Darren Sharper

How former NFLer Darren Sharper was able to rape nine women in four states

Last month, former NFL player Darren Sharper accepted a plea deal admitting to “rape charges involving at least nine women in four states” between 2011 and 2014. His sentence is a ridiculously light 20 years, and he may be freed after just nine. 

Today, ProPublica, the New Orleans Advocate, and Sports Illustrated co-published a detailed investigation into how it was that Sharper avoided being caught for years, despite multiple open police investigations into allegations against him, before he was finally arrested in Los Angeles last year after assaulting four women within 24 hours.

Nine women reported being raped or drugged by Sharper to four different agencies before his January 2014 capture. But police and prosecutors along the way failed to investigate fully the women’s allegations. They made no arrests. Some victims and eyewitnesses felt their claims were downplayed. Corroborating evidence, including DNA matches and video surveillance, was minimized or put on hold.

Perhaps most critically, police did not inquire into Sharper’s history. Had they done so, they would have detected a chilling predatory pattern that strongly bolstered the women’s accounts.

…[E]ach of the cases involving Sharper, taken in isolation, presented prosecutors with hurdles. In secretly recorded phone calls with his victims, Sharper didn’t make incriminating statements. He moved fast, in one city one day and in another the next. He drugged many of his victims with powerful amnesiacs, resulting in cloudy or even non-existent memories.

But taken as a whole, the Sharper case underscores American law enforcement’s trouble with solving rape cases: Investigations are often cursory, sometimes incompetent, frequently done in ignorance of the suspect’s past sex assault history.

Sharper’s victims suffered the failures most. With Sharper, they encountered a man practiced in defense and deception. With police and prosecutors, they found deference toward the accused, and what often felt like disbelief concerning their claims.

The piece focuses on the police departments’ failure to look into Shaper’s background in other cities, which would have revealed a clear pattern of behavior. Looking for previous victims is recommended by official police guidelines — given that most sexual assaults are committed by serial predators. But despite the fact that an FBI violent crime database exists to make such cross-state checking easy, only 0.3 percent of rape cases ever get entered into the database.

Though long and hard to stomach, it’s required reading, as Jessica Luther tweeted, “if you are at all perplexed as to why/how rape cases dissolve away into nothingness.”

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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