Monday, June 04, 2007

Vomit in the Mouth

You may have read about this case:

April Grolle, Lauren Chief Elk and Lauren Breayans never expected to be called heroes. But they never expected to be called names either.

The three, all soccer players on the highly regarded De Anza College women's soccer team, were thrust into the national spotlight when they rushed in and rescued a 17-year-old girl who was, they say, being sexually assaulted at a March 3 party in San Jose. They say the victim was so intoxicated she appeared to be comatose, and that eight or more men stood around watching one of them sexually assault her.

The three broke in, grabbed the girl and carried her out. They took her to the hospital, notified authorities and volunteered to testify in any court proceedings. What more could you ask?

To keep their mouths shut. To butt out. To mind their own business.

That's the message the soccer players got from the men accused in the case.

"People I didn't even know were coming up to me and saying, 'Stop your lying. Shut your f -- mouth,' " Chief Elk said in an interview last week. "We'd be walking around, and people would actually come up and get in our face."

It reached the point where they felt threatened. Cmdr. John Hirokawa of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department confirms that deputies were called to the campus on a complaint of harassment.

The seventeen-year old was lying on the ground, with one man having intercourse with her and several others sitting around in the same room. Doing what? Watching? Waiting their turn? She had vomit in her mouth.

Lauren Chief Elk and April Grolle are 20-year old De Anza College students and teammates on the school's soccer squad. They were leaving a party at a house when they realized something wrong was going on in a back room where the doors were closed and the lights were off.
"We heard and saw a girl tapping on this door in the kitchen saying 'There is a girl in there with eight guys," explains Chief Elk.
They say they tried to get into the room, but were confronted by a baseball player.
"[He said] 'Mind your own business; she wants to be in here' and slams the door," says Grolle.
What they saw through a crack in the door horrified them.
"When I looked in, I saw about ten pairs of legs surrounding a girl, lying on the mattress on the floor and a guy on top of her with his pants down and his hips thrusting on top of her," recall Chief Elk. "And when I saw that I knew immediately something wasn't right. It just didn't look right."
"I saw that this young girl did not want to be in there, and that's when we just went 'We're getting this girl out of there,'" says Grolle.
April and Lauren -- along with a third soccer player named Lauren Breayans -- broke down the door and were shocked with what they found.
"This poor girl was not moving. She had vomit dribbling down her face. We had to scoop vomit out of her mouth [and] lift her up. Her pants were completely off her body," says Chief Elk. "She had her one shoe one, her jeans were wrapped around one of her ankles and her underwear was left around her ankles. To the left of the bed there was some condom thrown on the ground."
"When they lifted her head up, her eyes moved and she said 'I'm sorry,'" says Grolle. "One of the guys who was in the room said 'This is her fault. She got drunk and she did this to herself.'"
Lauren Chief Elk didn't believe him: "You have to be conscious to consent to something, and that was not the case at all."

But the vomit wasn't hers. The vomit in her mouth. It was not hers. This turns out to be very important among the justifications DA Dolores Carr gave for not prosecuting anyone for sexual assault:

Is it sexual assault when a victim is too intoxicated to consent to sex? Yes, but we must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was so impaired that she could not understand what she was doing. We must also prove that the defendant should have known that she was incapable of consenting. This can be very difficult when the defendant and witnesses offer competing versions of the victim's condition.
This case fits that mold. Many of the witnesses had been drinking, some heavily, and their stories were not always consistent. But most important, the victim told investigators that she did not remember anything that happened from shortly after the time she arrived at the party. The victim would be unable to counter claims that she had consented. The trial would be fought over differing versions of the victim's sobriety and behavior, with several witnesses and potential defendants motivated to paint her in an unfavorable light.
The result would be such a confusing and conflicting account of what happened that we would be unable to convince 12 jurors to convict. For example, the media reported that the victim vomited. But lab tests showed that the vomit did not come from her. The defense would challenge any account which depended upon the vomit to prove that the victim was too intoxicated to consent.

So let me get this right. According to California law having sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent is a sexual assault. But somehow this seventeen-year old wasn't drunk enough to be considered intoxicated, because she was lying on the floor with someone else's vomit in her mouth? Somehow this seventeen-year old wasn't drunk enough to be considered intoxicated even though she stated that she remembered nothing of the events? Is it common for a person not under the influence of alcohol to remember nothing of the events like this? Why wasn't her blood tested for alcohol at the hospital?

It is very hard to read all this. Very hard. Even if this seventeen-year old, who was not intoxicated but just enjoyed having other people's vomit in her mouth, even if she lay down, spread her legs and invited the universe to fuck her, even so, how could the men in that room just sit there and not help her? Not even help her to the hospital when the soccer players arrived? That is what upsets me much more than the question whether the case should be prosecuted, for some reason.

Do you know what I think? I think that prosecutors everywhere are now scared of cases like this one, scared of ruining the perfectly good futures of upstanding young men, who just happen to sit around in a darkened room where a seventeen-year old lies with someone else's vomit in her mouth, with someone else on top of her. I think that prosecutors are afraid to touch cases like this one, because they remember the Duke lacrosse case and how it bit one of their own in the ass.

I also think that one day a woman will be gang-raped and she will not go to the police because what would be the point if all evidence must be absolutely clear and no witness statements can clash. This reminds me a little of the Islamic sharia rule of needing four male witnesses to prove that a rape has been committed. It always made me wonder what those four witnesses were doing not preventing the rape in the first place. But of course such rules as these will keep claims of rape down.