Via Mark Kleiman, this very readable six-part series about a wealthy businessman and pillar of the community, Dick Dasen, who over the years paid “hundreds” of women to have sex with him. At first, he met the women through abusing his position as a volunteer credit counselor. Later, he quit doing the credit counseling and instead paid women who were already taking money for sex from him “referral fees” for finding new recruits.
Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be an especially tempting deal for young, female meth addicts.
At some point in the last few years, the appointments had gotten out of hand. Huge sums of money… estimated between $1 and $5 million total … were flowing out. Dasen told police that he had paid some women as much as $100,000. The women involved referred to themselves as “Dasen girls,”? and they recruited among their friends, taking payments of as much as $2,000 just for bringing in anyone new who was young, thin, reasonably good-looking, and down on their luck. Since methamphetamine is perhaps the greatest luck-destroyer on earth, many of the girls came into the circle by way of using the drug. So much of the cash flowed directly back into the methamphetamine trade, law enforcement officials say, that Kalispell, population 15,000, experienced a big-city style epidemic of addiction and all that goes with it — crime, domestic abuse and violent conflicts over drug deals and money.
Dasen used the money to play power-trips with the women. And it doesn’t appear that the women were able to use the money to improve their lives much:
Another part of the power, Jenna and Summer said, was to stop payment on the checks that were written to the women for sex. “You’d go to cash the check, and the bank teller would say there was no money in that account, and then you’d go call Dick, and he’d be out of town,”? Summer says, “and it would be right when you needed the money the most.”? And then they would wait, as long as it took, for him to call them back and tell them the money had been deposited to cover the check. “That’s how I finally lost my trailer,”? Jenna said. “The money didn’t come through in time, and they foreclosed on it.”?
There is little doubt that the flow of money, when it did come — and it usually did, eventually — was not the lifesaver that everyone imagined it would be. It seemed like just another trick, kind of like the meth they all bought with it, that seemed like it would make everything alright, but actually it just disappeared, wrecking your life in the process.
“I don’t know of anybody who did anything positive with the money,”? Connie said. Thousands and thousands of dollars went into local keno and poker machines, hours and hours spent sitting, high on meth, staring at the blinking lights, smoking.
The end result? Some of the women who came forward have been arrested for prostitution, or for recruiting. Dasin himself is facing a trial, and it’s possible he’ll be able to wiggle out with a slap on the wrist – it’s a safe bet that he’ll have the best legal defense available. The most serious charges involves sexual encounters with underage girls. Maybe Dasin will spend a long time inside a prison – I think he deserves it.
But what if Dasin had been smart enough to avoid involvement with underage girls? Then he’d be facing virtually no serious charges. That disturbs me. The power dynamic between a broke meth addict and a sober millionaire is like a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Woody Allen; taking advantage of that power dynamic to negotiate for sex is despicable. I’m not sure that the resulting sex in that situation is rape, but I can’t call it fully consensual, either. We call sex between an adult and a 14-year-old statutory rape because a 14-year-old is not able to genuinely consent to sex, even if she thinks she wants to. By that standard, can a meth addict be said to genuinely consent to prostitution?
On the other hand, at least one of Dasen’s “victims” would be pissed off by my view:
You know, everybody’s talking about Dick, how he gave us all this money and made us victims, like we can’t take any responsibility for ourselves. I don’t buy that. I’m a grown woman and I’m responsible for what I do, and for what I did with the money. You ask if I’m pro-Dick Dasen, and yes, I am. Dick for Mayor! I notice nobody is asking if just maybe Dick is a victim of all of us. How come nobody’s asking that?
So what kind of punishment should men like Dasen get?
The legal penalties for sex crimes with underage girls are fairly clear, and severe. But what should be the sanction, legal or otherwise, for enabling addiction, for feeding the meth economy, for taking advantage of weak, desperate people for your own gratification, for abusing a position of trust?
My instinct is that men like Dasen deserve whatever punishment the law can make stick. But I’m skeptical about how “victimless” crimes are enforced in real life; there’s a lot of evidence that the people arrested for such crimes are disproportionately non-white and poor. (That’s one reason I don’t favor handgun bans). Dasen’s story is making the news because a rich, white man being charged with these crimes is a novelty.
Plus, is it really practical to make “enabling” a crime? In law, I think people should be responsible mainly for their own acts, not for acts by others.
I don’t have answers. But anyone who (like me) favors drug legalization or prostitution decriminalization should be willing to think hard about this story. As the reporter asks, “what’s the lesson of a case in which a long series of ‘victimless’ crimes somehow resulted in a lot of victims?”