Ghost Rapes of Bolivia
Ghost Rapes of Bolivia – Part 1
For a while, the residents of Manitoba Colony thought demons were raping the town’s women. There was no other explanation. No way of explaining how a woman could wake up with blood and semen stains smeared across her sheets and no memory of the previous night. No way of explaining how another went to sleep clothed, only to wake up naked and covered by dirty fingerprints all over her body. No way to understand how another could dream of a man forcing himself onto her in a field—and then wake up the next morning with grass in her hair.
For Sara Guenter, the mystery was the rope. She would sometimes wake up in her bed with small pieces of it tied tightly to her wrists or ankles, the skin beneath an aching blue. Earlier this year, I visited Sara at her home, simple concrete painted to look like brick, in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia. Mennonites are similar to the Amish in their rejection of modernity and technology, and Manitoba Colony, like all ultraconservative Mennonite communities, is a collective attempt to retreat as far as possible from the nonbelieving world. A slight breeze of soy and sorghum came off the nearby fields as Sara told me how, in addition to the eerie rope, on those mornings after she’d been raped she would also wake to stained sheets, thunderous headaches, and paralyzing lethargy.
Is Systematic Sexual Assault a Political Tactic in Tahrir Square?
It was almost 11 PM on Friday, November 23, 2012, when from the window of her apartment in downtown Cairo, not far from Tahrir Square, Ghada heard a crowd screaming, “She has a bomb strapped to her stomach!” Ghada (who wishes to be known only by her first name) immediately thought of her children who were outside among those who had gathered. She ran to the balcony to search for them, but her terror shifted into action when she saw a naked woman pinned against the hood of a car, with a circle of men around her. Ghada grabbed her husband and some clothes for the stranger, and they sprinted downstairs to rescue her. They pushed through the crowd and into the circle, pulling the girl to safety.
Earlier that afternoon, Yasmine El Baramawy and her friend Soha (a pseudonym chosen to protect her identity) had made their way to Tahrir Square after hearing about the clashes between anti-Morsi activists and government-backed security forces. Protests against the post-Arab Spring constitution had started in Tahrir Square two days before. Yasmine and Soha hadn’t planned to explicitly join in; they just wanted to watch from a few feet away as protesters cheered against President Morsi.
In the fall of 2012, five months after becoming Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi signed a “constitutional” decree that gave him unlimited authority: he simultaneously appointed himself the chief of police, the chief of the military, and the head of Congress, giving himself the power to appoint or dismiss anyone within the government at only his discretion. He was, in the plainest terms, mad with power when many felt he had run on a platform that styled himself as the antithesis of Hosni Mubarak. Backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi was supposed to improve Egypt’s economic well-being and restore political control to the people. Egyptians were angry. Yasmine and Soha were angry.
I Got Raped, Then My Problems Started
Above: One of my cartoons that, apparently, make me a less credible witness to my own rape.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of six American women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape. I am one of those women. I don’t think my story is particularly rare or special. It happens all the time—again according to RAINN, a rape occurs in the US every two minutes in this country—and just like 97 percent of rapists, my attacker walked free. I would like to share my personal account of what it is like to file a rape accusation though, so if you haven’t gone through the process you can learn about all the fun that comes with it. (I’m sure a lot of people, unfortunately, already have a pretty good idea of what it’s like.)
I’ll start at the very beginning: In early October of 2010, I went to meet my friends at a bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was around 10 PM. There was a guy hanging out in my little cluster of people who I wrongly assumed was a friend of my friends. He was socializing pretty well with the group, as if he knew a few of us, and I didn’t give it a second thought. I was drunk. There was some cocaine use going on. While I was outside smoking a cigarette, the guy came out for a smoke too, so we talked. I didn’t flirt with him—I don’t really know how to flirt, and anyway, I wasn’t attracted to this guy in the slightest. He was about five-foot-nine with a thin yet muscular build and looked like he might be of Hispanic or Italian descent. Later, I’d describe him to the cops that way.
There was a disconnected look in his eyes, and at first I figured he was just shy and trying to connect desperately to others through drugs, as many people do. He didn’t flirt with me either, nor did he show any romantic or sexual interest in me. He did ask me if I wanted to do a bump of coke in his car, rather than waiting in line for the bathroom inside. His car was right in front of us, and even though I was nervous, I climbed in. As soon as the doors were shut, he locked the doors and started the car. I demanded to be let out, and as he started driving I told him to turn back and that my friends were waiting for me. He said, “Don’t worry. I’m turning back,” with a stoic expression carved into his face. He didn’t turn back. I kept asking where he was taking me, and soon he stopped responding.
He brought me into his spotlessly clean and creepy apartment where porn was already playing on multiple monitors placed around the room. I told him repeatedly that I didn’t want to have sex with him and that I wanted to go back to my friends. There was no ambiguity about the situation at all. I spent a lot of time pushing him off me. He threatened to kill me. He punched me. He pulled my hair when I tried to get away. Every time I told him to stop he slapped me in the face. He repeatedly called me a bitch and a whore. He ordered me to shut the fuck up. I ended up begging for my life. I even offered him money if he would just please not hurt me. The worst part of the ordeal was having to look at the massive “666” tattoo on his lower abdomen. I ran away as soon as I felt I had the opportunity to do so. He chased after me.
I didn’t really know what to do about the whole thing. I was scared to go to the police because it’s common knowledge that rape victims are often treated like shit, especially if they aren’t as virtuous as the Virgin Mary. I knew I’d be made to feel guilty about my intoxication, I knew I’d be asked about my misguided decision to willingly get into the car, and I already felt guilty and stupid about those things. A friend of mine convinced me that reporting it would be the right thing to do anyway. Her advice was to look “as broken as possible. Don’t wear black eye makeup and dress stylish like you usually do.”
