by Rosaria Flores
When I was a junior at UNC, my life seemed like it had turned upward as I progressed on a directed course of study after a year of fun in Spain. What I did not know was that only six months after my return, I would be ripped from this bliss to be hurled at a huge brick wall. I was raped by someone that I considered a friend. I held him accountable for his wrongdoing and took him to court. The case, Choi vs. the state of North Carolina, went to trial in late February, 1996, fifteen months after the assault, and Choi was acquitted. I feel that my story is important to share because many people are ignorant about rape, especially acquaintance rape, and victim's rights. Ignorance is not bliss. It can happen to you or anyone you know.
For those that are unaware of the circumstances surrounding my assault, I will explain the situation. The assailant and I became friends in a class. We did a lot of things together such as taking spontaneous road trips, talking on the phone, having a beer or coffee, etc. We even had one previous intimate moment. We kissed in a pool while we were skinny dipping. After that incident I lost interest in having a romantic relationship with him.
I tried to tell him that I did not want more than friendship, even that I was interested in another guy. With hindsight, I could tell that he still was interested even though he knew how I felt. I did not tell him to "Fuck off" or "Leave me the hell alone." I trusted him as a friend. I thought he understood what I wanted. I thought he could handle it. I did not expect him to persist until he took what he wanted when I could not say, "no."
The night of the assault, I went alone to the Spanish House dorm party to meet old friends. I was having a good time with everyone, including the assailant, who showed up a little later. Unfortunately, I consumed excessive amounts of beer, liquor, and marijuana and before I knew it, I became ill and vomited several times. Due to a lack of energy and complete senselessness all I could do was lie down. Somehow I got into a car and the next thing I remember I vomited once more, leaning over the assailant. Quickly, he got out of the way when he noticed that I was about to hurl on him. That is the last thing that I remember.
The next morning I woke up in the assailant's room. This did not surprise me, since I had been in no condition to drive home the night before. Once I woke up he immediately started talking to me. He seemed really awake compared to how hung over I was.He told me what time it was, that I should call my place of work since I was late, and that he tried to wake me up at 7:00 am but couldn't. Then I noticed that my pants were on backwards and I was not wearing my underwear. I asked him about thisand he said, with a smile, that we had sex the night before. Because we were "friends" I thought he was joking. Eventually I realized that he was serious. This was horrifying. I knew what condition I had been in and that I would never have had sex with him voluntarily. Among other things, he admitted to initiating the sex. There were no witnesses.
It took all day for my hangover to go away and for me to be able to process what had happened. My roommate picked me up from work and immediately I told her that while I had been unconscious, he had sex with me. She said that it had happened to her too, but twice in one night by two people. The first time there were witnesses. The second time she woke up. Becoming intoxicated to the point of passing out had seemed to validate their actions to her somehow, or that the shame and embarrassment of taking drugs had silenced her at first. Disregarding what happened to her as being "rape" was much easier than facing the truth. She did not report it or go to the hospital. She did not know what to do at the time.
With the support of my roommate and other friends, I decided to at least report it and go to Student Health Services. I was not sure at that time if I would press charges or not. The rape kit (medical and forensic examinations) took about two grueling hours to complete and at the end my body felt disgusting. I had to give a detailed account of what had happened to the doctor. I had to pluck out 50 head hairs and 50 pubic hairs. I was given a pelvic exam in which the doctor collected samples and checked for internal wounds and sperm. They collected a blood specimen, gave me a pregnancy test, and administered to me the day-after-pill and other medication. Finally when I had finished the medical procedures I had to give a deposition to the investigator, which lasted about thirty minutes, although it seemed like hours.
In the next few days, after talking to law enforcement, attorneys, and school administrators I decided to press criminal charges. I was aware that the assailant "admitted" that I was passed out. He admitted to taking off my pants and panties and initiated sex in the missionary position. I did not respond; in his words I was doing "nothing".
This is a violation of second degree rape, article 14-27.13 of the state criminal code. Under this law "a person is guilty of rape in the second degree if the person engages in vaginal intercourse with another person: ...3) who...is physically helpless, and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know the other person is...physically helpless." Under mandatory sentencing, a person who is convicted of this crime must serve his entire prison term--a minimum of three and up to eighteen years in prison.
After pressing charges against the defendant, the case was out of my hands--literally. He was charged with violating the state's law, not me, and I became a witness. Once it was turned over to the District Attorney's office (a group of people who unfortunately had much more to do than prosecute my case) most decisions were handled by the Prosecuting Attorney. They gave my case a chance, although they told me he would most likely be acquitted (see side bar).
Not only was there the legal consideration that acquaintance rape is incredibly difficult to prove, but there were subtle political implications about the reputation of the District Attorney for Orange County, who had to weigh the political cost of trying the case, and possibly losing, as opposed to sweeping it under the rug. Dennis Choi, on the other hand, had the opportunity to pick and choose his legal defense and was therefore able to find attorneys who were able to devote their full time to his case. His two attorneys are both known for getting people off on rape; one was a man who previously ran for the office of the District Attorney of Orange County.
During the trial, which was more like a theatrical presentation on the part of the defense, the truth was long forgotten. His attorneys tried everything to get their client off including: trying to dismiss the taped statement of the defendant; trying to discredit me on the grounds that I was more "experienced" sexually; claiming I should have known what I was doing; discrediting the investigator on the grounds that he used illegal tactics for collecting information; etc. They even proposed that maybe someone else came into the room and did it because the DNA from the sperm was not tested! Other issues were brought up to cloud the issue of rape, aside from painting me as a hussy and a drunk, such as the lack of physical trauma, our prior relationship, and witnesses that saw us before we entered his room "looking into each other's eyes." None of the defense witnesses were in the room and most of them testified to his character.
So, what does the verdict mean? Maybe they thought I was asking for it. They could have been swayed by the cloudy issues brought up by the defense or there could have been other reasons. A jury has a legal obligation to find a defendant not guilty (which is different from innocent) if there is any doubt that the person committed the crime. In this case, like many other rape cases, it becomes a battle of he said/she said. In my case, there were no witnesses and I have no memory of the event. The only direct evidence (although there was much circumstantial evidence) that incriminated him was his taped deposition. Therefore, it was reduced to a battle of he said/he said and he definitely painted amuch different picture of the event during the trial. Yet another possibility was that the jury had to deal with the guilt of sending a person, who had so much going for him, to prison for a minimum of three years without parole. Whatever the reason, the jury gave him another chance.
My experience is certainly not unusual. Since the assault, alarming numbers of women that I know, including my mother, friends, and classmates, have told me of similar experiences. Here are some figures to consider about the prevalence of rape. A study conducted by the National Women's Survey estimates that 638,000 adult women were sexually assaulted in 1990. This is approximately 1.3 per minute, 78 rapes per hour, 1,871 rapes per day, 56,160 rapes each month.
To put my story and those of thousands of other women into perspective, consider these statistics which concern our rape culture (from I Never Called It Rape: The Ms. Report).
Rosaria Flores is a pseudonym.
Here are some figures to consider about the odds of convicting rapists in the U.S. (supplied by the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.) A three year study from the US Senate Judiciary Committee found that:
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