Now that formal charges have been filed in the alleged Kennedy compound rape, now that the experts on rape have bored us with countless hours on TV talk shows, now that witnesses have made what could easilybe viewed as self-serving statements in public, it is time to make some assessment about the probable truthfulness of the alleged victim's charges.

It is necessary to make some assessment from the released investigative records because a U.S. criminal trial is not a search for the truth. It is, under the Constitution, a process whose primary emphasis is on protection of the accused. Truth in the trial of William Kennedy Smith -- if the case ever goes to trial -- will be a casualty as evidence is excluded to safeguard Smith's constitutional rights.

The question is: Can we believe the victim?

From years of police experience and seeing at first hand rape victims after the crime occurs, I believe there are signs to look for that are consistent witha "good case" of rape. (Unfortunately, many reports of rape are cases of getting even with lovers or cover stories to protect relationships.)

The "good" reports have some characteristics that seem to fitfacts reported in the Kennedy case. The first of these is that the alleged victim took some property from the estate after the incident. A woman who is raped feels totally abandoned. She cannot trust that anyone will believe her story. Women who are raped often take something from the criminal or his vehicle or residence to prove they are notlying.

It is because women have this severe distrust of the male-dominated criminal justice system that they engage in this seemingly baffling behavior. On some talk shows, I have heard comments -- mostly from males -- that the taking of the urn or other item showed the woman was essentially a thief and not a rape victim. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is this attitude that keeps women from reporting rapes to insensitive members of the criminal justice system.

The second aspect of the victim's behavior follows from the first and is an even more powerful indicator that a rape likely occurred. That aspect is the time lag and sequence of the victim's report to the police.

Those without police experience might think that the most difficult part of the job is being confronted by mutilated bodies from homicides or vehicle accidents. Unfortunately, police officers get used to that sort of thing.

But two things are extremely difficultfor any cop to handle no matter how long he or she has been on the job. The first is to see an abused child defend and hug the brutal parent that has broken his or her little bones. The second is to see thelook on a rape victim's face.

Most rape victims are not severely injured or physically damaged in any permanent way. What is torn apart is the person. Whatever it is that makes a human being human is literally ripped apart in a rape. Rape is not a crime of sex but a crimeof violence -- a violence to the essential human person of the victim.

Rape victims are utterly shattered. The last thing a raped woman wants to confront is some male cop who wants "just the facts, ma'am." Most male officers have now had sensitivity training in dealing with rape victims.

It is quite consistent with the behavior of rape victims to simply be so shattered and confused after the crime as to withdraw into themselves. It is also consistent with rape victims that they first report the crime to a friend or a rape crisis center -- that is, to another woman. A man may sympathize, but even after yearsof experience with victims, I can never know what it must be like for a woman to be raped. Only another woman can really understand. Rapehot lines and crisis centers are essential services to protect womenviolated by this vicious crime.

Until I get facts to the contrary, I go with the victim. And if this young man is convicted of the crime of forcible rape, he should be a very old man when he walks out ofprison.

Editor's note: J. Bolton Maddox, an Edgewater resident, is a retired police captain, former police chief and security director. He trains correctional facilities staff and is assistant professor of criminal justice at a regional community college.

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