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Pickup Artists Preyed on Drunk Women, Brought Them Home, and Raped Them

How a San Diego woman discovered details of her rape on a pickup-artist blog—and fought to bring her attackers to justice.

Full Article here : http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/09/21/pickup-artists-on-trial-for-rape-ring.html

BRANDY ZADROZNY

09.20.16 10:15 PM ET

*Warning—the following article contains a graphic depiction of a rape.

Alex Smith and Jonas Dick considered themselves part of the elite.

The two men were instructors in the community of pickup artists—men who obsessively study and practice methods of meeting and sleeping with as many women as possible. Some men in the community say pickup is about self-actualization, and finding meaning in their lives.

But according to San Diego’s district attorney, Alex and Jonas—both 27 years old—are predators and the pursuit of their “art” has led to the rape of multiple women.

In what may be a first for the pickup community, the two men—along with their “student,” 28-year-old Jason Berlin—were charged in 2015 with the rape of a San Diego woman. Jonas and Jason pleaded guilty to the charges; Alex has maintained his innocence, claiming—contrary to Jason and Jonas’s sworn pleas—that the events of that night were consensual.

The investigation of the San Diego charges not only uncovered another victim of Jonas Dick’s—a 16-year-old girl for whose rape Jonas also pleaded guilty—but suggested the possibility that many more victims could remain unidentified.

Jonas received eight years in state prison for the two rapes; his student Jason faces a maximum eight-year sentence. Both will spend a lifetime on the sex offender registry.

Meanwhile, Alex Smith went to trial last week, before a jury of 10 men and two women. (At an emotional jury selection, the majority of female candidates said they couldn’t remain impartial at Alex’s trial, citing a personal account or relationship with a woman who had been raped under similar circumstances.)

Alex’s defense lawyer, Samantha Greene—a charismatic former deputy district attorney—laid out her client’s case in opening statements, taking the line that the woman (we’ll call her Claire, though that’s not her real name) had consented and now regretted it. “This case is about Claire being embarrassed, not rape,” she told the mostly-male jury.

For years, feminists and bloggers have lambasted pickup websites and blogs as echo chambers for misogyny, criticized their “techniques” as de facto harassment or assault, and called the group’s leaders advocates for rape. But pickup’s thousands of fans and followers—who congregate with other anti-feminists in the online space known as the “manosphere”—have roundly dismissed that criticism as “blue pill” thinking (a reference to the Matrix). In contrast, pickup artists and others in the Men’s Rights Movement think they’ve swallowed the “red pill” and can see through the evils of a politically-correct society whose supposed goal is to kill what remains of the world’s masculinity.

From 2011 to 2013, Alex Smith, Jonas Dick, and Jason Berlin congregated in pickup’s corner of the manosphere, indoctrinated themselves with the teachings of their pickup artist heroes, and contributed to its chatter in a series of concerning online blog posts. But it’s what they did with that ideology in the real world that’s now at issue for a San Diego jury.

CLAIRE’S RAPE

On a Saturday night in October 2013, Claire, then 31, went out with her friend, let’s call her Laura, for a girl’s night out in San Diego’s trendy Gaslamp Quarter.

They were having a good time. At Analog, a bar advertising “good food and strong drinks,” Claire ordered a glass of champagne, then a Fireball shot, followed by a pear cider, while Laura drank vodka sodas. They ran into a bachelorette party and took another shot, a cactus cooler. After several rounds, sometime around midnight or 1 a.m., the women left and crossed the street to a different bar—the Tipsy Crow—for two more drinks: a lemon drop shot and a cocktail.

Just what Claire drank that night, at what times and in what quantities, would become the subject of intense scrutiny over the next three years; her state of drunkenness was at the heart of the state’s argument as well as Alex Smith’s defense. The prosecution says that Claire had been too drunk to consent to sex, Alex’s defense attorney says she couldn’t have been that drunk.

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Claire was tipsy, then slightly tipsier, as she remembers it.

