The statistics are brutal: Few women report rape. According to a U.S. House report in 1990, only one woman in 10 will file a charge. Why so few?
We are two rape victims, and we know that women keep silent for many reasons. Most rapes are acquaintance or date rapes, so often the victim blames herself. In other cases, especially stranger rape, the victim knows she's not the one at fault, but maybe the rapist threatened to kill her if she reported him. In some cases, the victim has read about the shock and trauma that rape victims go through in court. And some women are fearful that their names will leak out, and the world will know. That last reason is incredibly powerful. It's almost as if the stigma of the rapist transfers to the victim. We feel dirty and tainted, and social silence on the issue reinforces our distress. So we keep silent, far too often.
Yet Tonia and I feel strongly that rape victims -- where possible -- need to report rape. Here are our stories and our arguments:
Tonia was abducted at gunpoint from her home in Howard County in 1992 by serial rapist William Kirk Evans, who had already assaulted several other women. She had just returned from grocery shopping with her 4-year-old daughter and was awaiting her son, due home from kindergarten, when a stranger walked into her home with pale blue underwear wrapped around his head, tinted glasses and a long gun.
At first, she thought it was a joke, and started muttering, "Oh, my God." But he told her to shut up and said he would hurt the child and kill Tonia. He then blindfolded Tonia and forced her from the house, shutting the door on her little girl, who screamed and screamed.
The shrieks of Tonia's daughter followed her all the way to the street. To this day, Tonia is haunted by those screams.
As the rapist pushed Tonia into his car, a woman driving past saw them and followed Evans' car for a time before contacting 911.
Meanwhile, the rapist took Tonia to his home in Silver Spring, where he set up video equipment and taped himself as he undressed Tonia, sat her down on the bed and raped her.
Afterward, he gave her money for a taxi, carefully removed fingerprints from everything she had touched, tied her wrists with rope and left her on Mount Zion Road. Despite his threats, she called 911 to report him. Three weeks later he was arrested.
Evans had left one fingerprint that identified him positively, and so, in a plea bargain intended to spare his victims a trial, he was given one life sentence for two rapes in Howard County.
A short while later, he received another life sentence for two rapes in Montgomery County; however, he was permitted to serve that sentence simultaneously with his life sentence in the Howard cases.
My story begins in British Columbia in 1971. I write under my maiden name Marjory Bancroft, but my married name is Price.
I was a 16-year-old student in a workshop run by a 28-year-old drama teacher. He invited me to lunch, and though he was married, with a pregnant wife, he began making advances. I responded but refused sex because I was a virgin, I was scared of intimacy and terrified of getting pregnant.
One day, on a public beach, the teacher raped me.
I "dissociated" from the trauma, as many children and adolescents do: I pushed it out of my mind. However, I immediately dropped out of school, moved away from home and became severely anorexic (losing 50 pounds during that year). I suffered other sexual assaults because I became promiscuous. (Children and teens who are sexually abused often go on to suffer statistically high numbers of "repeat victimizations" - more assaults). I was also severely depressed and sometimes suicidal from age 16 to 27. I did not know why.
In September 1994, I went into delayed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and began having flashbacks of the rape. This led to a nervous breakdown.
The Howard County Sexual Assault Center, which offered me excellent support, was obliged by law to report my old drama teacher. It was then that I learned he had a criminal record and had been charged by other girls. His teaching certificate was revoked. However, when the police in Canada called me in October 1994, I wouldn't file a statement pressing charges.
Two years later, after I recovered from the PTSD, I changed my mind. On Nov. 9, I filed a 19-page statement charging the teacher.
This rape happened 25 years ago. Why did I change my mind?
I met Tonia and her example and courage changed my mind.
Tonia came out of the rape sobbing hysterically, unable to believe what had happened. Yet she reported it, and three weeks later Evans was in jail. She never faltered in her pursuit of a conviction, and she has even confronted her rapist in jail, to tell him the devastating impact he had on her whole family.
I came with her and saw the rapist weep uncontrollably while Tonia spoke with anger and dignity of her daughter's nightmares and her own suffering. This scene made a deep impression on me, and I believe Tonia is a role model in a difficult role: the victim who cries rape. Almost a year to the day after this encounter, I filed charges against the teacher.
Here's why we believe that all rape victims should report the crime:
* Reporting a rapist might stop him from raping or assaulting someone else. A rapist cannot strike when he's behind bars. Tonia's rapist had assaulted many other women and could have gone on to rape perhaps many more. My teacher later molested several other students. And another hard lesson - I was raped again in 1985 on Aqaba Beach in Jordan, and I was too frightened to report the rapist. Less than a month later, the same man was in jail for raping another woman. I'm haunted by that woman's rape. Perhaps if I had reported that rapist, I could have prevented the other woman's horror.
* Reporting a rape will encourage other victims to go to the police. Police departments are becoming more sensitive to rape victims. Tonia felt her case was handled with discretion and warmth. She had encouraging experiences with the Howard County and Montgomery County police. I'm currently receiving the help of a sex crimes detective in Canada who treats me compassionately and with respect. These are not small changes, and they make rape victims feel safer than in earlier years, when they were not shown as much sensitivity. This probably is the result of the increasing numbers of women who are reporting rape.
* Finally, Tonia and I have received a feeling of personal satisfaction because we reported our attackers. Tonia's charge led to a quick arrest. She had an opportunity to tell people about the terrifying impact this crime had on her husband, her son and, most of all, the daughter who was left screaming and alone.
Although the trauma will never leave her, by reporting Evans and seeing him go to jail, Tonia felt her family could move forward with their lives.
For me, filing a statement felt like a healthy step. To have a police force take my allegations seriously and pursue the case - even if it does not result in a conviction - is a validation of my trauma.
I'm grateful for Tonia's courage and example, and believe that even to file a charge is a statement reaffirming the dignity of the victim. In flashbacks, the victim experiences the rape over and over again. By reporting the rapist, she is externalizing the rape and allowing society to take responsibility for the crime.
Rape is never the victim's fault. This why we chose to tell our stories. Rape victims have been as tainted by the crime as the rapist. Maybe, if more of us tell our stories and report our rapists, the rest of society will learn not to blame the victims anymore.
Marjory Bancroft and Tonia Hopkins met at the Howard County Sexual Assault Center and decided to collaborate on this article.
Pub Date: 12/08/96