Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash

When dealing with abuse there is a concept called perpetrator bias. What is perpetrator bias? Here is one example of it.

This article about John Wetteland, a former MLB pitcher who was arrested and charged with sex abuse of a child, ends with a rundown of his professional accomplishments. But what relevance does his pro sports career have to his predatory behavior? None, really (except that for some reason we care more about these stories when they involve famous people).

But think how this subtly blunts the impact of the allegations against him. MVP of the World Series! Member of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame! All-Star closer with 330 career saves! This is the article’s last word on John Wetteland—not that he has been criminally charged with sexually abusing a child under the age of 14, but that he was a really good baseball player.

In many cases of abuse, the perpetrator has family, friends, or fans who struggle to believe the accusations against him. “But he’s such a nice guy; I can’t believe he would do something like that.” Or in this case: “He had such an outstanding baseball career; could he really be a predator?” Our society subtly but powerfully reinforces those doubts with articles like these that focus more on the perpetrator’s good qualities and achievements than on his heinous crimes. Remember the uproar over Brock Turner, the college student who raped a woman and got an exceedingly light sentence? Central to the controversy surrounding his case were the numerous articles that portrayed him as an All-American swimmer from Stanford University instead of a rapist who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. This whitewashing of a perpetrator’s life happens all the time. Start paying attention to news articles about accused abusers and notice how often they end with a summary of the perpetrator’s talents, fame, or accomplishments.

The reality is that abusers come from all walks of life. They’re not just the creepy guy stalking that woman jogging in a dark corner of the city park. They’re successful businessmen. They’re famous R&B singers. They’re superstar athletes. They’re world-renowned doctors. They’re adored pastors. Don’t let the polished outward appearance of their life fool you—especially when they’re celebrities, whose careers are often built on idealized perceptions of their glamorous lifestyle. That’s exactly how so many of them get away with their crimes!

John Wetteland was a world-class athlete. He can also be a sexual predator who preys on children. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. The sooner our society figures that out, the sooner we can prevent more of our most vulnerable members from becoming the next victim.