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Thread: How A Rape Case Went Off The Rails

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    Elite Member witchcurlgirl's Avatar
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    Default How A Rape Case Went Off The Rails

    When University of Iowa graduate student Rebecca Epstein reported to police that she'd been date-raped, she hoped she'd get justice. But because of the circumstances of her case possibly including her bipolar disorder that's not what happened.

    Epstein (she has asked that her full name be used in this story) told me she was violently anally raped on the night of February 16, by a man she had been on a date with, in his apartment. She stayed at the apartment for about an hour afterward, fearful that he might hurt her further if she left.



    During this time, she had vaginal intercourse with him, which she describes as nonconsensual but nonviolent. When she felt it was safe to leave, she went to a hospital and had a rape kit done. The next day, she filed a police report. She says detectives were largely respectful in their treatment of the case.


    Not long after the sixteenth, Epstein's alleged rapist sent her a letter. She gave me permission to quote from it it is extremely disturbing reading.



    Her alleged assailant writes, in part,
    I made a terrible mistake Wednesday night: I crossed a line I definitely should not have crossed. I hurt you physically, and as it later became apparent, emotionally. For this, I wish to express my extreme regret. As I've said before, it was never my intention to hurt you, nor is it my intention to hurt any woman whom I have sex with or have feelings for. Politically speaking, I have always stood for women's rights and protections against rape, and I consider it one of the worst crimes a human being can perpetrate on another. I firmly believe that consent should be respected as the holiest of trusts. So how are these sentiments consistent with my actions on Wednesday? One of my exes explained it to me when I once asked her about her comfort zone and whether or not I violated it. She said that I (and quite a few other men who like being bold and playing rough), often take a refusal as a sign that they should "keep trying." She said that I sometimes pushed her, but that when she was firm, I always respected that. I am not in any way passing the blame onto you; I accept that how I behaved was definitely in the wrong. However, I do want to justify myself; I do not want to be placed in that category of men who don't respect women as subjects and are callous to their entreaties and desires.
    Of the alleged rape, he writes, "Clearly, you did not enjoy it [...] But you must believe that I believed with all my heart and soul at the time that you were overcoming your reluctance, and trying to get into it." He adds,
    I hope intensely that this letter has made you see that I am not malicious or misogynistic, and that I've strived earnestly to respond to your needs and desires. It may be too late for me, but I hope that in the future, when playing rough with a guy, these explanations might guide better behavior. For example, we should have agreed at the very beginning upon a safety word that would mean explicitly: "this no does not mean you can keep trying or that I'm reluctant, it means you better shut it the fuck down." If we had such a word, and you used it, there would be no confusion and I would never, ever have violated it.
    The alleged rapist concludes,
    Beauty of body and mind like yours is so incredibly rare I honestly despair at the thought of losing contact with you over this mistake, large and entirely my fault as it was. I still hold out the faint hope that as you heal you might forgive me and see beyond it to the possibilities we might have together. And I believe too, that if we do play again, it will be better than ever.
    His suggestion that they "play again" is even more upsetting in light of a Facebook chat they later had. According to Epstein, this took place at the suggestion of Iowa City Detective Jenny Clarahan, who wanted Epstein to "have a dialogue" with her alleged rapist. A portion of the chat reads:
    Epstein (E): i think you were so caught up in the moment you weren't listening and you said yesterday that it
    was hot that i didn't want you to do it.
    Alleged Rapist (AR): now you're putting words into my mouth
    E: you asshole. i didn't fight you? you were choking me, then pinning me down, i could barely
    breathe.
    [...]
    i most definitely did say no. several times. i said stop. i said ow. i cried.
    AR: Rebecca, I swear, we have two different memories of this
    [...]
    okay, I'm honest, I'm being totally honest
    here's what I'll admit:
    I got caught up in the moment, and you did say no at first
    but I wasn't choking you [...], I wasn't keeping you from expressing anything
    I'm damn sure that if you said anything more, I'd have stopped much much sooner
    In the chat, Epstein also described her injuries: "my ribs are all fucked up, possibly broken, my ankle is sprained, i hurt all over, i'm bloody."


