I had a close friend in college and we became friends when we were both interested in the same guy. She got the guy, and I got the friend. My friend had a reputation for being promiscuous, but I just found her warm, open, and accepting. One day, she opened up about her sex life. She knew that she had a “reputation,” but didn’t care about it a lot.
Then she told me her story.
She was a very, very, very pretty girl. She had natural long blonde hair, freckles, big blue eyes, and a slim figure. Everyone noticed her when she walked into the room. She came from a very religious family and had committed herself to chastity before marriage. It must have been difficult for the pretty, popular cheerleader to fend off sexual advances, but she was committed. In her senior year, she met “the one.” They had a plan for keeping their “no sex before marriage” commitment. They were going to go to different colleges, remain celibate, and marry after graduation.
But their plans forever changed in one night.
On prom night she and her boyfriend were “making out” in a desolate area in Northern Virginia. Suddenly a large, menacing stranger appeared and smashed the passenger’s side window. He opened the car door and beat up her boyfriend. Then he raped her with a knife to her throat. They both made it out alive.
But their young relationship could not withstand the trauma. Some in her church family blamed her for their choice to “park.” Her parents were sympathetic, yet concerned, that what had happened to her had made her less chaste in the eyes of God.
She realized that everything that she had waited for, planned for, worked hard toward, was gone. Her belief that she had control of her body was merely a canard. Any man with a weapon could do whatever he wanted to the body that she had tried so hard to protect. She would never feel completely safe again. She saw herself as a walking victim.
She had spent her life preventing sex, so she decided it was time to try it. Why not have sex whenever she wanted? Maybe this would help her regain control.
Her story is not unique, women have different reactions to rape, especially aggravated assaults. Some women are unable to be intimate and others take her strategy. But all require years of therapy.
By the time my friend’s rapist had been caught, he had begun killing his female victims. The police advised her that she didn’t have to testify. She was grateful that she did not have to relive her trauma. She knew that she would have been victimized all over again by the defense attorney. She was relieved when, even without her testimony, he was convicted.
At the time she was raped in the 1970s, a victim’s sex life was considered fair game. Feminists worked to change the laws by reminding opponents that if you are robbed, you don’t have to prove you have never been robbed before. But lawmakers were concerned about the potential for false accusations. In rape trials, victims were harangued, their sex lives and physical appearance mocked on the stand and accused of “asking for it.”
Aggravated sexual assault is a complex crime. Well, it isn’t really complex, it is all about misogyny, power, control, and an absence of concern for the victim.
Most police officers have been trained to understand rape victim reactions to trauma. In metropolitan areas, there are special victims units. However, problems remain. There is a documentary showing police officers refusing to believe rape victims and even mocking them. One victim was threatened with jail time when they didn’t believe her. To avoid jail time, she had to plead guilty to making a false report and pay a fine. Her rapist turned out to be a serial rapist and it was only after he had been caught in another state years later that her jaw-dropping injustice was exposed.
After this serial rapist moved to Colorado, two female detectives worked tirelessly to catch him. They believe that he is responsible for dozens of rapes. After he was caught, the detectives discovered a photo of the bound and gagged victim with her driver’s license. The Colorado detectives were shocked when they discovered what had happened to that victim. The victim was young, scared, new to the area, and alone, and he was his first victim. Had she been believed; this rapist wouldn’t have been able to commit his subsequent crimes. In fact, the rapist felt emboldened when he learned what happened to the victim. Other victims in the area knew her story as well and knew better than to report their assaults. Years later, the victim’s guilty plea was expunged, her fine returned, and she received a modest settlement from the police department.
Rape victims are traumatized all over again when they choose to report the rape. Collecting data for “rape kits” is very, very invasive and time consuming. Victims are frightened, ashamed, feel they won’t be believed, and blame themselves.
Aggravated sexual assault is a very a personal assault for victims but not their attackers. Clever defense attorneys can cast doubt on victims who have to relive their trauma on the stand. Many juries do not believe the victims. Since unreported rapes are so high, law enforcement estimates that only 6% of rapists are convicted…pretty good odds if that is your crime of choice.
The statistics tell the story. If a rape is reported, there is a 51% chance of an arrest. If an arrest is made, there is an 80% chance of prosecution. If there is a prosecution, there is a 58% chance of conviction.
Until 1976, all states allowed a husband to rape his wife based upon the English common law concept that held that a wife was her husband’s property. By 1993 every state passed a law making partner rape illegal.
Today, there are more types of rape: diminished capacity (where the victim does not have the capacity to choose), statutory rape, incest, date rape, and the one that my friend suffered from, aggravated rape. The latter requires that the victim be in fear of bodily harm.
So we have an underreported, under-prosecuted, and under-convicted crime. What is even worse is that rapists are viewed no differently in the criminal justice system and can get early probation or the controlled release program that Pava LaPere’s accused killer received.
Rape crimes rarely get special considerations when judges impose sentences, alternative release programs, “good time” credits, and probation. Some of the rationale is based on an analysis which reported that recidivism for rape is actually lower than other violent crimes. But that analysis is biased. It lumps all types of rape into a single category, even though aggravated sexual assaults are more dangerous.
The sample sizes are small and unreliable (due to differences in state laws). The few studies that separate aggravated sexual assaults suggest that these offenders have a 50% chance of reoffending within 9 years; others suggest 74%.; while another reports 24% in 25 years.
But the recent murder of Pava LaPere by a repeat aggravated sexual offender should make us pay closer attention. At the very least we need to gather reliable data about recidivism for aggravated sexual offenders.
I am frustrated by the overcrowding of jails and long prison terms for certain crimes associated with drug use. We need to find a way to reduce jail time for many criminals. But I do not think that aggravated sexual crimes fit in this category. For example, an aggravated sexual offender gets “good time” credits for how he behaves around other men. Men are not his problem.
If the judge had given LaPere’s accused murderer the full sentence that prosecutors recommended in his prior conviction, and if police had found him after he committed a rape and murder in September, this young entrepreneur would be alive today.
I hope that this motivates us to make changes on how we treat violent sexual offenders. We need to collect valid data, we need to provide treatment for offenders, we need a full psychological evaluation before his release, but mostly, we need to be careful about early release for aggravated sexual assault criminals until we are sure they will not reoffend. Simply put, by allowing those convicted of aggravated sexual assault to get early release or parole we are potentially putting over half of our population in danger.
Ivan Bates, the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City agrees. He is asking the Maryland General Assembly to revise laws about good-time credits for serious sex offenders. Bates sees the LaPere case as an example of a systematic failure.
Hopefully, laws will change. Because we need to evaluate a system that is willing to put over half of the population in potential danger by not treating this crime differently.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.