Fifteen years ago, Haley Byrd considered Matt Hickey her friend.
Long before Hickey, a Seattle-based tech journalist, would be accused of using an elaborate, fake "porn audition" scam to coerce multiple women into sleeping with him, she and Hickey ran in the same Olympia social circles.
He and Byrd frequented the same all-ages music shows. Two of Byrd's high-school best friends eventually became Hickey's housemates. To Byrd, Hickey was friendly; he was cool.
And at the time, Byrd had no reason to think otherwise.
One Sunday night in October 2001, when Byrd was 21 years old, she and her friends had spent all day drinking before going to a friend's film premiere at the Capitol Theater. By the time the screening rolled around, Byrd says she was so drunk that she could barely stand. Keith Taylor, the man working at the concession stand where Byrd sometimes volunteered, remembers Byrd as "completely obliterated" that night, he says. "It was very obvious to me... That's why I took her aside to say she should go home."
Instead of joining her friends at a bar afterward, Hickey, who lived just blocks away and said he had to go walk his dog, volunteered to walk her home.
Byrd says that Hickey went up to his apartment to grab the dog, and she waited outside for him to come back down. "There was no Lyft or Uber back then," Byrd remembers.
Byrd waited for Hickey, but after what felt like an eternity, she hit his buzzer and he told her to come upstairs.
"The first thing he did was hand me a drink and say, 'You can sober up here,'" Byrd remembers. "And I kind of laughed and said, 'This is how you can sober up?' I tasted the drink, and it was the worst tasting thing I ever had in my life. He said it was because he only had tonic water and no ice. I remember sitting and drinking with him, talking, and I remember nothing else until the morning."
Byrd says she woke up the next morning in Hickey's apartment partly clothed and disoriented. She didn't know what had happened the night before, and she quickly gathered up her things and hurried home.
"I took off all my clothes and threw them in the trash," Byrd remembers. "I got in the shower and sat down. And as soon as I sat down, I felt this searing pain, because he had torn my vagina."
In June, The Stranger reported on Hickey's alleged porn audition scam, a pattern of deception that may have gone on for several years. Three victims of the alleged scam accused Hickey of obtaining sex from them by fraud; they further claimed that Hickey knew precisely what he was doing, relying on their silence and a loophole in local rape laws to keep the scam running.
But after the piece was published, three more women, including Byrd, came forward and told The Stranger that Hickey's abusive behavior toward women may have extended far beyond a fake porn recruiter profile. They say that years before the most recent claims, Hickey required no elaborate audition. They say he just employed the tried-and-true methods of a sexual predator: allegedly disarming them with charm, incapacitating them with alcohol, and, in one alleged instance, physical force.
Two of the women behind the new allegations have reported their stories to the police. Two of the women allowed The Stranger to print their full legal names.
Hickey (who was a Stranger contributor in 2009 and 2010) responded to our questions with a lengthy e-mail, denying the allegations. "This shit has been like an albatross and I'm happy to clear the air here," he wrote.
"She Basically Locked Herself in Her Room for Months"
After the night with Hickey, Byrd says she went into her room and stayed there for four days.
Byrd's employer at the time, Lanette Gutierrez, confirms that Byrd missed four or five consecutive days of work at the federally funded family literacy program Gutierrez once managed. "She didn't show up for work, which was unheard of for Haley," Gutierrez remembers. When Byrd finally did come in, she was in tears and told Gutierrez what happened.
"She felt destroyed," Gutierrez says. "It was a heart-wrenching thing."
Gutierrez worried that Byrd might hurt herself, so she put her in touch with women's counselors who worked at the literacy program. Byrd further sought assistance from SafePlace, an Olympia nonprofit that helps survivors of sexual violence. (SafePlace confirmed that Byrd used its resources in 2001.)
Byrd says that she eventually confronted Hickey about the alleged rape, but he told her it was consensual and that she had enjoyed herself. "I asked him if he had used condoms," Byrd says.
"And he said, 'Yes, until I ran out.' So I asked him how many times, and he said, 'I had three condoms and then it was two or three times after that.' So he raped me at least five times in one night while I was too drunk to stand up or walk home to my house, which was five blocks away," she says.
