Can we talk candidly about acquaintance rape today? For years, I have written to media outlets all over this nation begging them to do more stories on this topic. You see, this crime is a real danger for women on college campuses, or those looking for love on an Internet dating site. Few folks want to talk about it, but it is so easy to avoid.
Let’s back up. It’s been three years, since convicted rapist Jeffrey Marsalis made headlines when he was sentenced to life in prison on June 30, 2009. “He’s the poster boy for date rape…,” said Idaho’s Blaine County prosecuting attorney Jim Thomas when I spoke with him by phone back then.
Authorities will probably never know how many victims the unemployed paramedic drugged and then assaulted. According to media reports in January 2006, Marsalis was originally found not guilty in a Philadelphia courtroom in cases involving three of his accusers.
During a second Philadelphia trial in June 2007, seven more females accused him of rape. Six of the victims reported meeting Marsalis through an online dating service. This boy-next-door-looking predator posed as a doctor, an astronaut and even a CIA agent to have an opportunity to meet his unsuspecting victims.
Prosecuting attorney Jim Thomas advises women to “be wary of people making claims online of who they are and their background.” He cautions that predators like Marsalis can much more readily assume false histories with the advent of the Internet.
Like the success of the Internet, women have also come a long way professionally. Among the ten female plaintiffs in the Philadelphia trials, there was a pharmacist, an accountant, and even a lawyer. Yet the second verdict failed to convict Marsalis of even one rape, but did find him guilty of the lesser charge of sexual assault in two of the cases, and of one count of unlawful restraint.
Maybe that’s why, “fewer than 5 percent of college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape report it to police,” fearing they will not be believed. This is particularly tragic, since it’s estimated that “90 percent of…victims know their assailant.” These statistics can be found in the article, “Acquaintance Rape of College Students,” authored by Rana Simpson.
Not long ago, this type of crime was identified solely as date rape, but that terminology is too specific, because the perpetrator is not necessarily a dating partner. Therefore, the term acquaintance rape is often used to define this sexual violation which seems rampant on college campuses.
Some universities are now aggressively addressing this issue through preventive education. Often though, this knowledge comes too late, since female students are most vulnerable to violation during the first few days of their freshman year.
For example, another study of 119 colleges reported that “one in twenty college women reported being raped during the school year…” This study also indicated that “… [almost] 75 percent of the victims [in campus cases] said they were intoxicated when the assault occurred.”
Through my years as a journalist, I have listened to the traumatic accounts of females who have been victimized. I have heard the heart cry of sympathetic men who feel helpless in confronting the predators in their own gender; and researched facilitated- rape drugs like Ecstasy, Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine.
Information from http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/date-rape-drugs.cfm explains the danger of these predatory drugs. Alcohol can also be used as a predatory drug since it can “affect judgment and behavior,” according to this government Web site which states that, “even if the victim of sexual assault drank alcohol, she is not at fault for being assaulted.”
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Perhaps, the lack of a rape conviction in the Marsalis trials in Philadelphia was partially due to the fact that most of the women testified that they willingly met him for a date and had a couple of drinks. Despite the lack of a rape conviction, in October 2007, Judge Steven R. Geroff refused to minimize Marsalis’ crime, sentencing him to a total of up to 21 years in prison. “I was very impressed by the girls [female plaintiffs]….even though there were acquittals,” said Judge Geroff. “He [Marsalis] ruined so many lives, and he didn’t care,” added the Philadelphia judge explaining his rationale for handing down the maximum sentence on the two sexual assault charges.
“By the time he had been sentenced the [Philadelphia] victims felt some justice had been done,” commented special prosecutor Joseph Khan. Then more justice occurred when Marsalis was sentenced to life in prison being eligible for parole in 15 years for the 2005 rape of a former 21-year-old co-worker near Sun Valley,Idaho.
Prosecuting attorney Jim Thomas, who successfully won the Idaho rape conviction against Marsalis, admits that date/acquaintance rape cases “are one of the most difficult” to prosecute especially when alcohol is a factor. Yet in both Pennsylvania and Idaho, prosecutors refused to give up until Marsalis was behind bars leaving the world a safer place.
For too long, society has forced victims to embrace the shame induced code of silence, which perpetuates this crime. Yet following the example of the courageous Marsalis’ accusers and the dedicated prosecutors, it’s time to unite our voices to warn women everywhere.
Christina Ryan Claypool is the author of the book, “Seeds of Hope for Survivors.” She is a former two-term board member for the Ohio Coalition against Sexual Assault.