De Anza Rape Trial Filled with Victim Blaming, Slut Shaming

by Cara on March 10, 2011

in courts, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, slut-shaming, violence against women and girls

Trigger Warning on posts and links for very explicit descriptions of gang rape against an intoxicated person, severe victim-blaming and rape apologism, and ableism.

Four years ago, a 17-year-old girl was allegedly gang raped at an alcohol fueled party by 9 young men, almost all De Anza College baseball players. The girl was found by three female soccer team players, who are said to have forced their way into the room to break up the ongoing assault, finding the victim semi-conscious and covered in vomit while men performed various sexual acts on her.  The victim went to police; the three women were all very clear in their statements about how the encounter was not and could not have been consensual. A huge media frenzy ensued. And then, no charges were ever filed against the accused players.

Back in spring 2007, very soon after I first began blogging, the De Anza rape case was one of the very first instance of sexual violence I ever wrote about, so long ago that it was before I had come to terms with the fact that I was a rape survivor myself. For that reason among many others, it is a case that I have written about very extensively and that has always remained very strongly with me. Almost four years later, the case is still not over, justice has not been done, and the victim is still actively seeking accountability for what was done to her that night.

Three years after the DA decided to not pursue the case for “insufficient evidence” — despite the three witnesses to the rape never having been sought for grand jury testimony, and despite much forensic evidence never being tested — the victim has taken her case to civil court in a final attempt at legal recognition of the crimes against her. Lauren Chief Elk, Lauren Bryeans, and April Grolle — who have become such passionate advocates both for this victim and rape survivors in general — have, for the first time, been able to say what they witnessed that night in court. The details are more distressing than even the earlier reports indicated.

Bryeans testified that she and the other two soccer girls knocked on the white French doors leading to the 84-square foot bedroom. The door was opened twice by angry young men including Scott Righetti, who told her “she wants to be in here,” she said. The third time, it was opened by Stephen Rebagliati, who told her there was nothing going on and to go away. One time, she said, she saw a cell phone being held up in what she thought was camera mode.

After being rebuffed a third time, Bryeans said she and Chief Elk bent down and peeked through the door largely covered inside with a black sheet.

“Chief saw the light first, she ducked down and peeked in and said ‘Oh, my God,’ and pulled me down,” Bryeans said.

She said she saw a man in the missionary position on top of the teen and another man whom she identified as defendant Luis Cardenas pulling her head as if to get her to orally copulate him.

“She looked like she was in danger,” Bryeans said, adding the teen’s eyes were closed and legs spread, and she was moving her head away from Cardenas’ genitals.

Bryeans and the other soccer players began pounding on the door and were finally admitted after the men filed out.

When Bryeans viewed the teen up close, Bryeans said, the girl was lying on a futon, with her top hanging off, her pants wrapped around one ankle and vomit on her face and hair.

“I recall her saying, ‘help me,’ ” Bryeans told the jury of six men and six women. She also testified she and the other women had to carry the barely breathing teen to a car.

“I thought she was out for the count,” she said. Another soccer girl kept checking her pulse.

The cross-examination, however, leaves me firm in my belief that some defense attorneys simply are evil:

One defense attorney asked Bryeans whether she thought about calling 911, if she was so worried about the teen’s condition. No, she admitted. One pointed out the teen also said, “Sorry.”

Left with little valid defense, it would seem, these are apparently the defense’s attempts at inconsistencies. Presumably, the one defense attorney thinks it likely that a young woman would apologize for consensual sex, but unlikely that a rape victim would apologize for her own assault. Clearly, the way that sex defiles each and every woman who engages in it is legitimate reason for apology, yet the idea that women “want” their rapes and “get themselves into situations” where such assaults can occur would never cause an incapacitated rape victim to express remorse.

Many incredibly distressing assertions regarding consent, when it is possible, and when a rape can be agreed to have occurred, have been made throughout the process of this trial. Here’s a lovely beginning plethora:

In contrast, in her opening statements to the jury, an attorney for defendant Christopher Knopf claimed the that girl’s blood alcohol level hadn’t reached three times the legal limit until well after the incident. She pointed out that the girl’s lap dance was coordinated and lasted for several songs. Also, just before the alleged attack, one of the soccer players chatted with the young woman and admitted that the teen didn’t appear drunk then at all.