    About a month after the alleged assault, Epstein learned that Asst. County Attorney Anne Lahey had declined to press charges. At that time, Epstein wrote Lahey a letter stating, in part,
    I hope that you can help me to battle this unfair situation, by moving forward and charging my assailant for his terrible crime. I understand that the chances of his being convicted might not be high, but I also believe that I deserve to see him on trial for injuring me in such a heinous manner. I also understand that state funds and time go into trials, and if there is a slim chance of conviction it might seem like a waste, but I do hope that you might consider having him arrested for his crime. The obvious benefits of such an action are that I can seek a restraining order (I realize I can seek a civil one, but I'm told that might not be feasible), I can feel like the justice system is on my side, I can feel safer, and other women might be safer from him, as well.
    When she wrote to Lahey, Epstein also referenced the letter and Facebook chat, arguing that her alleged rapist "admits in writing that he did hear me say no but continued to advance anyway, he admits that if I had been more 'firm' in my dissent and refusal he would have stopped, and that if no really meant no, I should have made that clear before the intercourse took place." But her arguments apparently did not sway Lahey. Epstein says they met in early April, and Lahey told her that she would not be pressing charges for several reasons: that Epstein had stayed in the apartment after the alleged rape, and that she had bipolar disorder. Says Epstein,
    She said that an Iowa jury would see my behavior as too promiscuous and crazy, and they would judge me and side with the defendant. She also said she didn't think there was a very good chance I would win, so she was trying to protect me by not putting me through it, and I indicated that I would rather go through it and lose than not be able to face him in court.
    Lahey was unconvinced. Epstein says she finally asked, "so you're saying that because I have a mental illness, anyone who rapes me basically gets a free pass?" She says Lahey replied, "Yes."


    When I reached Lahey, she told me that Epstein's version of events was "not accurate." She said that Epstein's bipolar disorder was "not the reason" she chose not to prosecute the case. However, she would not comment further on what the actual reasons were. Detective Clarahan commented only, "I do not want to speak for Anne, but the fact that Rebecca has a mental illness was not the reason that she would not pursue charges in the case. I am not at liberty to discuss details about the case."


    I contacted other people involved in the case, but received no response. And so the Iowa City authorities' version of events remains murky. What I do know, though, seems to paint a disturbing picture of how elusive justice can be. In the next part of this story, I talk to experts about how mental illness and a victim's behavior can influence the outcome of her case, and discuss the final outcome of Epstein's.




    How A Rape Case Went Off The Rails
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    Elite Member witchcurlgirl's Avatar
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    When University of Iowa grad student Rebecca Epstein reported her rape, Asst. County Attorney Anne Lahey declined to prosecute. It's not completely clear why, but we'll consider a couple of possibilities.

    Epstein says Lahey told her that the fact that she had bipolar disorder was a factor in the decision. To find out more about mental illness and sexual assault, I talked to Karla Miller, Executive Director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. She told me that county attorneys can be reluctant to prosecute rape cases in which the victim has mental illness, due to concerns that the jury won't see the victim as credible. If that's the case, she said that victims can be "revictimized" by defense attorneys who make their illness and any other vulnerabilities they can think of an issue in the trial. Miller explained that if an attorney felt such revictimization might occur, it could be a good decision not to prosecute, but that this decision was "case-dependent." She added that it was "absolutely not" fair that people with mental illnesses had a harder time getting justice.


    Miller also noted, chillingly, that some rapists actually target people with mental illnesses or other disabilities, because they know victims with these conditions will have a harder time taking them to court. She also pointed me to data from Canada indicating that women with disabilities are "at least 150%" as likely as women without to be sexually abused, and 1.5-10 times as likely to suffer any form of abuse. Also, at least in Canada, only an estimated 20% of acts of sexual abuse against people with disabilities are ever reported to authorities. Given Epstein's story, it's easy to see why this might be true.


