Truth today is shaped from the accumulating statements of previously silent women, not the unquestioned blandishments of men accustomed to controlling and determining their own and everybody else’s fates.
You’re Cristiano Ronaldo. At 33, you’re one of the most idolized athletes in the world. You have Adonis-like looks and annual earnings of over $100 million. One contract with Nike alone is thought to be worth $1 billion. With 322 million social media followers, you’re one of the most adored people in the world. But your seemingly perfect life has been disrupted by a figure from the past. Do you remember someone named Kathryn whom you met in Las Vegas in 2009? She’s an American woman, now 34, who says you raped her.
I’m guessing you can cast your mind back nine years when you were on a vacation with your brother-in-law and cousin. In case you can’t, it was the same year you moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid, a glamorous club in a glamorous city — the perfect fit for the most glamorous man in sports.
Kathryn Mayorga was a 25-year-old aspiring model and, between assignments, she used to put a living together as a nightclub siren tempting passing pedestrians into the clubs. Rain was the name of club she was working for the night you met. Paparazzi were on hand to take pictures of you together. You both had a few drinks in the club’s VIP area. She knew who you were a big celebrity athlete, even though soccer isn’t a major sport in the US. You asked for her phone number and she obliged before leaving in search of her friend.
A few minutes later you sent her a text message, inviting Mayorga and her friends to a party at the nearby Hotel Palms Place. You all ended up in you $1000-a-night penthouse suite, which had its own jacuzzi on the balcony overlooking Sin City. You’ll remember this because everyone jumped straight in — well, apart from Mayorga, who didn’t want to ruin her dress. But you offered to loan her some swimwear, which she accepted and went to the bathroom to change.
No One Really Knows
No one really knows anything at all about what happened next, apart from you and Mayorga. And it remained that way for the next nine years. Over that time, you established yourself as one of the greatest players of all time and became involved in a stable relationship with Georgina Rodriguez, with whom you had a daughter, now 10 months old. You also had three children with two other women, whose identities you choose not to reveal. And you had a very public celebrity romance with the Russian supermodel Irina Shayk for five years from 2010. So it probably came like a bolt out of the blue when, last month, Mayorga, in a lawsuit filed in Nevada, claimed you sexually assaulted her.
As I said, no one knows what happened in the bathroom where Mayorga was changing, but on her account, you walked in on her while she was in just her underwear. Now, I’m guessing from what I know of you that, at 24 (your age at the time) and with your combination of looks, money and fame, you’d be reasonably well versed in how to conduct an amorous liaison. All the same, I’d still like to know: Did you make her comfortable? Ask her whether she was OK, or what she’d like you to do? Maybe check that she was cool with everything? Some men do; others assume women who don’t say anything are silently approving of what they’re doing. I suspect some men never quite understand what they’re supposed to do in such situations. There’s no rulebook, of course, but some reciprocation is usually expected. Satisfying or, at least, pleasing a partner is not a priority for every man. I don’t know how you feel about this.
I ask because Mayorga reckons your behavior wasn’t at all characteristic of the sophisticated, refined and elegant player the world has become accustomed to seeing. Her remembrance is quite graphic. She says you walked into the bathroom with your dick exposed, then asked her to touch it. And when she refused, you changed the request and asked — she said, “begged” — her for a blowjob. The appeal was then converted to a deal: She reckons you told her you’d let her go if she gave you a kiss.
This really doesn’t sound like you, but, of course, we only see the smooth operator on the sports field. I suppose that’s what we thought about a lot of the men who have been retrospectively accused following the Harvey Weinstein revelations. After all, Mayorga remembers you insisting, later, that you were “‘a good guy’ except for the ‘one percent.'”
Mayorga says she agreed to the kiss, but, when you wanted to continue, she pushed you away and said no repeatedly. She then took advantage of an interruption by one of your friends and announced she was leaving. But she reckons you grabbed her, forced into a room and sodomized her. There’s no independent delineation of the interaction, though we know that Mayorga made a call to the police the next day. We also understand that, a few months later, you paid Mayorga $375,000 as part of an out-of-court settlement. Part of the settlement’s conditions was that she signed a non-disclosure agreement.
