Nice Guy Rape


Nice Guy Rape

Centre Daily Times
5 / 315 –
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Attackers work to gain trust
STATE COLLEGE — It’s easy to think of rapists as we often see them depicted in
movies or on television — as ugly, violent, weapon-wielding strangers, men who throw
women to the ground and brutally assault them.
Hardly any of them are really like that.
Most of them are men who are popular with women, who volunteer for charities,
whose friends think they are sweet, trusting, loyal — and totally incapable of such a
That’s the profile of what victim advocates call the “nice guy” rapist, and there’s no
lack of examples coming out of courtrooms in Centre County.
Still, acquaintance rape is too often misunderstood by both victims and the
community, officials say.
“The nice guy’s going to try to kind of talk his way into sex and when that doesn’t
work, he’s going to use intimidation,” says Corey Cook, with the Centre County Women’s
Resource Center.
In the first four weeks of the Penn State fall semester, seven sexual assaults were
reported both on campus and downtown. That inspired student government to lead a
campaign, with other campus groups, to spread awareness.
Their first effort, 10 days ago, was a march through campus led by men who said they
want to see a change in the approach to women, alcohol and sex.
“I think we have to really enlighten people to what sexual violence is,” said Christian
Ragland, student life and diversity chairman of the University Park Undergraduate
Association. “There is not a clear understanding of what sexual assault is. Some people
may not think (certain things) are sexual violence.”
Struggles after the crime
Cook uses a profile, written by Stephen M. Thompson, an associate professor at
Central Michigan University. It explains, step by step, how a perpetrator chooses his
victim from his own group of friends, earns her trust and respect, and gets her alone
before violating her.
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Dierdri Fishel, a detective with State College police who specializes in domestic
violence, said such situations pose a whole new set of problems for victims.
“When they realize what happened to them is not OK, they struggle with, ‘Who can I
tell?’ Because everyone else knows him, because everyone else thinks he’s a great
guy,” Fishel said.
To one former Penn State student, this profile is all too familiar. Several years ago,
she reported to police that she was raped on campus by a man she’d recently met.
“I knew that I was going to be blamed for it,” she said, speaking on the condition of
anonymity. “My own mother, when I first told her, was like, ‘What did you do? What were
you wearing?’ It’s just a perfect example of the way society treats it.”
She found the backlash for reporting the assault almost worse than the assault itself.
“Someone said she was sorry that I regretted having sex with him and had to bring
this out against him,” she said. Other people told her, “He is such a loving and wonderful
guy, how could I ever accuse someone like that of being essentially a rapist.”
Criminal actions
It seemed like it would be an innocent get together, an evening hanging out at his
They’d met through a mutual friend and began exchanging text messages.
“A lot of it had to do with the culture we were in as college students,” she said. “I
generally trusted everybody.”
She checked out his page on the social networking site,, and he
passed the creep test.
“What I saw of his profile and stuff like that was pictures of him and his parents,” she
said. “You’re not going to assume that he’s some kind of, someone that’s going to harm
you in any way.”
But when she was in his apartment, she said, the situation spiraled out of her control.
“I think people have such a hard time relating, because you say, ‘Why didn’t you
scream and kick and fight back?’ ” she said. “That’s not the first thing that went though
my head. … Other people, women want to feel like it’s a safe and just world and the way
you can accomplish that is by distancing yourself. You protect our own well-being by
saying, ‘I would have said something, I wouldn’t put myself in that situation,’ in order to
protect their own belief in a just world.”
After she reported the incident, things just got worse.
She had a hard time going to class — he had some friends there. What if she ran into
him walking through campus?
“I had actually felt like it probably had happened that way many times before,” she
said. “I felt like he thought he was entitled. He felt like I, along with everyone else, wants
to have sex with him. I wasn’t even factored into the decision. It seemed too well
orchestrated. It was not a foreign thing to him.”
Fishel said often perpetrators really don’t see their actions in such situations as
“It starts to become almost too easy, to drop that nice guy facade, to separate away
from the crowd,” Fishel said. “I’ve taken people to trial, who all the way up to the point of
their trial have said, ‘But you don’t understand, it wasn’t like that.’ But they’ve admitted
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acts that are criminal offenses, they’ve admitted acts that are sexual assault.”
