Scientology Kept Danny Masterson's Alleged Victims From Going to Cops, Prosecutors Say
The That '70s Show actor has been accused of multiple rapes.
After his first trial ended in a mistrial in November 2022, actor Danny Masterson is once again being tried on rape allegations brought forward by three women, all which he has denied. The women each claim that the That '70s Show star drugged and raped them between the years of 2001 and 2003. They did not come forward with their accusations until years later, and prosecutors have claimed that this is, in part, because of the Church of Scientology. Masterson is a Scientologist, and all three of the accusers are former members. Read on to find out how prosecutors have argued that the controversial religion intimidated and silenced Masterson's accusers and what his defense lawyers said in response.
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Masterson was charged with three counts of rape.
The investigation into claims made against Masterson began in 2017, and he was charged with three counts of rape in 2020, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. His first trial took place in 2022 and ended in a mistrial in November when the jury was unable to come to a verdict. This retrial began in April.
Masterson has pleaded not guilty to the charges, denied all wrongdoing, and is not testifying in his defense. When the allegations were initially made public, the 47-year-old actor was fired from his Netflix series The Ranch. He was also notably not included in the That '70s Show sequel series That '90s Show, which also aired on Netflix.
The prosecution says Masterson drugged the alleged victims.
The three alleged victims each claim that they became groggy and had gaps in their memories after being served drinks by Masterson, as reported by the Associated Press.
"The defendant drugs his victims to gain control," Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson said in court, according to the AP. "He does this to take away his victims' ability to consent. You don't want to have sex? You don't have a choice. The defendant makes that choice for these victims. And he does it over and over and over again."
Meanwhile, Masterson's lawyer, Philip Cohen, has reportedly focused on what he says are inconsistencies in the alleged victims' stories. "What she views as little inconsistencies are at the heart of trying to determine, 'Is somebody, reliable, credible, believable enough for a criminal conviction?'" Cohen said in reference to Anson. Furthermore, Cohen has pointed out that there isn't any forensic evidence that Masterson drugged the women.
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The prosecution says Scientology tried to silence the women.
Cohen and Anson have also argued about the role Scientology may have played. Anson has claimed that the women didn't come forward sooner because of their involvement in the religion.
"Like all predators, the defendant carefully sought out his prey," Anson said during closing arguments on Tuesday, May 16, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Most of his victims are members of the Church of Scientology, and that makes sense. The church tells his victims: 'Rape isn't rape. You cause this. And above all, you can't go to law enforcement.'"
The LA Times reports that the women all claimed that Scientology officials told them they weren't raped or stopped them from reporting their claims to police.
Cohen said in response to the prosecution's focus on the group's alleged influence, "Why have we heard so much about Scientology? Could it be that there are so many other problems with the government's case?"
According to the AP, the Church of Scientology has denied having any policy that discourages members from reporting to law enforcement.
Masterson faces over 40 years in prison.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Wednesday, May 17. According to Deadline, if Masterson is found guilty on all three charges, he faces over 40 years in prison.
In addition to this criminal trial, Masterson is named as a defendant, along with the Church of Scientology, in a civil case brought forth by four accusers in 2019, which is currently paused, as reported by Deadline. In this complaint, the women—two of whom are anonymous—claim that they were harassed, intimidated, and stalked after they came forward with claims against Masterson.
"This is beyond ridiculous. I'm not going to fight my ex-girlfriend in the media like she's been baiting me to do for more than two years," Masterson said in a statement to People via his lawyer, referencing one of the accusers. "I will beat her in court—and look forward to it because the public will finally be able learn the truth and see how I've been railroaded by this woman. And once her lawsuit is thrown out, I intend to sue her and the others who jumped on the bandwagon for the damage they caused me and my family."
A litigation counsel for the Church of Scientology told People, "From everything we have read in the press, this baseless lawsuit will go nowhere because the claims are ludicrous and a sham. It's a dishonest and hallucinatory publicity stunt." They added that former Scientologist and vocal critic Leah Remini "is taking advantage of these people as pawns in her moneymaking scam." As People notes, the claims against Masterson were featured in Remini's docuseries Scientology and the Aftermath.
If you have experienced sexual assault or abuse and are in need of crisis support, you can call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit online.rainn.org.