Skepticism

Tarot Reader Accused of Raping Teen Girls

A Philadelphia man named Hector Ayala is on trial for raping one 15-year old and two 16-year old girls, allegedly tricking them into performing/receiving oral and vaginal sex in order to lift curses and avoid predicted misfortunes. The 15-year old has testified that the rapes began when she was just 13 and her home life was “getting complicated.” Ayala, age 59, was a family friend.

This is, obviously horrifying. Sadly, it’s also expected.

Of course, not all psychics (or even most, I hope) rape children. But, this horrific case does fit in with the usual modus operandi of the average psychic:

1. Identify a vulnerable person
This could be someone who has recently lost a close relative (hello, John Edward) or a young girl with a turbulent home life. Someone who is vulnerable will be looking for any kind of attention and validation, and will be more likely to buy whatever you’re selling.

2. Gain their trust
Get a TV show, dress up like a gypsy seer, offer a sympathetic ear, or just be a family friend.

3. Pretend to have supernatural powers
No psychic has ever proven under scientific scrutiny to have anything near to supernatural powers. Never. Ever. Therefore, it is perfectly safe to assume they are knowingly or unknowingly making it up. Ayala used tarot cards, but others have used crystal balls, “talking to the dead” acts, or faith healing.

4. Get what you want
For many professional psychics, the end goal is money, pure and simple. For others, they may just be seeking attention (like many of their victims, in fact). For Ayala, the end goal was sex and power over teenagers.

If Ayala is found guilty, I hope he goes to jail for a very long time. Because of the MO listed above, I’ve always been disturbed by psychics and their complete lack of humanity. In this case, it’s particularly frightening.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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17 Comments

  1. Here’s an even more disturbing thought: Ayala may have even sincerely believed that raping the girls was helping them. If people can believe that tarot cards can predict the future …

  2. What’s particularly frustrating about this case for me is that a few skeptics I’ve seen commenting on it are assigning blame to the victims here for being so gullible. Granted, it’s not as bad as blaming the victim in more traditional rape cases, but it still doesn’t sit right with me.

    Here’s how I see it: The reason we have statutory rape laws is that we don’t expect children under the age of 18 (varies a bit) to be able to give consent. This is an order of magnitude more so when the rapist is a trusted authority figure, as was the case here. One of the girls is even on record having wondered if it counted as rape (hint: If you ever wonder that, it’s rape), but she decided it wasn’t because he cared for her, so she thought at least. If it weren’t for his position as a friend and authority figure, this girl likely wouldn’t have consented.

    I wouldn’t go blaming the girls’ gullibility, either. If they aren’t mature enough to decide whether or not they want to have sex, we can’t expect them to be mature enough to exercise a healthy skepticism, particularly when their parents are supporters of mysticism, as I strongly suspect would be the case here. They haven’t learned yet to think about these things independently from accepting their parents’ opinions (which typically happens around late high school or university age), so we can’t blame them for not doing so. What perhaps they should have done is asked their parents specifically about this. If they did (which doesn’t seem to be the case here), then their parents would be guilty of gross neglect, while if they didn’t, then it’s a problem with their parents not making sure their children are comfortable coming to them about these things. Either way, I’d put any extra blame onto the girls’ parents, not them. Perhaps the solution is to teach children to think critically at a younger age, or perhaps we should work harder to keep all woomeisters out of business (legally, by educating their clientèle so they won’t give them their business).

  3. Ugh. this is horrible. I normally shy away from the “country justice” urges, but cases like this make it really hard to not go vigilante on this perv’s ass. in this case I feel doubly awful for these girls because they’re going to have to deal with so many more “I should have known better” feelings because of the nature of the set up. bad all around.

  4. Remember how with the gay demon thing I said we can’t really know whats happening because we we don’t know what the religious symbolism meant to the people doing it? Yeah, see that doesn’t apply to cases of clearly committed felony. I’m a big believer in life confinement with the option of suicide for this dude.

    Infophile is mostly right, better critical thinking would be good for kids, but it wouldn’t have made any difference here, as Marylove will say, Rape is caused by the addition of a rapist and nothing else.

  5. @Infophile: “the victims here for being so gullible. Granted, it’s not as bad as blaming the victim in more traditional rape cases, but it still doesn’t sit right with me.”

    I don’t at all agree that it’s “not as bad”. And what’s a “traditional rape case”, exactly?

    He took advantage of them and raped them, plain and simple. It’s no different.

  6. @truthwalker: And if it weren’t these girls, it would have been some other girls. This man took advantage of young girls, and if it wasn’t pretending to be a psychic, it would have been some other way.

    I guess it’s lucky he’s not a teacher.