The attorney, Alison M. Crane, shocked the jury by beginning her statement with a powerful opener — by uttering an expletive-loaded sexual invitation she said the teenager gave to her client and many of the other men, “leading any reasonable person to believe she was capable of consent and indeed desirous of contact.”

In Knopf’s case, the teenager “approached him in the kitchen, rubbed up against him, grabbed his genitals, told him he was ‘so hot,’ backed him into the bedroom and then sued him,” Crane said.

Crane also argued that the girl doesn’t suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and has a long history of academic and interpersonal problems, including a personality disorder that essentially causes her to blame others for her mistakes.

“Her conduct was the sole and exclusive cause of everything that happened that day,” Crane told the jury. She “doesn’t want to face the truth of what she did that night.”

Because performing a lap dance or two is the same as consenting to sex. And expressing sexual interest indicates not only ability to consent, but willingness to consent to 9 men “having sex” with you while you drift in and out of consciousness. Further, you can’t be a rape victim if you don’t have PTSD — as properly diagnosed by a lawyer,  not your own doctor — women with troubled lives are never raped, and neither are women with disabilities. Also, lying bitches lie in order to get nice guys in trouble. It’s their fault they got raped, anyway. They just don’t want to face up to what sluts they are. Who would? Sex is so icky.

“Risque” photos of the victim have also been shown in court by this same lawyer as attempt to discredit her, since sexual women can presumably not be raped. While showing a photo in which the woman makes a sexual gesture, Crane jeered, “Did you have PTSD when you did the acts shown in these pictures?”

We learned more about proper and improper reactions to having just been sexually assaulted from witness Anthony Lovaglia:

He also acknowledged that he said previously, to detectives, prosecutors or lawyers in a deposition, that when the teen left the room after allegedly being raped, she had “the weirdest smile, like she liked it.”

Rape survivors’ reactions must always be policed. We’ve learned in past cases that smiling in weeks or months after an assault can be seen as evidence that it didn’t really occur. Not contacting police or going to the hospital quickly enough is seen as proof that it didn’t really happen. And a “weird smile” is apparently only to be interpreted as “she liked it,” and not potentially as an expression of a state of shock or attempt to hold oneself together through trauma.

Rape victims should also not be allowed to escape from the event with recreational activities, and people with disabilities should not be allowed to have fun:

O’Malley also testifies the teen was able to return to playing competitive softball, despite her back pain. Yet the teen also asked her physician to fill out a disability form for work, even though she was well enough to play softball. The doctor signed the form.

(The victim later stated, “I said I wasn’t going to let them take away the one thing I’ve been doing since I was 4 years old.”)

One of the most repulsive moves by a defense attorney yet proves that there may be a bit of desperation on their part:

Defense attorney Crane points out on cross that the nurse told a sheriff’s investigator she was able to say her name (barely), implying the teen wasn’t as far gone as she told the jury. The nurse also told the investigator that the teen was able to respond when her mother arrived at the emergency room and that she recognized her name, that is, responded to “considerable verbal stimuli” and therefore wasn’t unconscious.

One has to wonder how strong your case is, if being able to barely say your name is a form of evidence that consent could be given. At the same time, it’s difficult to know what the reactions of the jury, steeped in rape culture themselves, will be.

Much of the reporting on the trial has also been disturbing. Attempts at fairness and balance — when, it should be noted, the same presumption of innocence does not apply as it would if this were a criminal instead of civil trial — have resulted in shockingly appalling headlines like “De Anza trial begins with question: Was woman gang-raped or a seductress?” Here’s a sensitive and careful lede for you:

Did a group of De Anza College baseball players gang-rape a teenager whose blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit while she lay motionless in a pool of vomit?

Or are the men being unfairly blamed by a troubled young woman who wasn’t that drunk and explicitly invited them to have sex with her?

Nearly four years after the alleged assault at a San Jose house party triggered widespread controversy, those questions are finally being publicly aired before a San Jose jury.

