“I grabbed her butt,” Michael continues. “She started to scream a little, so I put my hand over her mouth. I kind of walked her over to the beach and laid her down. I put my fingers in her panties. In her vagina. I started moving them in and out…All of a sudden she said, ‘I just had a miscarriage.’ It was like someone hit me with a hammer.” Michael shakes his head theatrically; I can’t help wondering if this is for Dr. Choy’s benefit. “I realized that I was exactly where I’d been with a woman so many times before. But this time I’d skipped a couple steps—I forgot to get her permission. I honestly felt bad. I stopped and I said ‘Man, I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me.’ I helped her off the sand and asked if I could do anything for her. She asked me to walk her home. And then I thought, ‘I’ve still got a shot at this! I might still be getting some!’”
Michael regards me unflinchingly, his cheeks faintly flushed—with pride or embarrassment about what he’s telling me, I don’t know. Having read the police report on his arrest, I know that even now, even in the presence of Dr. Choy, Michael is still minimizing the crime he committed and its effect on his victim, who told the police: “At one point he motioned with one hand towards his pants as if he was going to take them off. While he was doing this he stated, ‘I’m going to stick it in.’” Then, she said, as Michael was walking her home, “He said I’m sorry, I’m sick, I don’t know why I do this,’” and fled on his bicycle. Based on her description, Michael was arrested a few minutes later.
Sitting in this room with Michael, I can imagine how convincing he must have been. Even with the thirty pounds he’s gained since his heyday and his prison stay from July 1995 to August 2000, he’s still a young-looking, attractive man: blue eyes, blonde hair, the kind of face you might see smiling out at you from an online personal ad. He shows me photographs of himself as the ladies’ man he was in his thirties, before the steel bars of Folsom Federal Penitentiary came between him and the women he started ‘trolling’ for on a nightly basis in the aftermath of his divorce. Flipping through the thick stack of photos, Michael estimates that he had sex with a hundred women during that time. In many of those encounters, he admits, the line between forced and consensual sex was thin. “I wasn’t doing it for love or for any of the right reasons,” he says. “I was doing it to justify my manhood, to be able to tell my buddies about my latest caper.”
As he did the night he was arrested, Michael went out looking for women who were drunk, women who were lonely, women who were impressed by the cash he flashed around. Once he zeroed in on his target, he did whatever it took. “I’ve been what they needed me to be,” he told me. “If it’s the single mom, I’ll throw the kid up in the air and laugh; that makes them visualize that I could be the next dad. If they just got dumped, I give them a line like, ‘If you were my girl I’d never treat you like that.’ I call it ‘painting the picture’.”
Listening, I thought, Michael sounds like some of the jerks I used to date. And then I wondered: could any man become a rapist?
“The difference between what happened with that woman that night and all the others was just this: I put my hand over her mouth,” Michael acknowledges. “I didn’t have sexual intercourse with her.” But the California Penal Code provides for the many rapists like Michael who use objects other than their penises to sexually assault their victims. And so Michael was sentenced to six years (of which he served five years and two months) for violating Penal Code 289-a, “Forcible acts of sexual penetration with a foreign object…accomplished against the person’s will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person.”