Byrd's friend Amanda Kalkwarf, a former housemate of Hickey's, remembers Byrd calling her the day after the incident. "I had to draw things out of her, but she was saying that instead of walking her to her house, he made her a drink and basically poured her a nice big tumbler of screwdriver, and that was the last thing she remembered," Kalkwarf says.
Kalkwarf says her friend spiraled into a depression that lasted for months after the alleged rape. "She fell out of school. She fell out of her job. She basically locked herself in her room for months."
Byrd chose not to report her alleged rape to the police at the time—a choice she now regrets. She was not alone. According to one 2011 study, only 15.8 percent of women who recently experience a rape report it to police. According to another meta-analysis published in 2015, as many as 60 percent of rape survivors don't even acknowledge that they were raped to themselves.
"Nonacknowledgment," as researchers call it, also happens to be closely associated with drug- or alcohol-facilitated rapes, as well as "incapacitated" rape.
The pervasive myth that most rapes are perpetrated by strangers with weapons dissuades many women from reporting rapes perpetrated by acquaintances after a night of drinking. But in reality, the opposite is true: Research shows that 82 to 85 percent of rapes are by someone the victim knows.
"I think there are multiple factors [in non-reporting]," says Dr. DJ Angelone, an associate professor of psychology at Rowan University in New Jersey who focuses on sexual aggression. He gives examples of the rationalizing that can occur. They think: "This is not a stranger. This is someone I have a limited relationship with. I don't want to get this person into trouble. As a woman, if I look at my situation, I begin questioning myself. You know, what I was wearing, maybe it was my fault."
And when a woman does bother to report a rape, the response rate by police and prosecutors isn't in her favor. Of the fraction of rapes that are reported to police, Angelone says that only a little more than 10 percent may lead to an arrest, and an even smaller percentage leads to prosecution and conviction. Research shows that while roughly one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, maybe only 3 percent of rapists will ever go to prison.
But Byrd says that she still tried to anonymously warn people about Hickey's behavior. For months, she scrawled "Matt Hickey is a rapist" on the walls of bar bathrooms. Her closest friends from that time period told The Stranger that they also tried to warn others, but nobody believed them.
The state's statute of limitations on rape prevents Byrd from pressing charges against Hickey today. (Rape in the first or second degree has to be reported to law enforcement within a year, and then there's a 10-year time limit to prosecute.) But she's no longer afraid to attach her rape allegation to her name. She says she feels that Hickey's porn scam allegations reflect an old pattern of behavior, one that's faced no consequences from the law and gotten only more audacious over time.
Hickey, now 40, denies that the encounter was nonconsensual; he says he repeatedly asked, "Are you good with this?" and when he realized that she "wasn't altogether 'there,'" he stopped. He wrote, "She certainly didn't seem 'belligerently drunk.'"
He added: "I don't know what she's talking about in regards to the multiple condoms and stuff—even back then in my 20s I sadly didn't have that kind of stamina."
October 2013: "I Woke Up Naked and Alone"
A woman I'll call Abby says that Matt Hickey raped her in the fall of 2013.
Abby was 29 when she met Hickey. They shared multiple mutual friends and sometimes chatted on a social-networking app called Crushee. Abby and Hickey even met up a couple of times. "He seemed like a nice, funny guy," she remembers.
This isn't easy for Abby to talk about. When I meet her at a coffee shop in Pioneer Square to talk about the alleged rape, her hands are shaking. She hasn't told many of her friends about what happened, she says.
On October 14, 2013, Abby says she had what she describes as a "gnarly" cold: "I was chatting with [Hickey] about how I felt like crap, and he was like, 'Have you ever had a hot toddy? That would help you.'"
Abby still has the Facebook messages in which Hickey told her he could drop by while he was in her neighborhood. He was already carrying lemons and whiskey in his bag. Abby says she took cold medicine and didn't feel like hanging out with him, but eventually relented.
"We hung out for a while and had hot toddies," Abby remembers. "After several of those, along with the cold medicine, I got blackout drunk. The next morning, I woke up naked and alone in my bed. There was a condom wrapper on the floor."
Abby says she stayed in bed the following day, crying and throwing up. "I was really ashamed and disgusted, and didn't know how to deal with that."
When Hickey messaged Abby a day later, she says she started shaking uncontrollably and told him she wasn't comfortable with what happened. Hickey told her she "didn't seem that out of it at all" and he thought that she liked him.