Something tells me this article could have been written a little less problematically. I also feel like perhaps the modesty of her clothing choices was not relevant for commentary. And this opinion piece — in which Scott Herhold writes, immediately after concluding that the victim was raped, “Did she contribute to her plight? Yes. By doing a lap dance atop one boy and allegedly grabbing the crotches of others, she helped things along.” — is perhaps the grossest thing I’ve ever read.

But what do I know? Being anti-rape creates an automatic bias.

This is a huge amount of information, and there is so much more contained in the many links throughout this post that I did not have the space to include. But in addition to all that has already been listed, the alleged victim has been dealt a strong set of blows throughout the trial. The fact that police strongly believe that she was raped was not allowed to be expressed before the jury, and the photos taken by the defendants during the alleged assault were also declared inadmissible. Multiple defendants have also been dropped from the case. And, because this is a civil case — and therefore a jury must determine precisely which percentage of “fault” all parties in this case bear — it has been all but outright stated that as a result of her drinking, the victim is to blame for being raped.

She has at least finally had the chance to speak for herself:

She still has no memory of being sexually assaulted by De Anza College baseball players at a party when she was 17 and extremely drunk — not what happened in the tiny room where she was allegedly discovered in a pool of vomit, nor being rushed to the hospital.

But alternating between shouts, sobs and near-whispers, the young woman — known in the courtroom as Jane Doe — told a rapt civil jury Monday that the alleged gang rape ruined every aspect of her life, from pursuing a career to parenting.

Even the birth of her son two years ago was tainted by the memory of being intimately examined in March 2007 by a specially trained nurse looking for signs of rape.

“It’s supposed to be one of the happier days of a parent’s life,” she wailed while breaking down in tears, “and I felt violated. I mean, it was a cesarean and I felt violated.”

She also stated:

“I’ll never be embarrassed because I’m standing up for what’s right. I don’t care what anyone says, I know what’s right and I will never be embarrassed.”

Her testimony makes clear to me that she is a strong and resilient person. I wish her the love and strength to get through this trial, which continues, as well as the awful things that have been and will be said about her. I hope she knows that she is not alone, and that despite the barrage of attacks she is under, there are many of us out here who support her.

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{ 16 comments }

1 B. March 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

“I’ll never be embarrassed because I’m standing up for what’s right. I don’t care what anyone says, I know what’s right and I will never be embarrassed.”

This is the part that made me cry—what an incredibly strong woman, to be able to say that in the face of everyone telling her she deserved it or did something wrong.

It took me years to be able to say something like that to myself, and nobody was calling me a liar and a slut in court. I have a lot of love for Jane Doe and wish her continuing strength, too.

2 wiggles March 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm

“when the teen left the room after allegedly being raped, she had ‘the weirdest smile, like she liked it.’”

She didn’t leave the room, she had to be carried out.
One report on the civil case I read, Jane Doe was sobbing in court as one of the soccer players testified that he was continually checking Doe’s pulse and breathing in the back of the car on the way to the hospital, thinking she would die.
And shit, does every rape victim have to have PTSD now in order to be a real rape victim? Then none of my rapes count either.
But I suppose if we’re going to use having PTSD as a criteria, considering the rate of PTSD among prostituted women, somebody in the legal system is finally acknowledging that prostitution is paid rape?

3 Cara March 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Well … going back to letting people define their own experiences, while some women certainly do define theirs as having been prostituted and raped, other sex workers (and former sex workers) explicitly reject this narrative being forced upon them. I think that both are equally valid and should be equally respected. (But in any case, the subject is off topic!)

4 John March 19, 2011 at 5:37 am

A couple things from a guys perspective.

It amazes me how you can get 9 or 15 or 20 guys in a room and not have a single person with a conscience. I’m not saying that I would have broken it up, but I can’t see doing nothing either, especially after the fact. I went out with two male friends, a former (emphasis added) male friend and his girlfriend. My former friend is a male body builder. His girlfriend is attractive, but not model level. He has been physically abusive to her for years (not witnessed by me) and has repeatedly cheated on her. She refuses to leave him because she doesn’t believe she can get anyone better (women like his physique). He started to abuse her while we were out, but wouldn’t abuse her in front of us (2 of us are martial artists who promised to respect and defend women and the weak as a condition of accepting the classes). He wouldn’t let her dance with anyone other than us, while he was approaching other women (uncool dude). We took turns dancing and staying with her because he wouldn’t hit her when we were there. I was accused by a female friend of being afraid of George, but I told her that I couldn’t hurt himn with normal strikes. I’d have to do something more damaging. One of us would have been in the hospital or the morgue. I wasn’t prepared for that. What is your take on men not helping?

