Pickup Artists’ Rape Survivor: ‘I Had to Do My Part to Break the Cycle’
After bringing her rapists to justice, an exclusive interview with a woman who infiltrated the online pickup artist community to investigate her own assault.
A woman’s mission to find and prosecute the men who raped her while she was drunk and unconscious in a downtown San Diego apartment ended this week, after a third man was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in her attack—the maximum term possible under California law.
Friday’s sentencing of Jason Berlin, 28, wraps up a years-long investigation, undertaken in large part by the victim herself—a woman whom The Daily Beast has called Claire in previous exclusive reporting on the proceedings—and concludes a first-of-its-kind case that indicted not only Berlin and two co-defendants, 27-year-olds Jonas Dick and Alex Smith, but an entire underground community of so-called pickup artists, whose techniques San Diego Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Fraser likened to a “sophisticated criminal enterprise.”
“There were many times that I wanted to give up,” Claire told the Daily Beast in an interview after Berlin’s sentencing. Though Claire has testified at trial and spoken directly to her attackers during three different sentencing hearings, until now, she has never spoken to reporters about the incident.
“I thought about just burying this deep down, trying to forget about it and move on the best I could with life,” she said. “But knowing that there were other victims associated with these three men and the thought of countless future ones from not only them but other pick-up instructors and students, I felt I had to do my part to break the cycle.”
Claire was raped in October 2013, after a night of heavy drinking in San Diego’s trendy Gaslamp Quarter. Alex and Jonas were working as paid instructors for a company called Efficient Pickup—a private company that promised to teach “rejection proof” techniques for sleeping with women, delivered via online courses and in-person ‘bootcamps”—when they approached Claire and her friend outside one of the the bars at closing time. Within minutes they were escorting the women to their apartment where their “student” Jason Berlin was waiting. Jonas occupied Claire’s friend, at one point hiding her phone so she wouldn’t be “distracted” (or able to call for help, the prosecution argued) while Claire got sick and passed out in Alex’s room. Alex raped Claire, then called in Jason to do the same. When Claire’s friend came in to check on her, she found her naked and face-down in her own vomit. The men laughed as Claire came to and put her ripped dress back on. Before throwing the women out—“like a bag of laundry,” according to Jason—Alex bragged, “We just tag-teamed your friend.”
Despite calling the police from outside the apartment door, filing an immediate report, and submitting to an hours-long, invasive rape kit test, a month after Claire’s rape the police had made no arrests. They hadn’t even questioned any of the suspects.
With her case stalled, Claire began sleuthing on her own and soon located all three men online, in the shady corners of the anti-feminist Internet known as the manosphere, where pickup artists congregate. Claire found their profiles on Efficient Pickup’s now-defunct website as well as their postings on the forum of Real Social Dynamics—a multi-million dollar industry leader in the pickup world. She then stumbled on Alex and Jason’s “field reports,” or personal blogs where the men, using alter-egos, blogged about their exploits. It was there Claire read two detailed accounts of her attack.
“It’s indescribable to explain what it’s like to read about your own rape in journal format,” Claire said in a statement at Berlin’s sentencing.
Claire printed out the field reports, and for good measure, created an infographic for police showing in detail the relationships between her rapists, the companies they worked for, and the private blogs in which they documented their crime, and handed it all over to investigators. Police then brought Claire’s file to Deputy District Attorney Lisa Fox.
“Most report of rapes of an intoxicated or unconscious person are very difficult to prosecute,” Fox told The Daily Beast. But the amount of evidence Claire provided, Fox said, was “incredibly rare.”
A search warrant was finally issued, blood samples were taken to match against Claire’s rape kit, and in short order all three men were arrested.
Jonas and Jason both pleaded guilty to Claire’s rape in 2015. Alex held that Claire had consented and went to trial in 2016, where a mostly-male jury found him guilty on two counts of rape. Both Jonas and Alex were sentenced to the maximum of eight years in prison. At Alex’s sentencing in December, Judge Fraser told him, “This is not a hard decision at all. In fact, if I could give you more time I would.”
Berlin signed on as a cooperating witness and testified at Alex’s trial last year. On the stand, Jason took little blame for Claire’s rape, but served a purpose nonetheless, explaining to jurors the unique language and philosophies of the pickup community—information that Fox said was helpful in securing Alex Smith’s conviction.
