More than two years ago, a young woman came forward about a pair of police offers who had been called to escort her from a taxi to her home because she was too drunk to make it alone. She said the officers came back to her apartment and that she came to consciousness to find one of the men raping her.
We still don’t know her name, but we know a lot more about how she feels after the ordeal of pressing charges against the two officers in a rape case that was watched around the country. The idea that law enforcement officials would take advantage of the person they were charged to protect caught the attention of many, as did the video footage showing the cops returning several times to the woman’s apartment, and recordings of a bogus 911 call they allegedly placed in order to put themselves at the scene.
The offers were fired and convicted of lesser charges; but the jury’s “not guilty” verdict on the rape charges prompted widespread shock, difficult conversations about how society views rape and even an impromptu rally.
Last night, the alleged victim, 29 and now living in California, released a statement that was utterly compelling and shed light on her ordeal.
I have waited two and half years for closure that will now never come. Hearing that verdict brought me to my knees; it brought me back to my bedroom on that awful night when my world was turned upside down by the actions of two police officers who were sent there to protect, but instead took advantage of their authority and broke the law. Everything they say about the difficulties of a rape trial is sadly true. One’s word is not enough in these days of CSI and DNA. Even if people believe you, you are tested beyond what any crime victim should have to endure. While on the witness stand, the defense attorneys seek to shame and humiliate you for hours, even days, with deeply personal questions about your body, your intimate life and your social life simply because you dare to come forward. How saddening, how utterly disheartening.
The statement also contained an overwhelming amount of gratitude toward the woman’s family and friends, and to the team at the District Attorney’s Office, whom she said “gave me a voice after a night when I had none.”
As for why the verdict turned out the way it did, Women’s eNews has an exclusive interview with Melinda Hernandez, one of the jurors, who says she is a feminist and is absolutely devastated by the outcome of the case.
The entire Q&A is a must-read. Most crucially, though, Hernandez said she had major concerns about the way evidence was handled, including the fact that it went through a New York City Police Department lab instead of an independent lab. And she said she wished women’s groups had been protesting during the trial instead of just after the verdict.
Of the accuser, Hernandez said:
There was no doubt in her mind about what had happened. A woman knows when she is penetrated. But without any evidence, it couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. And if there is a reasonable doubt you must acquit.
Still I wonder if the jury wasn’t overly influenced by the alleged victim’s drunkenness, as multiple quotes from jurors have indicated.
One has to wonder what would have happened if it had been a young man in the cab and the police called to protect him and take him home had chosen to beat him up and rob him instead. Would his lack of sobriety have been quite as big a sticking point? My firm guess is no. We have a lot more work to do, a lot more interrogation of our own beliefs and a lot more training of cops and of jurors to combat the ingrained prejudices that seep into our worldview when it comes to notions of consent.