I have another comment. Please don’t take this wrong, I’m working through some things myself and would like to remain unbanned. I feel compassion for the guys who got their crotches grabbed. A lot of women feel that men don’t need or want privacy. When my privacy or personal space has been violated by a woman with malicious intent (The careless violations are irritating also. I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to those), I do feel the urge to get even. I’ve never acted on it because it doesn’t help. My situation is similar. I wanted(?) to end the friendship. She knew I was hurt and wanted me to get even. She said it would help and I wanted to believe it. Part of me wants to believe she cared. We were best friends that summer, but maybe it was just another fantasy she had. Part of me wanted to hate her. I got even several times at her direction. It didn’t help. She and her mom moved away a few months later. I never looked for her, but through a chance meeting with a mutual acquaintance, I heard that she still talked about me and that was 10 years later.

5 John March 19, 2011 at 5:53 am

Sorry, I don’t know if I made it clear. Whether their crotches were grabbed or not, that doesn’t justify what they did to her or failed to do to help, I was just relating how I felt in a similar experience. Had I been more mature and less emotionally invested in the relationship, I would have probably just stayed away from her.

6 John March 19, 2011 at 9:09 am

Sorry, ran across a connection problem and didn’t know if my follow up post got through. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t misunderstood. Nothing justifies what anyone did to that girl. Nothing justifies inaction. Why did it take women to assist her? There were men there and it’s not clear that they all participated, but they all at least watched. Did not one of them have a conscience?

I was just recounting how I felt in a similar situation. If I wasn’t so emotionally invested in the situation, I probably would have just continued staying away from her, but would have never considered calling the police or seeking medical help. I also would have rejected the idea of raping her. I wanted to make sure that everyone understood that I don’t believe that crotch grabbing is a justification for rape. Not even for the guy who’s crotch was grabbed.

I also didn’t intend to say that all women disregard men’s privacy or bodily integrity. I remember speaking with one female friend. She did use the men’s room in an emergency, but it wasn’t a trivial matter for her. She sent a male friend in first to ensure that no one was in there and then he stood guard. She did try to respect men’s dignity. There really should be more bathrooms for women. I apologize and will attempt to monitor my posts better in the future.

PTSD or no, her life has been affected for the worse. I couldn’t image being able to ever get over that. I wish her the best and hope that she can somehow regain some happiness in her life.

7 Cara March 19, 2011 at 12:56 pm

John,

Sexual assault is never okay, no matter how it is against or who commits it. Grabbing man’s crotch without consent is no more okay than grabbing a woman’s breast without her consent. The two acts may have different social meanings as a result of patriarchy/cultural objectification of women/etc., but both are ultimately assault, and neither are acceptable. Rape culture is primarily directed at women, but there is also certainly a big problem with people, very often women, not understanding that men also have sexual boundaries and the right to make their own sexual decisions.

Sexual assault as a retaliation to sexual assault is also not acceptable.

It’s unclear to me, frankly, what parts of the testimony are honest and what parts are concoctions by the defendants and their rape apologist lawyers. But certainly, if the victim did go around grabbing crotches of men without making sure they were okay with that first, that was wrong. Not an excuse or justification for raping her by any means, but still wrong.

On the other topic of your comments, I do not think that knowing what is going on and not attempting to do something — there were multiple options, from personal intervention, forming a group of people to intervene, calling police, etc. — is acceptable behavior. There are many reasons why bystanders do not act, which is why we need better bystander training. But doing nothing isn’t okay.

8 Alex March 19, 2011 at 3:33 pm

My heart goes out to her. She’s very brave and I certainly hope she’ll get her justice. Thank goodness for those three women; what would have happened to her had they not intervened? This could have well ended up as a murder case.

