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.
I have prosecuted scores of sexual predators over the years, many of whom have had prior victims. Of course, some people change. But for perpetrators who have not sought to abandon a life of crime, patterns often predict the process 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.
The Motivation Behind the Moves
The retrial of former 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.
According to CNN reporting, 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. 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 incapacitate 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.
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. 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 proposition 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 discourage mentees from bringing an agent, family member, or colleague.
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.
Portions of this article were first published in my Psychology Today column.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 2,500 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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