Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) 2022: When Victims are Shadow Puppets

By April 15, 2022Sex Abuse

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) takes the stage each April to illuminate a  tough subject. This year the theme is: “Building Safe Online Spaces Together.” True, the Internet is a growing portal for introducing vulnerable people to bad actors, but the end results are ultimately the same: face-to-face encounter, trust, forced compliance, betrayal, devastation.

Sex abuse is a black hole. It is helpful to review a handful of consistencies established throughout years of investigating.

  • Warped kinds of behavior are limitless and hair-raising.
  • Victims are mostly adolescent girls and young women.
  • Abusers are mostly men seeking out vulnerable females to dominate.
  • Motives are as boundless as the imagination.
  • Incidents are underreported because the animalistic nature of crimes is often too shocking for words.
  • Abuse is often overlooked by a good old boy mentality in high places (sometimes including women at the top).
  • Drinking and drugs blur the boundaries, but don’t erase the crime and do not place blame on the victims.
  • A single incident, regardless of severity, can destroy a victim’s life.
  • Long-term abuse may be irreversible.

To illustrate how bizarre the nature of sex crimes and exploitation can be, dive with us into a sex trafficking case covered by the New York Times last week.

If one thing might prevent such a story’s repetition, it is understanding how red flags are easily ignored by vulnerable people when needs promise to be met. In this case a malignant narcissist-turned-cult leader believed his own lies.

From 2010-2019, Lawrence V. Ray “exerted near-total control” over a group of young people he met after moving into [his daughter Talia Ray’s] dormitory at Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester County north of New York City, according to the Times.

Though he had just been released from a New Jersey prison after serving time over a child-custody dispute, he “presented himself as a mentor, isolating students from their parents, pressuring them into degrading acts and extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from them.”

Ray started cooking meals for the group and holding therapy sessions to improve their lives, claiming he had been unjustly imprisoned because he was a “patriot with powerful enemies.” He likened himself to Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. When the 53-year-old took an apartment in Manhattan in summer 2011, students began sleeping there and he pursued with them a life approach called “Quest for Potential.”

But parental nurturing gave way to psychological violence and sexual abuse when Ray began demanding fake confessions from students admitting they had damaged his property or tried killing him. He then demanded huge sums of money from them as compensation, standing over one student with a knife and threatening to cut his genitals, threatening to crush another’s skull with a hammer.

He forced a girl to sleep with some of his friends while she was involved romantically with Ray, afterward accusing her of being unfaithful. Witnesses say he would tighten a plastic bag over her head while she fought to breathe.

“He used the threatening displays of violence both to create fear and maintain control over his victims,” a prosecutor, Mollie Bracewell, said during her closing statement to the jury. “His victims would be too terrified to say no to his demands.”

Felicia Rosario, who agreed to confess she had poisoned Ray with cyanide and arsenic, later attempted suicide. On the stand, she said that lying and confessing became second-nature. But though she never gave Ray any poison, he forced her into prostitution to pay him back for the imaginary homicide attempt. She worked four years, seven days a week as a prostitute, giving Ray $2.5 million in earnings.

“Once I sort of started confessing to those things, each one was like further proof of all the others,” Rosario said. “I felt so guilty, because of the things that he was saying that I had done or had participated in that I hadn’t,” she said. “I was completely overwhelmed and terrified.”

Ray never imagined his victims would have the courage to turn against him, but his delusions proved his undoing. After a 2019 piece was published in New York magazine listing myriad crimes credited to Mr. Ray, four victims came forward. Others remained loyal, conditioned by trauma bonding, which occurs when an abused person forms an unhealthy bond with the person who abuses them, often confusing the abuse with love. Stockholm syndrome is a type of trauma bonding.

On April 6, 2022, Larry Ray was found guilty of 15 federal counts, including sex trafficking, extortion and racketeering conspiracy. He showed no emotion in the courtroom. His cult is dismantled but its members are left desperate for love and mentally unhinged.

Resources:

National Sexual Violence Resources

National Prevention Initiatives