Now, I think I look like I’m about 12 years old without makeup, and it makes me feel naked, but I went to the police station looking sad and makeup-less about 24 hours later. The cops were nice and cool about the whole thing as I filed a report, then I went to the hospital and got a rape kit. Afterward, I was interviewed by a detective who kept asking me about what I was wearing at the time and who told me that this case would probably never make it anywhere because I was intoxicated. Instead of focusing on what was done to me, most of his questions focused on why I didn’t fight back harder and run away sooner. The answer to both was because I was afraid and operating on a kind of autopilot—I never imagined anyone would accuse me of failing to get away.
I Was Raped—and Then the Police Told Me I Made It Up
If you think India is the only place cops treat rape victims like shit, think again . At age nineteen, Sara Reedy was working as a cashier in a gas station in the 1000-person burgh of Cranberry, Pennsylvania when one night a serial rapist named Wilbur Brown opened the door to the station with cellophane wrapped around his fingers. He forced her out in front of the station, where he made her perform oral sex on him, while holding his pistol against her head. There were no security cameras. He then went back inside with Sara, robbed the cash drawer of around $600, and afterwards, hid her in a room behind the office in the back of the service station, where he forced her to tear out all of the phone lines in sight. Incidentally, tangled with one of those phone cords was the power cord to the station’s meager security system, a screwy detail that would later endanger Sara’s chances for justice. The office also happened to have an emergency exit, which Sara bolted through to safety. She sought shelter in the mechanic’s shop next door. One of the tow-truck drivers on duty at the shop telephoned the police while the other went out with a gun to look for the assailant.
What followed, even after such a nightmarish encounter, was worse. Sara was accused of lying to the police. Frank Evanson, the detective who interviewed her in the hospital room where she was undergoing her rape kit examination, accused her of stealing the cash from the drawer and fabricating the assault story as a cover-up. She was put in jail for five days, and waited eight torturous months for her criminal trial. All the while, she was pregnant with her first child.
Wilbur Brown was arrested for a similar crime a month before Sara’s trial date in 2005. He confessed to both Reedy’s assault and the robbery in addition to numerous other rapes. In response, after Sara was released, she sued the Cranberry Township Police Department. But the suit was dismissed in 2009, after Detective Evanson presented evidence claiming that Sara had pulled the power cord to the gas station’s security system an hour before the time she claimed to have been assaulted. She pulled the cord, he testified, in order to steal the $600, and then invented the rape story as a mere diversion.
Except, it turns out, the good detective had misread the security company’s timestamp data indicating when the cord was disconnected, and failed to consult the security company experts who actually knew how to read it. This fact came out when, in August of 2010, attorneys of the Women’s Law Project, a civil-rights nonprofit based in Pennsylvania, volunteered to help Sara challenge the dismissal of her lawsuit. The result was that, this past spring, Sara won a settlement of 1.5 million dollars. Part of the settlement was a gag order that said Sara couldn’t talk about her case—until now.
VICE recently spoke with Sarawhile she was on Christmas vacation at her parents’ home in Florida.
VICE: Tell me what happened at the hospital.
Reedy: When I was brought to the hospital, Detective Evanson was already there. The police walked me through the waiting room and they basically put me in an office space like one of the nurses would use. It was a very small room, like a cubicle-type space, but it had doors. Evanson was sitting there waiting for me and that’s when he asked me to tell him what happened and I told him, and after I was finished telling all the details about the assault and the man, and how I was robbed, his first question to me was “How many times a day do you use dope?”
I thought that he was referring to heroin, because heroin had been a problem in that area, and I told him straight up that I did not use heroin, that I smoked pot occasionally but that I hadn’t smoked pot in about a week. Eventually, they moved me into an actual hospital room to give me the rape kit, but actually, before giving me the rape kit, Evanson and the corporal, Corporal Massolino, came in and questioned me again. And I had to go through the details of the assault all over again. Evanson basically led the whole thing—it’s cheesy to say, but it almost felt like they were playing this “Good Cop, Bad Cop” game, because Corporal Massolino just sat there. He really didn’t say anything. Evanson just kept on grilling me and it eventually turned into “Where’s the money? If you’d tell us now about what actually happened, you’d save yourself.” And he actually went to the extent of saying, “Your tears won’t save you now,” when I finally started crying. It was like a horrible Lifetime movie.
What was the first thing you felt when you realized he was accusing you?
I honestly felt like they were just playing “Good Cop, Bad Cop.” I was trying to reassure myself that this wasn’t actually happening. I was in total shock—I was trying to reassure myself the whole entire time that everything was going to be okay. I was giving myself every excuse as to why it was going to be okay, but I was definitely getting frustrated with dealing with Evanson. I almost felt like, “This couldn’t happen. It won’t happen.” You know, you’re brought up to believe that the cops are there to help you.
When did you decide to pursue litigation? You waited for your trial for several months, right?
I didn’t really have any basis to sue them until my vindication. That was the position I was in. Innocent until proven guilty, when, in the reality of it, you’re guilty until proven innocent. It’s hard to go ahead and sue the police until you actually have solid evidence. I’m sure I could have pursued it if I was found innocent in a trial, but I don’t think I would have had success if Wilbur wasn’t caught and had confessed to assaulting me.
Many of us like to think that we’ll stand strong and act decisively during a crisis, but until we’re put in one, it’s impossible to know we’ll react. That conflict may affect how we view victims of sexual harassment, according to new research.