It all started on Facebook. An editor at The Stranger saw a post accusing Matt Hickey of sexual assault. The editor passed the tip to reporter Sydney Brownstone.
Hickey had freelanced with The Stranger, but that made Brownstone more determined to dig.
He now awaits trial on rape charges.
According to Brownstone’s 2016 reporting, victims were approached online by someone named Deja Stwalley, who claimed to be a female recruiter for porn movie studios. She then scheduled women to audition. But Deja Stwalley didn’t exist.
Prosecutors say the alias was Matt Hickey impersonating a female recruiter. They allege he tricked women into having sex as an “audition,” pretending to be a photographer and filmmaker. He promised women work as adult film stars.
But the work was fake.
Journalist Sydney Brownstone met with the women. Three took their case to police but felt they weren’t being taken seriously.
“In the absence of justice rendered by the criminal justice system, I think journalists have the responsibility to hear what these survivors have to say,” Brownstone told Northwest Public Radio.
More women came forward after Brownstone’s reporting, which contributed to the current charges against Hickey. Prosecutors say Matt Hickey’s sexual assault history goes back to at least 2001.
Brownstone believes the news media has to continue aggressively covering sexual assault and harassment.
“It’s a slow moving cultural train,” Brownstone said. “But I’m hoping that cultural moments like these shed light that this is happening in a wide spread way.”
She believes the problem is in the state’s definition of sexual assault. With tricky nuances like the statute of limitations and how rape is defined legally, state law makes it difficult for survivors to press charges against their attackers.
Hickey has pleaded not guilty to four counts of rape, and could be tried this month.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled journalist Sydney Brownstone's surname as "Brownstein."