time. One of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior, in terms of patterns.
I have prosecuted scores of sexual predators over the years. As many have demonstrated through their ability to keep their recidivism under the radar, is that practice makes perfect. Of course people change. But for perpetrators who have not sought to abandon a life of crime, patterns often predict the methodology they use to commit future offenses.
One example of employing consistent patterns to facilitate sexual assault is currently on display in the case against “America´s Dad,” comedian Bill Cosby. Over the last several years, scores of women have come forward to accuse him of using drugs and alcohol to incapacitate them, leading to sexual assault. Several of those women are currently testifying against him in his retrial, after his first trial ended in a hung jury.
From He-Said She-Said to Patterns Make the Predator
The retrial of Jell-O Pudding star Bill Cosby is a dramatically different case compared to the first trial. Instead of permitting only one witness to testify in addition to the main victim Andrea Constand, the only victim whose case fell within the statute of limitations, Judge Steven O’Neill is permitting five additional complaining witnesses to take the stand in the retrial. The significance is that the testimony of the other women, if believed, can be used by the jury to establish a pattern of behavior that can be used to corroborate Constand´s allegations.
Constand, the key witness against Bill Cosby, testified that in January 2004, she consumed wine and three blue pills at the urging of Bill Cosby, after which she lost consciousness, only to be “jolted awake” sometime later to find the comedian sexually assaulting her.[i] Another retrial witness, Janice Dickinson, testified that Cosby drugged and raped her in 1982 at a Lake Tahoe hotel, having first provided her with a blue pill that caused her to become lightheaded and have trouble speaking.
Other women have similarly described Cosby using pills and alcohol to incapacity them before sexual assault. Even Cosby himself, who claims all of his sexual contact was consensual, admitted in a 2005 deposition giving women Quaaludes to facilitate sexual contact.[ii]
Clearly, for Cosby, plying women with drugs and alcohol constituted a pattern of behavior that facilitated sexual contact. Yet Cosby´s case contains another predatory pattern beyond administering intoxicants. According to his victims, he proactively sought to appeal to career aspirations and ambition.
Exploiting Ambition: The Mixed Motives of Mentors
In a 2015 piece aptly entitled “35 Women, 1 Story,” Cosby´s accusers allege that he targeted victim career aspirations and ambition.[iii] Often using agents to identify potential victims, he reportedly portrayed himself as a role model and mentor to young aspiring models and actresses who were seeking to become famous.
This approach is not unusual; many predators masquerade as mentors and role models. Taking younger protégées under their wing, they endear themselves to potential victims and their families, building relationships of trust and respect. Once such relationships have been established, predators seek to blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
Some perpetrators even go so far as to propose quid pro quo arrangements—sexual contact in exchange for career advancement. This does not, however, always fit the “casting couch” stereotype. Many indecent proposals are implicit.
Invitations Reveal Intentions
In identifying implicit quid pro quo propositions, invitations reveal intentions. There is an enormous difference between offering to provide career advice at Starbucks over coffee, versus in a hotel room over a bottle of champagne. In addition to the inappropriate venue suggestion, offering intoxicants is a red flag as well. It is precisely because “friends with benefits” propositions are often met with resistance that drugs and alcohol are often introduced to smooth the path.
Also beware of potential mentors who insist meeting one on one, and object to an agent or colleague brought by the victim to a meeting as a “third wheel.”
Patterns are Predictive, But Motives Matter
The good news is that many helpful, knowledgeable individuals are as good as they look. Authentic mentors make wonderful role models to encourage and inspire others. Their goal is not exploitation, but empowerment. They pour into the lives of others, seeking to empower young people to set goals, and reach their full potential.
The key to separating the good from the bad is not paranoia, but preparedness. Paying attention to patterns of past behavior will enhance the ability to distinguish the dangerous from the desirable.