  7. Yeah, you are. But if it makes you feel any better you consistently spouting the basics of feminist thought and occasionally tearing out the lungs (textually) of people who said sexist things encouraged me to actually read up on feminist theory.

  8. @marilove we’d probably agree on more arguing in person. Internet message boards aren’t really the best place for careful methodical truth seeking. Reading you yelling at people who don’t know feminist theory but are sure it is wrong is actually one of the reasons I visit the site. :)

    I think the really surprising thing is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen all the time. (Maybe psychic abuse is under-reported?) I guess the fact that most wingnuts sincerely believe they have powers and aren’t lying rapist hucksters is what prevents it from being a regular occurrence.

  9. I think I said about the same this on Friendly Atheist about this:

    If this was the 15 year old’s 19 year old boyfriend things would be different. That’s not the case, this was a man in his 50s who started grooming a 13 year old to get her to have sex with him. A kid that young IS gullible, that’s one reason they can’t legally consent. Sure some adults are just as gullible but unless they have some mental disability they are capable of making judgment calls a kid doesn’t.

  10. @marilove: “I don’t at all agree that it’s “not as bad”. And what’s a ‘traditional rape case’, exactly?”

    Latter point first, I was picturing the “forced at knifepoint in a dark alley scenario” when I wrote that, but chose not to go into it. Perhaps I should have, in retrospect, as it’s arguable that other forms are more common, such as date rape.

    My thinking for why the justification might not be as bad in this case is that it’s understandable how someone might not appreciate how this was so wrong at first. If they were bright and skeptical as a child and were taught very well how to avoid these types of situations, they might not be able to understand how it might be for another child. Pedophilia is fortunately something most people don’t have experience with, and a lot of people could do with an education.

    So, for some people who might try to assign blame to the girls, their crime is more ignorance than malice. If they persist once the details have been explained to them, or know it in the first place, then it’s just as bad.

    Of course, that’s all just weighing how I’d personally assign culpability. From another perspective, in how hearing such an accusation might affect the victim, it’s just as vile, if not more so. Such blame could affect a young girl drastically, perhaps even more so than a mature one.

    Personally, I detest blaming the victim in any sort of crime. But there’s a magnitude of difference between blaming the victim of theft because he walked through the slums with his money clipped to his suit and blaming a rape victim because she didn’t wear a burqa while walking home. Granted, the difference I’m talking about here is significantly more minor, and depends a lot on the specifics and your perception of how culpable people may be for blaming out of ignorance versus malice.

  11. @infophile

    Actually the ““forced at knifepoint in a dark alley scenario” is the least common of all rape scenarios at 2%. The other 98% our perpetrated by family, friends, and lovers. A better name than traditional rape is “Hollywood’s favorite rape”.

    Remember too that the vast portion of unpopular psychics are well meaning, kind hearted people with a penchant for magical thinking. There is no reason to assume that because someone is a psychic they are a rapist. (Sylvia Brown not withstanding.)

    “If they persist once the details have been explained to them, or know it in the first place, then it’s just as bad. ”

    I disagree. You cant assume they are as capable of rationality as you. It is as ridiculous for you to think all people are capable of rational thought and are choosing not to do it as it is for fundies to assume that evidence for God is clear, atheists are just choosing not to believe it. The law, and ethical people work to protect people who are too irrational to protect themselves.

    The man is not pedophile. Pedophiles have an obsession with prepubescent victims. The girls were both sexually mature. It’s still a crime, and to the victim the magnitude is the same, but as far as what sort of pathology drives the rapist, desiring sex with sexually mature children is not quite as antisocial as desiring it with 3 year olds.
    Pedophilic urges are totally unnatural. The other is a highly immoral expression of a natural urge.

    And I see where you are coming from with the money argument, but I disagree. People need money to live. No one needs sex to live. Every crime has context where it is justified. Homicide is justified in self defense, theft to live, etc. Rape the only crime that can never be justified.

  12. @truthwalker: One could extend that same argument to say that we can’t expect misogynists to be admit that victim-blaming is wrong in all rape cases, because they aren’t so capable of rationality. There’s an extent to which people are teachable, but beyond that, they’re just as culpable for malicious stupidity as for outright malice. You can boil everything down to genetic- and upbringing-based predestination if you want, but that doesn’t mean we should excuse wrongs. A murderer may have been destined to commit murder from birth given the arrangement of every particle in the universe, but s/he’s still a murderer, and we can still condemn it.

    @marilove: You may see it as walking a line, but I see it as different shades of gray. Or perhaps of black, if you prefer, as long as you let your color values go below 0 so we can agree that even if something like murder is black, genocide is much much worse. Just because someone espouses a bad opinion doesn’t mean they’re forever irredeemable. Some of them are honestly educable.

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