Part of the problem, Fishel says, sliding a Playboy article across a table, is popular
The article, from a 2002 issue, is titled, “How to talk a Woman into Sex.”
“It’s about targeting your potential victim, or hot girl,” Cook said. “And the parts that
really stuck out for me was really, really directed at isolating her, getting her away from
friends and then not letting her out of your sight. Try talking her pants off and when that
doesn’t work, eventually you just have to go for it.”
“It was just a blueprint for acquaintance rape,” Cook said.
It’s not uncommon to see posters in college dorms that read “If she says ‘no,’ get her
another drink,” or see sex portrayed on television as casually as “brushing your teeth,”
Fishel said.
Men feel a pressure to perform, to have conquests, Fishel said. “You’re cooler if you’re
having a lot of uncommitted sexual contacts with women. They think: I should be having
sex every night.”
When a woman says “no,” Fishel said, it becomes a challenge.
But when she continues to say no, it becomes a crime.
“If somebody says ‘I don’t want to have sex’ or ‘no,’ or ‘stop’ and you don’t, it’s not your
role to convince them, put pressure on, try a little harder,” Fishel said. “That’s not how
you define consensual sex.”
Accused often confused
When Brian Michael Conway stood before a Centre County judge in November 2007
to be sentenced for raping a fellow Penn State student, witness after witness — 11 to be
exact — testified to his outstanding character.
“I stand here today an innocent man,” said Conway, then 22.
“The crimes I’ve been accused of are among the most heinous acts,” he told Judge
Thomas King Kistler as he was sentenced to three to six years in prison. “It is just 100
percent outside possibility for me to violate a person in such a despicable manner.”
Justin Cluck found himself in a similar situation in August 2007 after being convicted
of having sex with a woman while she was unconscious.
“He is not the individual that this case has made him out to be,” Cluck’s sister, Tara
Cluck, told county Judge Bradley P. Lunsford at his sentencing. “There are many
criminals in this world, but my brother is not one of them.”
Fishel says she hears this a lot.
“I think the problem too with the ‘nice guy rapist’ is that sometimes he is a nice guy,”
Fishel said. “But the opportunity for that crime arises, and so someone who may not
have ever imagined themselves capable of something like that, at that moment, the
opportunity presents itself and they become a criminal of opportunity.”
Attorney Joe Amendola argues that Conway made a one-time mistake, a misjudgment
when both he and the woman were drunk. He’s not a predator, said Amendola, who is
helping to appeal Conway’s conviction.
Few cases of acquaintance rape end like Cluck’s and Conway’s, with long state prison
sentences. More often, defendants opt to plead to lesser charges in exchange for
shorter sentences in county jail.
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Frequently, that’s a result of the wishes of the victim, said District Attorney Michael
Victims realize what they’d face at trial, Madeira said, “because of the circumstances,
because it was a date rape, because they knew the person. That makes it a far more
difficult case to prove.”
“Consent is almost always the issue,” Madeira said.
Mark H. McClimans was sentenced in January to serve three to 231/2 months in
county jail after pleading guilty to indecent assault. He was accused of having sex with a
woman who was passed out.
Matthew J. Pagani admitted no guilt, but pleaded no contest to indecent assault
earlier this month after being accused of forcing a woman to perform sex acts on him in
a fraternity bathroom.
Shawn A. Cornelius spent 60 days in county jail after pleading guilty to indecent
assault in September 2007. In that case the woman said she was in and out of
consciousness when Cornelius had sex with her at a fraternity.
Eric Graffi admitted to indecent assault after a friend accused him of climbing into her
bed while she slept and touching her after they’d been drinking together. He was
sentenced to at least 60 days in jail.
Despite alcohol frequently being involved, Madeira said not all defendants prey on the
“drunkest girl in the room.” The crimes are often more opportunistic. Many times, the
men are intoxicated, too.
Amendola contends that sometimes there’s just a misunderstanding of consent. He
argues that Conway, for example, was just as drunk as the woman in the case, and
should also be considered a victim.
