Apr 25, 2023
By Sam Dordulian, Esq.
Celebrity is a powerful thing. So powerful, in fact, that the right public image can often enable a sexual predator to repeatedly victimize survivors – even in plain view. Bill Cosby is perhaps the most notorious example of this phenomenon. By cultivating his ‘America’s Dad’ persona, Cosby was virtually impervious to sexual assault allegations for decades – despite multiple women coming forward with similar claims of being drugged and raped.
As a trial lawyer, one of the greatest challenges you face in a sex crimes case is the jury’s perception of the defendant. And when that defendant is a celebrity, you have your work cut out for you. Everyday folks are usually enamored with fame.
But while you and I may be influenced by someone’s celebrity status – whether consciously or unconsciously – it’s unfortunate when the media, which commonly claims to be the last bastion of truth through unbiased journalism, falls victim to the same biases.
Former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman has been accused of child sexual abuse by two of my clients. As is often the case, Foreman resorted to cries of “extortion” and filed a defamation counter-suit shortly after our complaints were announced. Claiming extortion is a common strategy used by accused sexual predators – many of whom are ultimately found criminally guilty or civilly liable (or both). Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Guess Jeans co-founder Paul Marciano are but a few well-known examples. When confronted with sexual assault accusations, almost like clockwork, the immediate response from each was effectively, I’m rich and famous, so it must be extortion.
In fact, the tactic is so common that it has its own acronym: DARVO.
As Dr. Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD, of the University of Oregon noted in peer-reviewed research:
The sexual perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender “such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim – or the whistle-blower – into an alleged offender.”
The two women who accused Foreman of sexual abuse were eager to clear their names once the former heavyweight claimed that they were simply extorting him for a payday. Accordingly, I arranged for my clients to undergo lie detector tests conducted by one of the world’s foremost polygraph examiners (an expert who, it should be noted, has also been used by George Foreman’s defense attorney in past cases).
My clients passed their lie detector tests with flying colors. We’ve also publicly challenged Mr. Foreman to undergo his own polygraph with the same examiner that both I and his own attorney are partial to using. Not surprisingly, he has yet to issue a response.
What is surprising, however, is the fact that while Foreman has participated in countless press and publicity events over the past several days for his upcoming biopic, “Big George Foreman,” not a single reporter has asked him about the sexual abuse allegations. It’s almost as if they’ve given him a pass. In the #MeToo Era, such preferential treatment is rather peculiar – particularly when multiple women levy accusations against an individual (no matter how many grills he’s sold on television).
My question for the media is: What would it take to get you to do your jobs?
Would a third childhood sexual abuse accuser be enough? As it happens, Foreman has been sued by a third woman – whose molestation allegation is eerily similar to those of my clients – in a neighboring California county. The third case, however, has not garnered much interest from the media.
As Foreman continues his biopic press tour, I hope at least one member of the media will have the courage to confront him about the three separate claims of child sexual abuse made by three different women (all of whom did not know one another or have any prior knowledge of the other cases prior to coming forward).
If the media continues failing to address the elephant in the room, it’s a signal to sexual predators that they will consistently be believed over sexual assault survivors (whose claims are, more often than not, credible and backed by substantial corroboration). Giving Foreman a pass is essentially a message to sexual predators that, with the right amount of fame and celebrity, they continue to victimize with impunity just as Bill Cosby did for decades.
Sam Dordulian is a California-based sexual assault civil attorney who previously worked as a sex crimes prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He serves on the National Leadership Council for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence nonprofit organization.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.