My Favorite Customer Turned Out to Be a Sexual Predator
When regular customers feel like your friend, even though you know nothing about them
One of the things that you miss when you’re sheltering in place is social interaction. There’s something about chatting with a favorite bartender or having a regular customer. You don’t know them but you enjoy interacting with them.
Sometimes, someone that you barely know can make your day with a smile or a kind word and in turn, they go from being a stranger to someone you let your guard down around. People that you interact regularly can become almost a friend.
*Steven was my favorite customer at the video store where I worked. I looked forward to him coming into the store because it was a pleasant diversion.
To be honest, I have trouble remembering his face.
His long-flowing lady-hair is another matter — I remember that vividly. His golden locks were straight and yellow-blonde, and I wondered if like Samson, his hair possessed magical powers.
His unfashionable biker shorts irritated my co-workers to the point that they’d make mean comments about both his appearance and his distinct lack of cool.
This was some time ago — not as far back as you might think when you hear the words “video store”, but before the #MeToo Movement.
No one understood why I liked him, which made me feel protective of our friendship. He was mine in a way, and I didn’t have to share him for the 15 minutes he browsed in the store.
Though I didn’t have much evidence to go on, I believed he was a good person. He had charm, which wasn’t something that I found a lot of (or any) working in a video store, and he had a quality about him that made me feel safe.
I prided myself on being an excellent judge of character and no matter how much my co-workers teased me for liking him, I stayed consistent in my admiration.
And when he was ready to check-out with his DVDs, he’d wait for me to help him. I was sure it was because he enjoyed our conversations, not because I gave him free rentals.
The store I worked at was the OG of independent video stores, one of the stores that everyone assumed Quentin Tarantino worked at. He didn’t, but the writer of “Ready or Not” did.
As movie-snobs, we judged our customers by the movies they rented. If their selections were too new or mainstream; we’d instantly cross them off as someone not worth engaging with, unless they were in the industry — then they were automatically hip enough to rent anything they liked without judgment.
Steven never took out anything intellectually or emotionally challenging, but he also didn’t rent any porn either. (This was a big plus because it prevented him from returning his DVDs with used condoms stuck between them the way one customer did or try to disguise it by renting a bunch of vintage films along with it.)
I loved it when he’d bring me freshly baked bread or bottles of wine, even though I had told him I wasn’t a wine drinker. He treated me in a kind, yet effortless way.
He was like honey with his Southern accent, his blonde hair, and his almost too sweet behavior, but I ignored the tiny voice in my head that warned me he might be too good to be true. I prided myself on being an excellent judge of character and no matter how much my co-workers teased me for liking him, I stayed consistent in my admiration.
When you work with the public, it’s easy to form a bond with some customers, and like other relationships, those connections reflect on you. You don’t want your special customer to be an asshole and you don’t want them to be noticeably peculiar as if they’re serial-killer in training.
I was sad when he eventually moved away, as I knew there’d be no chance of ever seeing or hearing from him again, and this would prove to be true after I stopped working at the store a few years later.
Every so often, I’d wonder whatever happened to him — if he was still baking bread or if he had finally started putting his long hair into a man-bun, and I might do a lazy search for him.
I googled Steven many times over the years but never had a hit, until one day when the internet broke open and I found his picture. Yes, it was my customer, only older, and without the long hair.
However, the picture I was looking at wasn’t a Facebook profile pic; it was a mugshot.
The headline over the picture read, “Man posing as massage therapist accused of sexually abusing clients”.
I felt nauseous, hot, and as if my stomach was turning in a counter-clockwise position. But, it was more than disappointment or shock that I was feeling — it was disgust with myself for being so wrong about him.
I searched further and found a lot of information confirming his illegal activities including court documents, newspaper articles, and a video from a news broadcast.
He was an abuser, there was no denying it.
According to one newspaper article, Steven claimed that he had completed medical school and 15 years of training. However, at the time of the incidents, he’d only recently graduated massage therapy school and had zero years of training. He was charged with two counts of Forcible Sexual Abuse, a second-degree felony.
In one of the documents, one witness told how she’d been having back pain and was referred to Steven. During the massage, he informed her that he needed to massage her near her vagina. She agreed but became alarmed when he started touching her vulva.
When she objected, he passed it off saying that it was crucial for the effectiveness of the therapy for him to be hands-on. The therapy session was terminated after he tried convincing her that his actions were therapeutic, not sexual.
Steven used his likability to get his clients to trust him and then took advantage of that trust by sexually assaulting them.
Another witness recalled that Steven told her he needed to do some “internal work in her vagina.” He then put his fingers in her vagina, moved them around. Afterward, the witness saw him put his fingers in his nose.
Investigators said he sexually assaulted the two victims, and that at least a dozen additional victims came forward with various complaints of unethical behavior.
Steven was charged with sexual battery. His attorney stated that Steven was innocent and he was eager to fight the charges. She said that Steven took out a multi-million-dollar insurance policy to open a business and that the accusers weren’t after justice; they were after his money.
Several supporters (perhaps other people who considered him charming) established a defense fund for him.
The next article I read was dated a few months later. His original attorney was no longer on the case. His new lawyer, a man, was quoted as saying that when Steven worked in sensitive areas like the upper thigh, it was reasonable that a woman could mistakenly think they were being rubbed in another area.
His lawyer went on to elaborate on how a woman could mistakenly think that someone was touching them “if they’re naked under a sheet and have their eyes closed,” and this may have led to the women’s misunderstandings of what happened.
In the end, there were problems with getting Steven’s victims to testify, so his felonies were reduced to misdemeanors. He was sentenced to 36 months probation and banned from working as a massage therapist.
He wasn’t charged with any kind of sex crime, didn’t have to register as a sex offender or sign up for any therapy.
I wouldn’t have known any of this if I hadn’t wondered what had happened to my favorite customer, and part of me wished that I had never thought of him again.
He was an abuser, a con man, and I hadn’t picked up on any of it.
Trusting our instincts isn’t always enough in this world, and it pays to be cautious and careful. I learned that just because someone seems kind or looks like a good guy doesn’t mean they are and that you can’t always trust your judgment.
No matter how strong or sensible we think we are; we can’t ever assume that we’re safe. Appearances don’t tell the whole story and sometimes they can blind you to the truth about somebody.