Can Rapists Get You Off? Our Questions About How Serial Rapist Jeffrey Marsalis Got Away With It, Answered


Prolific rapist Jeffrey Marsalis was sentenced last Friday on the offenses the Philadelphia jury charged him with since they lacked the balls or sanity or whatever to stick him him with rape. And though most rapists who get away with it aren’t suspected of raping over a hundred girls, going easy on sex criminals turns out to be a pretty common occurrence in Philadelphia, which is one of the reasons we decided to interview Philadelphia Magazine writer Dan Lee, whose shocking-yet-unsurprising, depressingly riveting tale of Marsalis’s string of victims we blogged about last week. After the jump, we ask Dan — who is, full disclosure, someone with whom we have shared beers/margaritas/embittered rants on the state of the existence-particularly-ours before, about why men don’t understand why women try to date their rapists, and whether Marsalis was any good in bed.

Q: How surprised were you that women would want to start relationships with the guy who raped them? Did you understand it on an intuitive/emotional level or did you only come to understand it on an intellectual level?

A: Well, I think a lot of this has to be considered within a larger context. Firstly, remember that this whole thing begins with — begins on — So, off the bat this is a situation where one’s suspending disbelief, in terms of accepting that the things the other person, whom you’ve never even seen in person, is saying about himself are true. To these women he wasn’t just “the guy who raped them”; he was also a smart, seemingly successful, good-looking trauma surgeon. Now, for some, that will bring up the question of whether these women had reason enough to accept the things he was saying about himself, namely that he was a doctor (or, to some, a CIA agent, and an astronaut); about that, I suspect it’s reasonable to be dubious. But the point is, you’re not just waking up in the morning to some random loser or some frat boy in college — you’re waking up to a guy whom you met in person for the first time the night before and found likable and drank at least moderately with and believe to be a trauma surgeon, and whom you’re now looking at smiling at you across the pillow, contemplating that he might also have just raped you. I mean, for most of us this does not fit the profile: good-looking trauma surgeons who live in fancy high-rises are not rapists. So I think it’s possible to understand pretty easily how in the cloud of the next morning her intellectual self might overtake her instinct. And since he for the most part did not really betray any overt violence after the initial night, for those who allowed him into their lives subsequently one can see how these women might convince themselves they were initially wrong, that the memory was flawed. One other thing I want to add is that he fooled some very intelligent women. His former longtime girlfriend/fiancee, a respected lawyer and intelligence analyst for the military, believed for the few years that they were together that he was all these things: that when he’d gone away for some time after September 11 he was in the caves of Afghanistan he said he was in; that when she met him for a meal in the cafeteria of the Center City hospital, he in his white coat and scrubs, that they were in fact sitting in his place of employment; that he was not dating and fucking hundreds of other women. These scenarios he presented were fairly elaborate.

Q: I don’t know if you’ve read all about it on my blog, but I was date-raped in Philly in an incident I never could have in a million years gotten prosecuted. I was resentful in large part because I’d only had sex with two other people at the time, and sex, in my mind, was this muddled concept that was supposed to involve affection, warmth, some element of commitment, etc., which I think is why I so desired, after I chewed the guy out, to semi-befriend him and make the experience somehow “meaningful.” At the same time, it probably hastened my adoption of the “oh who cares, whatever, it’s just sex” philosophy of fucking that now, given the same situation, would have made things much clearer in my mind, like: “Did I want to have sex with this person? Is this person going to get me off? Is this person going to even try?” Thoughts that didn’t occur to me at the time. Anyway! So I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the victims you spoke to were Catholic. Not that I blame that! But, um, did you talk to any of the victims about whether Jeffrey got them off?

A: Hmmm. Shit. That’s a question.

I guess I’d say first that your story seems to demonstrate what I was trying to say before: that women apparently often attempt to befriend their abusers after the fact, to convince themselves that their belief is wrong and they could not possibly have been raped, or, continuing to blame themselves here, to elevate the sex to something more meaningful/morally acceptable than “casual sex” (not to mention than “rape”), because you’re right, at least some of these women had not really had many partners. (I guess I’d say here, too, that, at the risk of sounding like a dick, not every woman who says she’s been date-raped is necessarily ight about that, in an objective sense, particularly when there’s alcohol involved, because actions at the time and recollections after the fact are not always what they’d be were it not for alcohol. So we agree that not every claim is necessarily fact, and I mention this because it plays a role in this conversation, in terms of a woman’s reaction to an incident.) At the same time, some of these women were sexually empowered, they had had many partners, they were sexually experienced, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that they would have had sex with a guy they’d only just met. So I think that that added sometimes to their confusion about what had happened — remember that many had not conjured that they could have been drugged until much later — and I know that that affected the jury; the jury was not of the mindset that women are chaste, that single women couldn’t possibly desire sexual satisfaction, too — the fruits of Sex & The City, I’m told.

As to getting off, it stands to reason that at least some of the women who maintained relations with him after the fact — some for some time — might not have always hated the sex (one told me it was only good, though, “once or twice”).

And I should probably mention, too, and this is often really tragic, that sexual assault victims can climax spontaneously during their attacks, even under the most difficult circumstances. It’s anatomical, and a fact that tortured many young boys assaulted in the Church abuse scandal. So it’s really irrelevant.

[GOOGLE: This turns out to be true. I’d never heard that before! It’s like, guilt/fear makes it really easy to get off. Confusing!]

Q: Your last page was about a woman Marsalis met while skiing in Idaho just over a week before his first criminal trial started. She went with him to a bar and saw something granular in her drink and before she knew it she was getting raped. She reported it immediately; she also happened to be gay. The last paragraph is particularly powerful:

Which is to say that should K. be telling the truth, and should a jury believe her, one woman will finally succeed in doing what some 30 others did not. She will have convinced herself, immediately and independent of the influence of anyone else, that the position she awoke to that morning was not of her choosing or consent. She will have convinced herself that she bore no guilt in the matter and had been horribly violated. And she will have convinced herself that the person sleeping beside her, the good-looking, safe-looking man she’d only just met, the kindly paramedic from a few hours earlier, was for her at that moment as he lay there one thing and one thing only: the rapist she could not avoid confronting.

Why wasn’t this case admissible? Did the prosecutors believe their case was strong enough without it?

A: I think the Idaho case is really just extraordinary. First of all, I’m not a lawyer, but it’s my understanding that the case was not admissible here because it was at that point — and remains still; the case is still probably a few months from beginning out West — still only an allegation, not fact. A person needs to be convicted of something for it to be potentially admissible. This is the same reason his first rape case in Philly was inadmissible in the second, final trial; he had been acquitted of all the charges the first time, so the fact that he’d been accused was immaterial. Having said that, his two sexual assault convictions from that second trial here could be admissible in Idaho.

But about the Idaho case … That he would be accused of drugging and raping a woman out there just a week or so before his initial trial was scheduled to begin in Philadelphia is really unbelievable. The court records indicate, as well, that that case seems strong, with more evidence, an accuser — who happens to be a lesbian — who went to police within hours of the alleged assault, eyewitness testimony that the woman was severely intoxicated and Marsalis was all but carrying her, and what would appear to be a starker jury pool to decide the case. It seems to put whatever questions linger about the actions of some of the accusers here in Philaladelphia into a different kind of perspective.

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