Dozens of Kansas City area women agreed to have sex with Mario Ambrose Antoine.
But according to federal prosecutors, those agreements were tainted by Antoine’s deceit and false promises that they would be paid to star in nonexistent porn films. The 33-year-old Raymore man was in essence a serial rapist, prosecutors allege.
Antoine’s many victims allegedly were overcome not by force, but by fraud — what some experts say is an all too common scenario that is not widely recognized for what it really is: rape.
“When you lie to someone to induce sex, you are sexually assaulting someone,” said author and rape-by-fraud expert Joyce M. Short. “Consent is not just nodding your head. Consent is nodding your head while being knowledgeable and informed.”
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Short’s own experience as a victim of sexual fraud prompted her to write a book, “Carnal Abuse by Deceit: How a Predator’s Lies Became Rape.”
“I wrote the book to help others understand the tremendous impact it has on a person,” she said. “It undermines your self-esteem and makes you feel defiled.”
Short, who lives in New York, also operates the website rapebyfraud.com to highlight the problem and advocate for state laws that make it illegal to defraud someone into having sex.
In court documents filed by prosecutors in Antoine’s case, they note that he had used his cellphone to look at Short’s website.
He also allegedly did Google searches using terms like “rape by deception,” “rape by deception kansas” and “illegal to trick girls into sleeping with you.”
Investigators said in court documents that those searches “demonstrate his appreciation for the criminality of his predatory sexual behavior and demonstrate his willfulness in doing so.”
Short said that she was “pleased as punch” to hear that “my site was involved in helping to bring down this man.”
Antoine faces multiple charges in federal court in Kansas City. He allegedly tricked women into having sex by promising them large amounts of money to “audition” for adult films.
He allegedly used phony documents to make the offer appear legitimate. But the promised money was never paid, and in some cases he allegedly sent compromising photos of the women to their employers or significant others if they complained.
Since the charges were announced Monday, more than 25 additional potential victims of Antoine have contacted the FBI in Kansas City, an agent testified Thursday during a hearing for Antoine in U.S. District Court in Kansas City.
Some of those potential victims were under the age of 18 when they had contact with him, FBI Special Agent Trisha DeWet testified.
She said one caller reported finding pornographic images at the end of a video Antoine had provided when he was hired to videotape a wedding.
Antoine pleaded not guilty to the charges Thursday, and a judge ordered that he be held in custody without bond.
While Antoine is accused of various federal violations including wire fraud, cyberstalking, extortion and online enticement, Short has been pushing for state laws to recognize and punish sex by fraud as rape.
“It’s an uphill battle to get people to recognize how detrimental this crime really is,” Short said.
In her case, Short said she had a three-and-half year relationship with a man who told her multiple lies about who he was, including the fact that he was a married father of two children.
“It took me years of struggle to regain my dignity and self esteem,” she said.
Part of the problem many have with recognizing the problem of sex by fraud is getting people to change the way they look at consent in sex cases, experts said.
Patricia Falk, a law professor at Cleveland State University who has written on the topic, said there are many other ways besides force that a perpetrator can use to overcome a victim, such as coercion, blackmail or deceit.
“We shouldn’t have such a narrow understanding of what constitutes sexual assault,” Falk said.
Short said there is a difference between assent and consent, which must involve a knowing understanding of both the act and the actor.
“These women knew they were having sex,” she said. “But they didn’t know the motive of the actor who misrepresented his intentions.”
In most states, women who are defrauded into sex have very little recourse unless they were scammed out of money and the perpetrators can be prosecuted for financial crimes.
Missouri is one of the few states that criminalizes rape by deception and makes the distinction between assent and consent.
Under the Missouri law “consent or lack of consent may be expressed or implied. Assent does not constitute consent if it is induced by force, duress or deception.”
“The facts of any given case would be very important,” said Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd. “But Missouri law makes it possible to charge a person for tricking another person into sex.”
Federal prosecutors cited the Missouri law in their written motion seeking to have Antoine detained without bond.
“Antoine perpetrated an expansive scheme to induce dozens of women to engage in sexual activity with him with the promises of tens of thousands of dollars in payment,” they alleged in court documents. “Given the extensive deception involved in inducing these women to commit these acts, these encounters would constitute rape or sodomy under various Missouri statutes.”
While Kansas does not have a general deception law like Missouri, it does criminalize certain types of deceit when used to obtain sex. Those portions of the law involve the “knowing misrepresentation” of the sex act as a “medically or therapeutically necessary procedure” or if it was a “legally required procedure within the scope of the offender’s authority.”
“I’d be thrilled to see more states adopt the language for the rape law in Missouri,” Short said.
Authorities say that the investigation into Antoine is continuing. They are asking anyone who may be a victim to call the FBI at 816-512-8200.