    But Lahey and Detective Jenny Clarahan both say Epstein's bipolar disorder wasn't the reason the case didn't go forward. Epstein says Lahey told her that the fact that she stayed in her alleged assailant's apartment was also a factor it's also possible that authorities construed her second sexual contact with the alleged rapist as consensual, and felt this would make a prior rape harder to prove. I talked to Nancy Schwartzman, Executive Director of The Line Campaign and director of the film The Line, who explained,
    If a rape victim has "consensual", or coerced but non-violent sex following the rape it makes it harder to prosecute. When it comes to sex crimes or sexual behavior, the average person/jury member can't seem to comprehend nuance. If you are raped, you should diligently scream and struggle in just the right way, call the police, collapse in a ball, and never have sex again. If you deviate from this script or course of action, well, you didn't fight hard enough. You weren't actually raped. There are many reasons why a victim may have sex with her rapist again following a rape - possibly because she is not safe, and can't say no without escalating the situation into more violence. Possibly, because there's so much confusion that comes with an assault, she's trying to comprehend what just happened. The victim may be trying to talk herself out of it "Ok, did that really happen? Did I imagine it? How could something have snapped and changed so quickly? What did I do wrong? Maybe I can fix it or make it better." That's common, too.
    Schwartzman had some suggestions for improving jurors' understanding of rape and helping victims get fair treatment:
    If social workers and trauma psychologists were allowed to act as witnesses or experts on rape trials they could explain the complexities of PTSD and what are normal and common ways that victims respond to rape. They would explain how trauma effects memory, effects your freeze or flight response and seeps into the body. Instead we have juries who rely on CSI and SVU to dictate to them how rape "really" works, what victims and perpetrators look like, and how cases should play out in a court room.
    Schwartzman and Miller both mentioned the need to shift the emphasis in rape cases off the victim and onto the perpetrator. Says Schwartzman,
    [T]he other way to help victims get justice in rape cases is to scrutinize the past and present behavior of the perpetrator as closely as they do the victim. How did the perpetrator act before, during and after the attack? How has the perpetrator acted toward sexual partners in the past? How is the perpetrator's lack of remorse, obsessive apologizing, stalking, blaming, shaming behaviors common for someone who has committed a rape? [...] Time to shift the focus and the responsibility from victims, to those who commit acts of sexual violence, so we learn the behaviors and cease to tolerate them.
    These are reforms worth considering, but they may come too late for Epstein. She told me that her alleged rapist had been disciplined by the University of Iowa's Dean of Students, and would not be permitted to register for classes for one year. He also withdrew from the university voluntarily and said his withdrawal would be permanent. Where the legal system is concerned, Epstein has retained a lawyer and says she's still working with Iowa Assistant Ombudsman Kyle White to get Lahey to reconsider. However, Lahey has final discretion. When I spoke with her about Epstein's story, she was firm: "that's not a pending case."


    Lahey and Epstein have different memories of their conversation, and without a fuller statement from Lahey, it's hard to evaluate her decisions.



    The story as it stands tells us less about her judgment as an attorney than it does about the way rape cases work in America. A number of factors mental illness and subsequent contact with the assailant among them can make a jury unsympathetic to a victim, even though they don't change the fact that the victim was raped. And these factors can keep a case from going forward, even if the victim is ready and willing to testify. This is one reason many victims choose not to speak up even if they report the crime and fight at every turn to be heard, all their painful efforts may come to nothing. One thing we can do to help victims is to listen to their stories, and to recognize that our preconceived ideas of what rape looks like don't encompass everyone's experience. Says Schwartzman, "There is no right way to survive a rape." There's also no right way to be or behave so that you'll never become a victim. But there is a right way to hear victims' stories with an open mind, unclouded by judgment or stereotype. And this is something all of us can do.


    Why A Rape Doesn't Get Prosecuted
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    Elite Member sputnik's Avatar
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    If a rape victim has "consensual", or coerced but non-violent sex following the rape it makes it harder to prosecute. When it comes to sex crimes or sexual behavior, the average person/jury member can't seem to comprehend nuance. If you are raped, you should diligently scream and struggle in just the right way, call the police, collapse in a ball, and never have sex again.
    this isn't right. but at the same time i understand how it happens. i mean, if you're a jury and it's a date rape case, it's basically 'he said she said'. it's not like he grabbed her in an alley and raped her. it does make it much harder to prove.
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    Elite Member ManxMouse's Avatar
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    Just curious if her physical injuries were documented at the hospital (ribs, ankles, bleeding)...stuff like that builds a pretty strong case.
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    Holy crap, that poor girl. If someone admits rape in writing, how do they refuse to prosecute?
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    What an asshole. He said maybe they should have agreed on a 'safe word' before doing it. Why isn't No a safe word?

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    It's just terrible that rape is about the only crime where the victim has to prove that it actually happened and it's hard to be believed.
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    He's a slick character and he possibly even believes his own bullshit/has talked himself into believing that he's right.

    But he's not.
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    KD
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    Quote Originally Posted by BBDSP View Post
    Why isn't No a safe word?
    Amen.

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