Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Sex-crimes cannot be blamed on victims

Editor's note: The following column contains graphic details of a sexual assault.

"Why didn't she go to the police?"

It's one of the most commonly asked questions about sexual assault, and on the surface, it makes sense. According to a report by Rana Sampson titled "Acquaintance Rape of College Students," less than 5 percent of college women who are raped ever report it to the police. If someone truly feels like a victim of crime, shouldn't they report it? And really, how will we ever stop rape if women refuse to go to the police?

Enter Jane Doe, of Orange County, Calif. Two years ago, Gregory Scott Haidl, 18, Kyle Joseph Nachreiner, 19, and Keith James Spann, 19, videotaped themselves with Doe, who was 16 at the time. They were later charged with 24 felony counts of rape.

Doe was at a party with the defendants, where she was allegedly given alcohol and marijuana until she passed out. Police also suspect she was given a date-rape drug to help knock her out. Over the next 21 minutes, the defendants proceeded to penetrate her vaginally, anally and orally with objects that included a lit cigarette, a pool cue, a glass bottle and their own penises. All of this was videotaped. Haidl saved the tape as "a souvenir."

Haidl eventually lost the videotape. It was discovered by people who turned it over to the police, believing the boys were having sex with a corpse.

Like many survivors of sexual violence, Doe had not reported the crime. Investigators used the video to track her down, at which point the matter was brought into the courts.

Enter the defense attorneys for Haidl, Nachreiner and Spann. How do you defend your clients in a case like this? Piece of cake. After all, this is America - where boys will be boys, and rape is in the eye of the beholder.

The defense began by exploiting a loophole in California's rape shield laws, which states that a "victim's prior sexual history cannot be used against them to undermine their credibility in court." This loophole has recently been closed, but at the time, it allowed the defense to bring up two key facts: Doe and Spann had consensual sex a week before the alleged rape, and Doe was sexually active.

Apparently in California, this makes it OK for Spann and his buddies to repeatedly assault Doe. After all, she was sexually active, so she must have wanted it (even though she was unconscious, an argument that was countered by stating the girl was "acting"). She probably lured those boys into forcing themselves on her. It was defense attorney Joseph G. Cavallo who asked the jury, "Why isn't she being charged with this crime?"

On May 7, the Orange County Weekly, reported that Cavallo described Doe in his opening statement as, among many other things, "a pathological liar," "a cheater, "the aggressor," a wanna-be "porn star," "a troubled young lady," "a tease" a "master manipulator," a "little opportunist," "a compulsive liar" and a "callous" drug addict and alcoholic who trimmed her pubic hair, bragged about liking group sex and once drank a beer in a car.

In other words, Doe either consented to what the boys did (because she's a slut) or else she deserved it (because she's a slut).

Sadly, this approach worked. On June 28, a mistrial was declared. The jury could not come to agreement on any of the 24 charges.

Forget that the boys slapped Doe to make sure she was unconscious. When she didn't respond, one of them turned to the camera to say, "All right, she look pretty much good."

Forget that Doe's body had to be dragged onto a pool table so she could be violated with the pool cue, or that Nachreiner disappeared for 15 minutes to prepare Doe's drink, even though the bottle and cup were both in the room with them.

Forget that Doe was so unresponsive, she urinated on herself in the midst of the assault, that a nurse found 10 "jagged" tears in Doe's rectum and many more in her vagina.

Forget evidence. Forget the law. The defense convinced the jury that Doe was a slut, and the slut card trumps both law and evidence.

Be honest. How many of us decided this crime wasn't quite as serious when we found out Doe had consensual sex with one of the perpetrators a week before the incident? How many of us changed our mental image of Doe when we learned she was sexually active?

Where did we learn that if a woman is sexually active - even promiscuous - then she deserves whatever happens to her? She deserves to be drugged and raped. Forget the three accused boys who deliberately chose to violate and use this girl - Doe was asking for it.

That's the message the defense tried again and again to drive home. That's the message that drove a wedge through the jury, leaving them deadlocked.

Doe is not unique. A 2000 study of college women, "The Victimization of College Women," during a seven-month period found a total of 35 rapes per 1000 students. On a campus the size of MSU, with approximately 20,000 female students, that's 700 rapes.

Most of us are not rapists. I believe most people would find the actions of these three boys abhorrent. Nor are most of us as blindly aggressive as the defense attorneys, loudly proclaiming that rape victims have it coming.

We are the jury. We are the ones who hear about rape through newspaper and television, through word-of-mouth and gossip. We are the ones who judge. We are the ones with the power to support survivors who come forward, and we are the ones who can drive them back into silence.

Doe's case is scheduled for a new trial Aug. 6.

Jim Hines is the MSU Safe Place male outreach coordinator. He can be reached at jchines@sff.net.

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