Speaking out for elderly victims of rape

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 10:37 PM

For years, criminal profilers and psychologists have studied rapists who target elderly women.

Two such victims from Montgomery County offered their own opinions Friday as they spoke publicly about their attacks for the first time.

"Arrogant little twerp," said the 69-year-old, who suffers from spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal, and walks with a cane.

"A dehumanizing being, a controller," said the 87-year-old, who uses a walker and until recently lived across the street from the other woman in Germantown.

Detectives think that the same man sexually assaulted both women a total of three times. Police asked the women to speak with reporters Friday to help generate more attention to the case. Officials also announced a reward of up to $5,000 for help in solving the case.

The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent.

The 87-year-old, a grandmother of two, was raped on Aug. 21 after the attacker entered an unlocked window of her residence at an assisted living facility.

A longtime practitioner of yoga and meditation, she has used them both to help get through the aftermath. She also recently wrote a poem called "Hell."

"I did not think I believed in you, the opposite of heaven, love, compassion, caring, but now I do," the poem begins. "I have experienced Hell in the form of a man, an intruder. . . . You made a choice to prey on elderly women, knowing they could not defend themselves."

Detectives describe the suspect as a black male or dark-skinned Hispanic, possibly 16 to 25 years old, 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10, with a thin build and no facial hair.

"My hunch is this guy lives in the area. He has kept these women under surveillance," said Ann Wolbert Burgess, a nationally known expert in forensic nursing who has studied rapists who target older women. "He has to have seen them to know they couldn't get away."

She said there are no national statistics on how often older people are raped but that it is more common than people think. "It's incredible that there are so many victims out there," she said.

One problem: Victims who suffer from dementia may not be taken seriously.

Forensic evidence helps, as does behavior consistent with sexual trauma such as acting withdrawn or clingy, Burgess said.

"Sometimes you have to kind of work backwards," she said.

People also will doubt an older victim because they mistakenly view such attacks as sexually motivated.

"What's driving the crime isn't the desire to be sexually satisfied," said Mark E. Safarik, who spent 12 years as a criminal profiler for the FBI and has studied such rapists for 15 years.

The attackers often depend on a dominant female, such as a mother, grandmother or aunt. They want to strike out against this relative but can't because of their dependence. "The victim becomes a surrogate for the woman they can't strike out against," he said.

The two victims who spoke Friday certainly displayed sharp minds. Evidence supports their stories. Both were attacked in their beds.

"At first I thought it was a nightmare," the 87-year-old said in an interview Friday. "I was instantly submissive. I wanted to live."

After the man raped the 69-year-old, he came back and sexually assaulted her a second time. "You again," the victim remembers saying.

She has refused to move from her ground-floor condominium. "The place is nearly paid for," she said.

Both women spent careers helping others in the education and social services fields, said Detective Jordan Satinsky.

He has talked to experts on elderly rapes but is holding off pinpointing a motive. "It could be a whole lot of things," he said. "I do think this is something that puts him in a position of power."

There is a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the arrest of the person responsible for these crimes. Call 866-411-TIPS (8477).

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