The rape trial against That ’70s Show actor Danny Masterson is moving quickly. Last week, a Los Angeles judge determined that there is enough evidence in the rape case against Masterson to proceed to trial, and it looks like it will be as much of a referendum on Masterson as it is on the Church of Scientology.
Three women took the stand during a four-day preliminary hearing, recounting incidents of sexual assault allegedly committed by Masterson in his home in the 2000s. As previously reported, Masterson is accused of raping a 23-year-old woman in 2003, a 28-year-old woman later that year, and a 23-year-old woman in 2001. In June 2020, Masterson was arrested and charged with three counts of rape by force or fear; he faces up to 45 years in prison. But Masterson wasn’t alone in his fight against the three rape allegations: The Church of Scientology allegedly helped keep the story under wraps for well over a decade.
Masterson’s attorney, Thomas Mesereau, requested that mentions of Scientology be kept to a minimum, claiming that investigators had a religious bias against Masterson. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo practically laughed them out of court. The Los Angeles Times reports that “Olmedo slapped down the request, saying she found it ‘interesting’ that Mesereau argued Scientology should have little to do with the case, but also referred to the church ‘88 times in a 29-page brief.’” Each woman alleged that Church officials tried to stop them from reporting Masterson to the police.
From the Los Angeles Times:
One woman testified that a church official instructed her to write a statement showing she would “take responsibility” for a 2001 assault, in which she alleges Masterson raped her while she was unconscious.
Another woman, who was born into Scientology and planned to report Masterson to police in 2004, a year after she said he raped her at his Hollywood mansion, recounted how a Scientology attorney showed up at her family’s home. The lawyer, according to the woman, warned that she would be expelled from the church if she went to authorities.
“We’re going to work out how you can not lose your daughter,” the attorney told the woman’s father, according to her testimony.
Testimony at Masterson’s preliminary hearing at times was as much an explanation of the church’s processes and cryptic vocabulary as an accounting of the actor’s alleged sexual abuse.
This vocabulary includes phrases like “knowledge reports,” which is basically an anonymous snitching report; “O/W write ups,” short for “overt and withhold,” in which one confesses to wrongdoing or guilt in a detailed write-up; and “wog-law,” a derogatory term for the justice system and law enforcement. But one of the most consequential concepts presented at trial was that of “suppressive acts.” In 2004, one of Masterson’s victims said she confided about the alleged rape in a letter to Scientology’s “international justice chief,” considered the Church’s ultimate authority on disputes between members, and asked permission to report Masterson to the police. In his response, the chief said that doing so would violate Scientology doctrine against “suppressive acts,” practices performed by someone who intends on undermining Scientology. This could lead to disconnection, an aggressive form of shunning. Newsweek reports that the woman was also told to “take responsibility” for her own alleged rape in the form of a written statement.
The Church of Scientology is very protective of its celebrity clientele, so exposing allegations of rape against Masterson is regarded as an attack against both Masterson and Scientology. Masterson’s accusers were Scientology members at the time of the alleged attacks, and as such, the Church’s warnings were largely heeded. At least, for a while. The aforementioned woman eventually went to the police with her allegations, but the district attorney’s office initially declined her case. When more women came out against Masterson in 2016, though, her allegations got a new lease on life. In March 2017, the Los Angeles Police Department launched an investigation into Masterson.
Masterson maintains his innocence. He will arrive in court for a new arraignment on June 7.