Berlin told jurors how he paid for an apartment close to the bars for late night drunk pulls. (They called the apartment the “train station.”) He defined numerous words like “shit tests,” and “resistance”—terms that pickup artists use to describe a woman’s rejection—and detailed practices like “plowing through” and “rinse and repeat” to explain how the best pickup artists don’t take “no” for an answer.
The partnership with prosecutors was one Jason Berlin hoped would, but was not guaranteed to, result in a more lenient sentence than the ones received by his former teachers, Jonas and Alex.
It did not.
“[Jason] pled because he wanted to get the best sentence possible, to save himself,” an unmoved Judge Fraser said on Friday, before handing him the maximum.
Jason’s attorney Vikas Bajaj had requested probation, arguing his client had Asperger’s syndrome, which makes social cues difficult to process. “Mr. Berlin is about as naive as they come,” Bajaj said.
Fraser rejected Bajaj’s excuses, as well as the prosecutor’s recommendation of six years for Jason’s testimony in Smith’s trial, saying Jason had shown no remorse, and lied on the stand about Claire giving consent.
“I thought [Jason] was going to admit a crime,” Fraser said, before remanding him to state custody to begin his sentence. Jason had been free on bond awaiting the resolution of Alex’s trial.
“They both raped her and both laughed about it and blogged about it afterwards. This is for a woman he does not know. There was a high, high degree of callousness. He made the victim into a sex object. If he had told the truth, we would be looking at a very different sentence.”
In a statement read before his sentencing, Jason said he was embarrassed and ashamed for his actions, but also painted himself as a socially awkward victim of Alex and Jonas, and ultimately the pickup mindset in general.
“This incident occurred at a time when I was questioning my life and was very confused,” Jason began. “I was a workaholic and seeing success, but still felt empty. I did not have many friendships or romantic relationships as my entire life revolved around my work. Multiple people advised me to have more balance in my life and I was encouraged to work on developing my social skills. I became impatient and embarrassed when I was unsuccessful in developing friendships and relationships with women. I then made the biggest mistake of my life and began paying thousands of dollars for what I naively believed was a mentorship. I did not intend to do any harm or to take advantage of anyone. This was completely out of character for me and I assure you this will never happen again … I made a big mistake and caused the victim a type of harm that no one should have to suffer and for that I’m very sorry.”
But Jason minimized his involvement in both his testimony and his prepared statement, and still has yet to show real remorse, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Fox told The Daily Beast.
“To call it a mistake is such an understatement,” Fox said.
“The people who engage in [these pickup techniques] need to know that it's not a game. And as you can see by the judge’s sentence, it will be taken seriously. This is rape. The bottom line is if a person can’t consent because they’re intoxicated or unconscious—and that’s what some of these pickup communities are teaching–it’s rape. When you have a whole plan to go to a bar at closing time, pick up drunk women, sleep with them, and brag about it online? It really is evil to its core.”
Claire agreed that Judge Fraser’s sentencing sends a strong message, a fact that “eases her mind a bit.” Still, Claire said there’s a part of her that feels unsettled.
“Since I found out about this pick-up artist community, this event has spurred a lot of discussion in and outside the seduction community. It was alarming to hear how people—men, women, mothers, daughters, people of all ages—were quick to blame the victim. That I shouldn't have done this or that,” she said.
“The list of warnings to women, that they need to more careful by carrying pepper spray or learning self-defense—it both angers and saddens me. It again places the responsibility on women to "Don't get raped" when really, as a society we should be teaching, ‘Don’t rape.’.”
But now that Berlin has been sentenced, Claire said she’s looking forward to re-focusing her energy back to herself, “to be free to make the transition from victim to survivor.”
Through with writing victim impact statements and diving down pickup community rabbit holes, Claire is looking forward to getting back to her work in the tech field and practicing self-care. But she also knows her rape and the long court battle has emotionally and physically changed her—and expects to be fighting for other victims in the future.
“All the spare energy I've had since that terrible night has been spent on fighting for this case to be considered and battling to seek justice for not only myself, but for the other victims, both known and unknown, and for any future ones,” Claire told The Daily Beast. “But I will continue the fight—to bring awareness of this pick-up artist industry, support causes and organizations to keep other men that follow the same methods as Alex Smith, Jonas Dick, and Jason Berlin off the streets, and to continue to console and empower other victims to have their voices heard and seek justice.”