When the bars closed for the night, Claire and Laura shuffled out with the rest of the crowd onto Fifth Avenue. They called an Uber, and as they waited, they were approached by two men, Jonas Dick and Alex Smith.

Jonas and Alex were no strangers to meeting girls on that street at that time: they referred to two in the morning as “pull o’clock” because of how easy it was to bring home the last women leaving the bars. They invited Claire and Laura to their place for drinks. It was only a few blocks away.

Claire says she doesn’t remember meeting Alex and Jonas. She remembers stumbling and someone with a receding hairline “pushing her along,” leading her to an apartment building. She remembers being in a semi-furnished bedroom on a mattress without a headboard. Someone giving her a clear drink. The sip she took didn’t taste like water, maybe it was alcohol? Before she could think about it, she was falling backwards, and that’s when she says it all goes black.

What occurred in that bedroom over the next hour runs in and out of Claire’s mind like waves. As she testified in court, she can feel the bed beneath her, coming to for a moment, and vomiting on the floor. She hears one—or is it two?—male voices, mumbling like the adults in “Charlie Brown” before it all fades away again.

In another part of the apartment, Laura was sitting and chatting with Jonas. On the way in, Laura saw a man named Jason Berlin, lying on a makeshift bed of pillows on the floor. Laura and Jonas walked to the other bedroom, where he tried to kiss her. But Laura wasn’t interested, so they shared a beer and talked for a while instead. After a trip to the bathroom, Laura realized her phone was missing. Jonas had hidden it inside the pocket of a shirt hanging in his closet—which struck her as a strange thing for him to do. Uncomfortable, Laura got up and walked across the apartment to find Claire. It was time to go.

Laura knocked on the other bedroom door. When Alex opened it, Laura could see Claire on the bed. Claire’s dress was on the floor; she was lying facedown in a pool of her own vomit. Laura says she was unconscious. Surrounding her were two men—Alex, who was completely naked and erect, and in the corner, another man, the one she had seen sleeping on the living-room floor on her way in. He was wearing only a T-shirt.

“Claire, let’s go. I’m ready to go,” Laura said, shaking Claire, and pulling her by the shoulders. It took a minute for Claire to come to, Laura says.

As Laura helped Claire put her clothes back on, Alex was laughing. Jonas had followed Laura in and was laughing, too.

“We just tag-teamed your friend,” Alex said.

As Claire gathered her things, she started screaming at Alex, the man with the receding hairline, swatting at him with her high heel. Alex was dragging Claire, then lifting her—“like throwing laundry out the door,” Jason later described it.

“Get the fuck out of here,” Alex said, and slammed the door shut.

Claire was sick and sore, and she knew she wanted the police.

When patrol officers arrived at the apartment complex, they tested Claire’s blood-alcohol level. It was three hours since her last drink and Claire blew a .151, about twice the legal limit to drive. Detective Garrick Nugent, a newer addition to department’s sex crimes unit, arrived shortly after to take Claire and her friend’s statements. Claire agreed to a SART exam, more commonly known as a rape kit.

“I’ve never been in the back of a police car before,” Claire thought, as they drove to the lab.

At the same time, police banged on the door of apartment 3031. Neighbors in the building—full of young professionals, bartenders, and club promoters—came out to investigate. Officers reported the sound of vomiting inside, but no one ever came to the door. So the officers just left.

Across town, Claire was identified as rape victim E960.1, directed into an exam room, and told to take off her clothes. She noticed her dress had been torn at the waist and her underwear was missing. An examiner with a professional camera took photos of the bruises forming on Claire’s arms and legs, and the scratches on her legs and chest. Then a nurse performed tests for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a vaginal exam, to document Claire’s injuries and collect a DNA sample. Claire started to sob on the exam table.

There was no shower, so she washed the vomit out of her hair as best she could in the room’s miniature sink, then changed into a new set of clothes, and got back into the patrol car. When Claire got home, she crawled into bed and cried until she fell asleep.

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