When you were asked to provide your version of events, you maintained that the sex was consensual. So you have to admit, it’s puzzling — why settle? Maybe you wanted to avoid the publicity. That’s understandable. And it’s possible you genuinely believed this was consensual, though the publication, Spiegel Online, the online offshoot of the German news magazine Der Spiegel, reports that a lawyer acting for Mayorga contacted your legal representatives in mid-2009 and a questionnaire was circulated to you, your cousin and brother-in-law: “In the document, Ronaldo is referred to as ‘X’ while Kathryn Mayorga is referred to as ‘Ms. C.’”
Confusingly, the publication states that “there are several versions of the questionnaire,” and the answers aren’t consistent. In one version that was sent via email in September 2009 there is an unsettling acknowledgement: “In response to the question as to whether Ms. C. ever raised her voice, screamed or called out, X responded, according to the document: ‘She said no and stop several times.’” This appears to place the probative burden squarely on you, especially if another passage attributed to X is ever accepted: “She kept saying ‘No.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ ‘I’m not like the others.’ I apologized afterwards.”
Different Forms of Abuse
If we didn’t realize there are different forms of abuse — some of them disguised as passion, others as play — we do now. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony retracing how Donald Trump’s nominee for the US Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, had almost prankishly assaulted her while they were still in high school (both men were “drunkenly laughing,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27) alerts us to the indistinctness of some sexual encounters. “I’ve never sexually assaulted Dr. Ford — or anyone,” said Kavanaugh, who then strangely tried to defend himself against the sexual assault allegations by insisting he was a virgin at the time, as if that means anything.
Sex is slippery, often protean, frequently equivocal, sometimes uncertain and always Delphic – like most experiences of the mind and flesh, there are subtle raptures that remain obscure and are remembered contrarily as time passes. Some memories, as scholars remind us, are retrospective re-imaginings, rather than straightforward recollections: We interpret the past anew every time we think about events. Singer Lily Allen, in her new book My Thoughts Exactly, alludes to something similar when she recounts how she got smashed at a music industry party and was helped to a hotel room by a record company executive who tried to rape her. “This is my story,” concludes Allen, “but I don’t claim it is the only truth.”
In years to come, people probably won’t remember the Cristiano Ronaldo case, but I suspect they’ll look back at 2018 as the year in which our understanding of sex, rape and truth changed forever.
I think many men could adopt this as a maxim. It seems an honest acknowledgement of how parties to an interaction can experience it differently. What is, for one party, exciting and fulfilling may be brutal and harrowing for another. And it may help explain why so many women, in a perverse way, feel culpable, as if they are in some measure to blame. As chatelaines of their own misfortune, they despise themselves for any number of reasons, no matter how bogus. Year after year of soul-destroying hatred may pass, and memories fade, but the rape itself stays unforgettable.
You denied the allegation and there are bound to be legions of your supporters who’ll claim Mayorga is an opportunist. There’s also the time-lapse between the incident and the latest claims. The lawsuit claims: “The psychological trauma of the sexual assault, the fear of public humiliation and retaliation and the reiteration of those fears by law enforcement and medical providers left plaintiff [sic] terrified and unable to act or advocate for herself.”
The prospect of making an allegation, then beginning a process that may prove nearly as terrifying as the rape itself, can be daunting for an unknown number of women, who learn to live with their secret and never disclose it. #MeToo has changed this. In the post-Weinstein world, dozens of women have been emboldened to speak out and dozens more will likely come forward over the next several months. But before, women who accused celebrity males were often susceptible to backlash.