"Everything seemed fine, we even joked around afterward, so I was very confused later when she told me she was upset," Hickey wrote in his e-mail to The Stranger. "I'm still very upset and sad that she came away from it feeling troubled, but she made the decision on her own. Regretting the choice is not the same as not having a choice, which she had."
February 2014: "He Basically Forced Himself on Me"
Like Abby, Jasie Jackson says she met Hickey through a combination of online social networks and mutual friends. She says she swiped right on Hickey's Tinder profile and then agreed to go out for drinks after a mutual acquaintance vouched for him.
Jackson says that Hickey took her to a Capitol Hill bar. Jackson wasn't attracted to Hickey, but he seemed personable and charming.
As Jackson and Hickey continued to talk, Jackson says Hickey kept giving her limoncello shots. Jackson is about five foot three and says she doesn't usually drink more than two beers.
"By the time it was going to be like, 'It was nice meeting you,' I was three sheets to the wind, just because of [Hickey] passing me shot after shot after shot," she says. Jackson says that Hickey invited her over to his place to watch a movie, but she told him she needed to go because she hadn't eaten dinner. She also says that, at that point, Hickey took out his phone to order delivery pizza to be waiting at his place by the time they arrived. "All through my deflections of 'Oh, I need to go do this, I need to go do that,' he was like, 'Well, let me do that,'" Jackson says.
Jackson says that as soon as the pizza arrived, Hickey started groping her. She says she told him she wasn't interested, that she wasn't into it. She says she said "no," but he didn't stop. "He basically forced himself on me," Jackson says.
"I was clearly not into it," she says. "And he kept just being like, 'You like that, don't you? You're nasty, aren't you? You're a dirty girl, aren't you?'" I was like, 'No, not really. No, I'm not enjoying this.'"
And after that, Jackson says, she blacked out. The following morning, she woke up hungover and went directly to a friend's house. The same friend told The Stranger that when Jackson described what had happened the night before, "it sounded very much like a rape." Hickey says that while he and Jackson went on a date, they never had sex. "[Jackson] seemed to change her mind about everything... I was a bit disappointed but whatever." He added: "I felt bad that she didn't have a good time and still do."
July 2016: An "Active and Ongoing" Investigation
Both Abby and Jackson contacted the Seattle police about their experiences after hearing about the other allegations directed at Hickey. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) says its investigation of Hickey-related reports remains "very much active and ongoing," but Hickey himself says he has not yet been interviewed by police. A spokesperson for the King County prosecuting attorney says the case has not yet been referred to their office.
But Abby says the process of actually speaking with a detective has not been easy. She says she's called the department multiple times to file a report over the last month but has been discouraged by the SPD's slow response to her calls.
In a May interview with Captain Deanna Nollette, head of the SPD's Sexual Assault Unit, about the SPD's sexual assault investigations, Nollette acknowledged that alcohol- and drug-facilitated rapes are particularly tough cases for the department to solve.
"I think the popular notion is, for example, if you're intoxicated, you're incapable of giving consent, and therefore it's rape," Nollette said. "But the law says that you have to be 'incapable.' So it's a very clear legal standard, and yet the popular culture is leading women to believe it's a different standard."
According to Nollette, the prosecutor's office interprets the law to mean that police need proof—other than the victim's own recollection—that the victim was incapacitated to the point of being unconscious, unable to stand up unassisted, or drunk to the point of not being aware of what was going on.
Washington State law currently does not view "consent" as "affirmative consent," the idea that a person must communicate an affirmative "yes" to sex. In the absence of affirmative consent, it would appear that police need other people—bartenders, witnesses—to testify that a victim wasn't able to give consent in the first place. Nollette said that testimony about the ability to give consent from the victim herself wouldn't suffice.
A total of four women have told The Stranger they've contacted the police about Hickey: two who claim to be victims of the alleged porn scam and two who claim they were raped while drunk. But in recent weeks, Allysia Bishop, one of the women who alleges that Hickey used a fake porn recruiter profile to convince her to have sex with him by fraud, has been feeling increasingly disappointed by what she perceives as the police department's lack of progress on her case.
On July 11, Bishop posted about her frustration on Facebook. "If it was JUST ME I wouldn't be so upset," she wrote. "But it's so many of us, waiting around idly while our rapist carries on with his daily fucking life."