Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lessons of the rape charges lodged against a superstar college athlete

There's another he said/she said rape claim in the news, this one involving Garrett Wittels, 20, a superstar NCAA baseball slugger from Florida International University. Garrett and several friends were arrested on December 20, 2010 in the Bahamas and charged with the alleged rape of two 17-year-old American girls, who, of course, are not named in the news accounts. The girls claimed to be students from the University of Arkansas. The incident occurred at the Atlantis Resort and Casino.  The girls' families were also staying at the resort at the time of the alleged crime. 

Surveillance video from the resort shows that the girls were drinking at the resort's Dragon's Ultra Lounge (the drinking age in the Bahamas is 18, and the girls were both 17), and occasionally kissing each other when Wittels and his friends approached the bar area.  A source said the video shows the girls gesturing for the young men to join them, and that Wittels and two friends obliged.

The video showed that the two young women followed the young men to a private party, where the incident allegedly happened.  Garrett and his friends Robert Rothschild, 21 and Jonathan Oberti 21 were charged with rape. The three young men admit to having sex with the women, but insist it was consensual. The age of consent in the Bahamas is 16, so age is not an issue in the charges. At issue is that the girls claim they don't remember what happened.  The charges stem from the fact that the girls might have been so impaired that they were unable to consent to the sex. Two other friends of Garrett's have also been held in connection to the incident, but they were not charged with rape.

The father of one of the girls called police after his daughter and her companion returned to their hotel room, a source said.  Police in the Bahamas conducted blood tests to see if the young women had been slipped a date-rape drug. The tests revealed no sign of drugs.  Garrett was released on a bond of $10,000 after a court hearing.

Wayne Munroe, a Bahamian attorney who is representing all five young men, said it is "easy" to get arrested for rape in the Bahamas. "If somebody is charged with rape, the general inclination is to think there must be something to it," Munroe said. According to Munroe, many rape charges in the Bahamas should not be filed in the first place. Munroe said this arrest-first, ask-questions-later policy evolved from a complaint by a former U.S. ambassador who alleged the Bahamian police did not take rape cases seriously.

Garrett is a superstar college athlete. He currently has a 56 game hitting streak, the second-longest hitting streak in the history of the NCAA, and is behind only to the record of 58 games held by Robin Ventura.  Earlier this year, he has been nominated for ESPN’s annual ESPY Awards in the “Best College Male Athlete” category.  Garrett's father is a prominent Miami orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Michael Wittels.

Garrett is described as deeply religious. Before each game, he kneels in the outfield and recites the Shema, the Jewish prayer declaring the unity of God. He also carries a travel mezuzah, which contains the Shema prayer, and on road trips he brings a copy of the Jewish Wayfarer's Prayer. Garrett's parents are wary of the media coverage surrounding his hitting streak, citing their fear that others will give their son the "ayin harah," or evil eye of jealousy, his father said.  As for the rape charges: “Anyone can accuse anyone of anything at any time,” Dr. Wittels said. "[Garrett is] devastated that someone would accuse him of this.”  Garrett is "not doing well, obviously," said Dr. Wittels. "He’s blown away. He’s devastated that someone would accuse him of this.” Dr. Wittels suggested that the girls were motivated to make the charges due to Garrett's success as a college athlete.

Analysis and Lessons

Assuming attorney Munroe has accurately described Bahama law regarding the "arrest-first, ask-questions-later" mentality when it comes to rape, it is, of course, a repulsive contortion of anything remotely resembling justice. Sadly, it is a policy too often followed in too many jurisdictions in the United States. A prominent example is found in the Hofstra false rape case. It is much easier to simply arrest any male charged, without regard for his possible innocence, rather than sort out the facts first and assume the remote risk that the accused will "rape again," and thus embarrass the law enforcement official who "delayed" making an arrest.

The instant allegation fits a classic pattern of false rape cases we deal with on this site: a "he said/she said" rape charge involving persons of college age or younger coated with a patina of alcohol; more than one guy having sex with a female accuser; and a loved one of an accuser who is outraged by the sexual encounter.

The girls, who were drinking on their own before they ever met the young men, say they cannot remember what happened, and the charges stem from the fact that the girls might have been so impaired that they were unable to consent to the sex. Yet, we are told, a video shows that the girls were perfectly capable of gesturing for the young men to join them, and to follow the young men to a room where they had sex. The girls were also able to make it back to their own hotel room after the fact. No evidence, of which we are aware, indicates that the young men plied the girls with alcohol. A blood test reveals that the young men did not slip date rape drugs in the girls' drinks.

The father of one of the accusers called the police when his daughter returned to her room. The father did not earlier prevent his underage daughter from from drinking illegally with her friend at a bar in the same hotel where he was staying.  Moreover, there is no indication that the hotel was charged for serving alcohol to minors.  It is more than possible that the bartender did not believe that the girls had imbibed to excess when he or she was serving them. If that's the case, it is questionable whether Garrett and his friends should have reasonably suspected that the girls were too drunk to engage in a sexual romp.

We have frequently cautioned young men that the exact scenario described here is a recipe for a false rape claim. The alcohol-fueled hook-up culture is a disaster for too many young men. To suggest that couples should never drink and fool around denies eons of accumulated knowledge about gender relations. Young people often drink to lower inhibitions, knowing full well where it will lead. But asking the police or a jury to sort out what happened afterwards based on a "he said/she said" account puts an impossible burden on our law enforcement and judicial apparatuses, even in the "arrest-first, ask-questions-later" Bahamas. Young men do not generally understand that women experience much greater after-the-fact regret than men do. Sometimes feelings of regret are translated into feelings of "being used," and sometimes feelings of "being used" are misinterpreted or purposefully misconstrued as "rape." Unfortunately, the prevailing feminist mantra is for young women to "party like the guys," without bothering to tell them about the regret asymmetry that separates the genders.

We have also written extensively about the fact that false rape claims flourish in an environment where young women feel a need to keep a consensual sexual encounter from someone important to them, namely, a father, a boyfriend, or girlfriends. A prime example is when the young woman is still under her parents' financial or emotional thumb, and they disapprove of her having sex, especially of the one-night-stand variety. As we previously wrote here: "If a girl needs to hide the fact that she's having sex with you from a parent, as most teen girls below college age do, [young men] are playing with fire."

In addition, we've described the scenario where more than one guy is having sex with a girl as "ground zero" for false rape claims.  That's one of the allegations in this case. We wrote here: "We've seen this multiple times. The reasons are obvious: how on earth can she possibly explain this to a . . . parent. . . ?  How will she hold her head up on campus? Most sane young women will deeply regret that encounter after-the-fact and will worry that if word got out, it would destroy what's left of her reputation. . . . . Men should never, ever put themselves in this awful situation."

And, of course, Garrett's name is splashed all over the newspaper, but the identity of his accusers, who very well might be lying, is protected with all the tenacity that Clark Kent guards Superman's.

Garrett Wittels is, by all accounts, an upstanding young man.  He now finds himself stranded in a situation that countless other young men his age have found themselves in, a nightmare world where his liberty, his entire future, hinges on some Bahamian official accurately sorting out a murky encounter with two young woman. When Garrett reads this post -- and my bet is he will -- he needs to know that he is not alone, that this happens all the time to young men who never dreamed it was possible. It happens to the best of young men, because when you are a 20-years-old male, with exploding testosterone, it is not easy to resist female temptations.

Here, like the mythical Sirens whose beautiful singing summoned ancient mariners to their deaths on rocky shores, the young women gestured for the young men to approach them in a bar, and to the men's great misfortune, they did.