“I suppose none of us will really ever know the exact scenario that happened between
these two, but it’s a situation that occurs all too often,” Amendola said. “I think the bad
judgment came down to being intimate with someone who had been drinking and being
intimate with someone he didn’t really know. In a college situation, that happens all the
Madeira said being drunk doesn’t excuse the conduct, “but it does make the issue of
consent far more problematic.”
Amendola said he’s seen too many young men find themselves in courtrooms after a
night of drinking. He now gives pro bono speeches to college students about what he
calls a “scary, scary lifestyle.”
Amendola’s message is “letting them know that this is really, really dangerous
territory,” he said. “I’ve always advised the young men to get someone’s phone number
and call them when everyone’s sober.”
can be reached at 231-4616.
Characteristics of the ‘nice guy rapist<
* Macho, athletic and outwardly confident.
* Attractive and well liked by females.
* Tends to need male grouping. For example, fraternities, sports groups, civic groups,
male roommates, frequent visits to bars.
* Not married and probably does not have long-term relationships.
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* Egocentric, self-serving, does not feel guilt.
* Brags to his friends about his “scores.”
* Does not handle rejection or criticism well.
* Often terminates the relationship by the third date.
* Believes aggression is his right and views women as prey.
* Socially immature.
Source: “Date/ Acquaintance Rape: The Crime and Criminal Profile” by Central
Michigan University associate professor Stephen M. Thompson
Pattern of aggression, instilling doubt common with attackers
Women who report being raped by a date or acquaintance often tell similar stories
about the events that led to the rape, says Corey Cook, of the Centre County Women’s
Resource Center.
The steps typical of the pattern are detailed, Cook said, in the article “Date/
Acquaintance Rape: The Crime and Criminal Profile,” by Central Michigan University
associate professor Stephen M. Thompson.
1. The man selects someone who is flattered by his attention.
“And that is one of the reasons why freshmen on campus are at such high risk,” Cook
said. “They’re vulnerable. They’re targeted because they’re going to be really flattered
when an upperclassman invites them to this huge party.”
Usually the woman is a friend, co-worker or friend of a friend, Thompson says.
“It’s important because he is picking someone who he’ll have contact with again,”
Cook said. “And probably they’ll have mutual friends and they’ll see each other again, so
after he rapes her, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on her not to report it, because it
would create huge upheaval in her social life.”
2. Then comes the grooming.
“This is where he’s going to really just break any kind of distrust or boundaries down
by being this nice, great guy and creating a situation where she feels like she can trust
him,” Cook said. “Control is important, so he might push alcohol at this point.”
If the woman returns his affection, and “if she consents in this situation then that’s
great and he’s going to consider that a score,” Cook said. “But if she doesn’t consent,
he’s going to go ahead and do it anyway. He believes that sex is his right.”
3. He gets her alone. About 54 percent of the time, this happens at the man’s home,
Cook said.
“She’ll go because he’s groomed her … she feels like she knows him.”
4. He sends a message, using just enough aggression to intimidate the woman into
not fighting back.
“He sends the message that, ‘Don’t try to resist, you’re not getting out of here until I
get what I want.’ ” Cook explains. “And this is where we hear victims say time and time
again, ‘I knew I was in a lot of trouble.’ And so natural reaction is to freeze up in fear, to
just pray to God to just get through it. This person is capable of this, I don’t know what
else they are capable of.”
The last their friends saw, the man and woman had willingly left together.
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“So they think, of course, it was consensual, of course she wanted to have sex,” Cook
said. “But the only person who sees the intimidating, violent, forceful side of the rapist is
his victim and to everyone else he’s still that great, nice guy that she left with.”
5. Placing blame.
At every step, including the last, Cook says the “nice guy” image is believable. Even
the “nice guy” himself often believes what happened was OK.
“So he might walk her home or kiss her goodnight, call her the next day,” Cook said.
“And plant those seeds of doubt that maybe what happened wasn’t rape.”
Cook says it’s common for the woman to think, “I didn’t physically resist, I didn’t
scream ‘no,’ so maybe it was mixed signals.”
“That’s completely intentional on his part,” she said.
Copyright © 2009, Centre Daily Times. Unauthorized reproduction or Web posting prohibited.
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