Anita Hill, back in 1991, alleged that Clarence Thomas, then still a nominee for the US Supreme Court, had sexually harassed her when she worked for him at the Department of Education. Thomas denied the allegations and famously called the proceedings “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” He was confirmed regardless. Hill kept a low profile thereafter and now teaches at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
Desiree Washington was damned by many African Americans as she stood in an Indianapolis courtroom, accusing boxer Mike Tyson of rape. Tyson argued they had consensual sex, but was found guilty and sentenced to six years imprisonment (he served three). Washington wasn’t in the entertainment industry and kept a low profile in the years after the trial. In 1997, actor Tisha Campbell claimed co-star Martin Lawrence sexually harassed her, making it impossible to carry on working with him on his TV show, Martin. She left the show only to return later after negotiating an unusual agreement: Whenever she was filing, Lawrence would not be allowed on set. After that, she stayed busy, appearing in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Empire.
I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me. Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in. Keen as I may be to clear my name, I refuse to feed the media spectacle created by people seeking to promote themselves at my expense.
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) October 3, 2018
Casey Affleck in 2010 was accused by several women of sexual harassment and settled out of court. There were other celebrity cases before the Weinstein scandal, perhaps the most interesting being that of Bill Cosby who was accused of sexual assault dating back decades. A mistrial was declared in June 2017. Earlier this year, in the post-Weinstein era, a new trial resulted in Cosby’s conviction and imprisonment for three to 10 years.
The many women who were inspired to step forward following Ashley Judd’s initial disclosures about Weinstein recounted episodes, several of which were in the 1980s, and it’s probable that several men charged with transgressions will eventually be cleared. Think of the English actor Ed Westwick, from the popular TV show Gossip Girl, whom two women accused of rape in November 2017 (a third allegation followed). Immediately after the allegations emerged, the BBC cut him out of its TV drama Ordeal by Innocence and reshot all his scenes with another actor. It also “paused” filming on White Gold, a comedy series in which he featured. In August 2018, a US court dismissed all allegations, prosecutors concluding that witnesses were “not able to provide information that would enable the prosecution to prove either incident beyond a reasonable doubt.” The third alleged victim couldn’t be contacted.
Nick Carter, the onetime lead singer of the Backstreet Boys, now 38, was spared a scandal because of California’s statute of limitations when earlier this year he was accused by actor Michelle Schuman of raping her in 2001 when they were making a TV movie. He denied it. According to California law, the period in which she could legally bring action expired in 2013, and although the rules were changed in 2016, they couldn’t be retroactively applied. So he walked free. Sort of. Nowadays any accusation of sexual impropriety registers with the public and a man accused, guilty or innocent, carries a stigma.
Some might say Carter landed on his feet; others might say he suffered irreparable damage to his reputation and personal injury. You can’t push the public into moral positions, can you? And you can’t tell them not to make up their own minds, no matter how much evidence — or, lack thereof — you present.
Understanding of Truth
I’d like to pronounce your case instructive. But that’s pushing it. Let’s just say there there’s been carelessness in the way many men have engaged with women in the past. I’m not referring to those shamelessly invasive types for whom women are less people, more receptacles. You’re clearly not one of those. I mean men with a certain élan who can charm and seduce and who may genuinely believe women’s anticipations are congruent with their own. And men who are prey to captivating women whose inclination is to have sex with them.
I hope I don’t enrage women with this: You’d have to be pathologically naïve, or a simpleton — and a sexist simpleton at that — if you didn’t realize there are predatory women looking for trophies, and you are fair game and a trophy. After all, Mayorga remembers thinking, in line with many of those who accused her of lying, why would a guy like you ever need to rape anyone?
I doubt if there’s been another period in history when men have been so regularly repudiated, contradicted and denied the credibility they’ve traditionally taken for granted. My view is that truth today is shaped from the accumulating statements of previously silent women, not the unquestioned blandishments of men accustomed to controlling and determining their own and everybody else’s fates.
It doesn’t matter if all the multiple allegations of women encouraged by #MeToo are ultimately found to be true. What really matters is that the whole narrative initiated by the Weinstein case has started to challenge the presumed truth of powerful men and rattle a cage we’ve been stuck in for decades. In years to come, people probably won’t remember the Cristiano Ronaldo case, but I suspect they’ll look back at 2018 as the year in which our understanding of sex, rape and truth changed forever.
*[Ellis Cashmore is the author of Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life for Public Consumption. Updated: October 5, 2018, at 14:40 GMT.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.