GoFundMe Defense

The Guys (And Girlfriends) Who Raise Money for Alleged Sexual Abusers on GoFundMe

'I started the GoFundMe to show awareness of being falsely accused of something I didn’t do. I feel like I should be a part of the #MeToo movement, because this will continue if we don’t stand up [for ourselves].’

Back in July, Molly Waite’s boyfriend, CFL defensive back Teague Sherman, was charged with two counts of sexual assault in response to allegations three female complainants made against him in November 2017. To help offset the legal costs of his defense, Waite created a GoFundMe for Sherman, claiming he “has/had no relationship with” the women accusing him and that “they just happened to be in the same place one night.” (Details about the case are minimal as both the authorities and Sherman’s attorney have said very little about it.)

“All victims deserve their justice, but what if that victim is the one being accused?” the GoFundMe page asks. According to Waite, Sherman’s legal fees are “already at $5,000 not including lost wages” (he was cut from the team, the Ottawa REDBLACKS, he was playing for), and “if the case actually makes it to court, [they] have been quoted at $30,000 to $75,000 for a trial on top of lawyer fees.” The GoFundMe currently stands at $185 of its $20,000 goal, with four donations primarily from friends and family in increments of $20 to $100.

A similar GoFundMe was recently started for Brett Kavanaugh, the new Supreme Court justice accused of sexual assault, by conservative columnist John Hawkins. It, however, has been much more successful, surpassing its $600,000 goal by nearly $12,000. Though Kavanaugh has a net worth of $1.2 million, Hawkins sees the campaign as a sign of support—financial and otherwise. “If there’s a GoFundMe for him and it’s got all these women contributors and it’s doing really well, [people might realize that] maybe there’s more support out there for him than [they] thought.” More largely, he says, “[Sexual assault is] one crime where people make a lot of false allegations—contrary to what you hear. If they can do that to Brett Kavanaugh, a man who’s lived a good and virtuous life, who can they not do it to? Do you think guys like you and me have a chance?”

“There are people, like me, who are willing to go out and fight for Brett Kavanaugh,” Hawkins continues. “[But] who’s willing to fight for me? Who’s willing to fight for you? If all it takes is an allegation, there will be allegations nonstop. It will happen constantly to people for every reason under the sun.” (To be clear, a report by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center asserts that the prevalence of false reporting on sexual assault is between 2 percent and 10 percent, adding “that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of inconsistent definitions and protocols”; in fact, a man is more likely to be a victim of sexual assault himself.)

For his part, Rich Mitchell, editor in chief of the website Conservative Daily News, created his Brett Kavanaugh GoFundMe Defense Fund as a way to “level the playing field” against what he believes to be a Democratic National Committee-funded accuser (Christine Blasey Ford) who he’s positive will “be given a book deal and movie deal,” and whose “lawyers will donate their time or it will be paid for by the DNC.” (His GoFundMe for Kavanaugh has been less successful than Hawkins, yielding only $7,400 of its stated goal of $500,000.) According to Hawkins, having ulterior motives, like he and Mitchell believe Ford had, “isn’t true for most women,” but he adds, “there’s always some kind of incentive people could come up with depending on how unbalanced they are or how unreliable they are.”

Or as Slate reported that a woman named Candace wrote on his Kavanaugh GoFundMe page, “Unable to donate disabled on fixed income can’t even afford to fix my vehicle. I have a GoFundMe page but no donations on it…I pray this family gets justice I’m sick of the SJW feminazis terrorizing people and destroying property. They are like rabid animals.”

Back where the public spotlight burns less brightly, two weeks ago, John Winchester started a GoFundMe of his own to recoup his bond of $205,000, which, per his GoFundMe page, his mother posted to get him out of jail after “I was falsely accused of sexual assault by a woman that I simply did not want to be with. She tried to ruin my life and should be punished for accusing me of this. She also said I kidnapped her, charged me with burglary and domestic violence.”

The charges against him, however, were dropped last year. “I never stepped foot in court, but I had to prove it because the girl said I did it,” he tells me. “She could make up anything she wanted, and I had to prove it. Yes, I was there, but none of that happened and I have all the documentation to prove it. The accuser wanted me to suffer only because I told her I didn’t want to be with her; so she waited nine hours to call the cops and come up with a plan to ruin my life.”

“I started the GoFundMe to show awareness of being falsely accused of something I didn’t do,” Winchester continues. “I feel like I should be a part of the #MeToo movement, because this will continue if we don’t stand up [for ourselves].”

As for Waite and her defense of Sherman, she doesn’t necessarily cite “feminazis” or the DNC for the charges against Sherman, but she does feel as though he’s up against an entire movement. “I strongly believe #MeToo has a large part to play in all of this,” she explains. “It’s helped many women get justice and come to terms with terrible things. But it’s also opened a door for people to manipulate the system. Now, simply looking at someone the wrong way or brushing past someone in a crowd can be ‘sexual assault’ or allows people to be accused of something that ‘occurred’ decades ago.”

“The GoFundMe’s main goal is to raise money for lawyer fees,” Waite adds, “but it’s also to gain awareness of how being accused of sexual assault affects someone’s life. So the campaign gives both financial and public support. When someone donates their hard-earned money, they have to believe in the cause. I started the campaign to fight back. Teague has lost his career as a professional football player, his home and has found it difficult to find a well-paying job due to this situation. And we’re only at the beginning of defending his innocence.”

The road ahead according to Paul Saputo, a defense attorney in Dallas, will likely cost somewhere between $25,000 and $100,000 and leave Waite and Sherman with few options (at least if they were in the U.S.). “You can risk it all and go to trial, or accept whatever plea bargain the state will offer you,” he explains. “Most people won’t want to risk a long prison sentence and will be coerced into accepting a probation deal, if one is offered. However, probation sentences still require registration as a sex offender. That stain will make it almost impossible for you to obtain steady employment, raise your housing costs because of the limited places you can live, put strain on your existing family relationships and generally make your life much more expensive.”

Financially, Kavanaugh is obviously in a different situation than either Sherman or Winchester, so Hawkins says his “perfect scenario would be all the money’s put into a bank account that they control and they do whatever they want to with it. I mean, theoretically they could buy a plane to circle Jeff Flake’s house and go, ‘You should’ve voted me in sooner.’ However, if they won’t take it or can’t take it, the next thing would be for the money to go to a charity of their choice.” (As of last week, the latest update to Hawkins’ GoFundMe says a staffer for Kavanaugh told him the family is “aware” of the fund, and they’re currently “waiting for word from the judge’s family on how he wants to handle all this.”)

Mitchell’s GoFundMe for Kavanaugh is experiencing a similar fate. “Ours actually isn’t intended to go directly to Justice Brett Kavanaugh or his family,” he says. “Its primary purpose was to defray legal costs, and if his law firm won’t take control of the account and the Kavanaughs don’t pick a charity, 100 percent of the money donated will be refunded.”

Things aren’t as clear for Sherman, who unlike Kavanaugh, wasn’t just appointed to a job that pays $255,000 a year. “If this does go to trial, [Sherman] will need a loan of $30,000 to $75,000, [which] is impossible for most people to pay,” Waite says. “How does someone even have a life after that? How does someone recover from the financial and emotional turmoil this has caused?”

Winchester certainly hasn’t. “I lost my job, money and friends, and it mentally ruined me,” he says. “She got away with it all. [If anything], she should be punished or ordered to pay everything I had to pay.”