Oh, also, “she had “the weirdest smile, like she liked it.”” That, to me, is incriminating it itself. If you consider a smile of ‘liking it’ to be “weird”, then you know full fucking well that what you did was rape! “Weird” behaviour after consensual sex would likely not include smiling (though smiling afterward certainly isn’t indicative of consensual sex). Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like an indirect admission of guilt right there.

9 Ginsengbambi March 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Thank you for posting about this. I have been following your blog probably since the time that this De Anza case came out and the story has been etched in my mind ever since. I have often wondered whether there would be any justice for the survivor. I hope she gets it this time.

10 Danielle March 20, 2011 at 12:05 am

I don’t know how you can be in a room where someone is being treated as less than human, an object, and do NOTHING. You’re just as bad. You’re approving it, whether you realize it or not.

11 Katrina March 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm

@ Danielle

I don’t know if you realize it, but post is extremely hurtful. I know when I approve or disapprove of an event. If I observe a rape and do nothing I do not approve of it nor am I as bad as the rapist. After what I have lived through I do not have the strength to jump in and save someone else while I’m still getting over my own history. I can’t even imagine doing what those three girls did for De Anza even if I had 50 women behind me to help charge through the door.

I understand your anger. It’s maddening that a large group of people tend to do nothing since someone else in the group should be doing something. That logic just lends to no one doing anything no matter how badly they all want to help. There are also people who have no intention of helping and are there just to see the ‘show’. But please don’t say that inaction is unrealized approval. I may not have acted much in my own defense, and I know I’m not far enough along to run to other people’s aid, but I do not secretly approve of what happened to me or condone other people going through anything similar. I just can’t do anything but nothing.

12 John March 24, 2011 at 5:55 am

Hi Katrina,

I read many of Cara’s posts in the past and the trigger warnings. I didn’t think I’d be triggered, but I think I was. I’m sorry for what happened to you. I wish you the best and feel kind of responsible for bringing the subject up. I took up kick boxing because I didn’t think I was man enough and that’s why it happened to me. It’s been about 30 years and I’m just coming to terms with what happened and that was only after having read stories from other guys.

I’m on a very fast learning curve, so please forgive me. On another site, I was reading about how men can stop rape. One of the things mentioned was speak out when sexist jokes are made. That made me think about how the small acts and omissions really shape the environment.

I think the feeling is people should do what they can safely do and have the strength to do. In the case of my ex-friend hitting his girl friend, one of us just had to be present to stop it. So we took turns staying with her. In the De Anza case after the fact, when there is no longer threat of physical assault, the non-participants, if any, could have testified for her. I know in my situation. I couldn’t start coming to terms with it until I received validation from other’s stories.

Again, I wish you the best. You might feel that you did nothing to resist it, but you’re doing something now. Every moment of happiness in your life resists what happened.

13 RD March 25, 2011 at 12:48 am

Katrina, I get you on that feeling, but if you’re ever in that situation you might surprise yourself. Oftentimes stepping in to save someone else is easier emotionally than trying to act in our own self-defense.

14 SunlessNick March 27, 2011 at 2:47 am

She didn’t leave the room, she had to be carried out.

And if she had this “weirdest smile” then it’s at least as likely as anything else to be relief at having got out of there alive; something she must have been doubting would happen.

15 None March 31, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I never heard of this case before but after reading that I wish I didn’t exist. It’s so horrible, I can’t even explain how just reading it makes me feel. What happened to her is so horrible and it is compounded by how the case ended up. I hope she wins her civil case. I just can’t understand people not protecting a 17-year-old girl. what on earth could anything she did or said have to do with what happened? how could an adult even open their mouth to say she might have done something to provoke it or invite it?

16 euphrasia April 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm

The building I work in is connected to a hospital, and I’ve seen people hauled in on stretchers or coming out of surgery with “weird smiles” on their faces. Actually, isn’t there some psychological phenomenon where people will sometimes smile or have other really inappropriate facial expressions during something traumatic or when discussing something traumatic? Seriously, if that’s a major part of the evidence in your case, you’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

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