For the longest time, Jan Davis couldn't talk about what happened. Now she can't stop. Her sentences spiral off into agitated silences, her face is anxious and drawn, but the words just keep on coming. Occasionally, this spectacle moves someone to suggest she find a counselor, someone to help put the past behind her. She always declines.

"I don't need that," she insists, with an admonishing look, as she leans back into the rose-colored sofa in her Fairfax County apartment. "I don't have any hidden anger. All of my anger is right up front."

Two and a half years ago, Davis says, she was raped by her gynecologist during what should have been a routine examination in her hometown near Pittsburgh. She told her sister about it first, and then her mother, but for reasons they now find painful to discuss, neither encouraged her to go to the police. So Davis kept quiet for another six months, until the night her sister's neighbor reported the same complaint.

Eventually nine women came forward. The critical paragraphs of their police affidavits are almost identical. Most of them had been hiding their alleged attacks for years. "We didn't think we would have a chance against a doctor, my husband and I," one of the women later testified. "Who would believe us?"

Reza Rasti, a 44-year-old Iranian national, was charged with nine counts of rape and nine counts of indecent assault. His lawyer entered a plea of not guilty, but before the case could get to trial, the doctor disappeared.

Rasti has been a fugitive for more than a year now; the local assistant district attorney who handled the case has turned his primary attention to other things. Davis, however, remains a kind of prisoner. She broods over details of the investigation, and stays late after her secretarial day at a local NASA contractor to type entreaties to public officials. " . . I believe you are the only person at this point that may be capable of helping me," she beseeched First Lady Nancy Reagan not long ago. "I am counting on you," she informed Attorney General Edwin Meese.

She has trouble going to any doctor now, much less a gynecologist. "She puts it off and puts it off and then she just quivers and shakes and sweats when she gets in there," says her mother, Kay Silbaugh.

Davis hopes that talking about the case will give other women courage. But most of all, she wants the doctor to pay.

"You follow the system, you push all the right buttons," she says, fingering the vinyl binder where the letters are filed. "And then he walks away. There are nine people whose lives he's turned upside down for the past two years, and he got away with it.

"I think he left because he felt, deep down, I wasn't going to drop it. At the hearings, I didn't cry, like some of the other girls. And I don't care if it takes the rest of my life," she says flatly. "I'm gonna find him."

The Patient

For most women, the idea of rape is bad enough, but rape during, and in the guise of, a gynecological examination is almost unimaginable. The implicit violation of trust, the furtive, surreal looniness of it, is hard to fathom. Why would a woman stay on the examining table long enough to let it happen? Wouldn't there be some warning? And once it had happened, why wouldn't she go straight to the police?

Jan Davis can explain most of that now, but she is still troubled that it took another woman's example to bring her forward. "I wanted to be the kind of person who would stop him," she says sadly, "but I didn't. I just couldn't."

In April 1985 Davis, then 26, thought she was due for a gynecological checkup. She was new to Fairfax County, so she arranged to see the family gynecologist during a weekend trip home to Fayette City, Pa., a speck of a town in the Allegheny Mountains about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh.

"I'd been going to him since I was 17, and I continued to go back, that's how confident I felt," she remembers. "He said sure, come in, we'll squeeze you in."

Reza Rasti was about 5 feet 6, with thinning brown hair and a mild, almost apologetic manner. He spoke with a slight accent. He had finished medical school at the University of Tehran in 1969, and come to the United States shortly afterward. His wife Fatemah was from a well-to-do Tehran family; he had grown up in a rural village outside the capital.

His practice included everyone from the dutiful matrons of the steel mill towns along the Monongahela to the wife of a suburban police chief. His waiting room was decorated with the school pictures of the babies he had delivered, and he kept pictures of his two children prominently displayed on his desk. "I liked him real well," Davis' mother, also a patient, remembers. "He was gentle and he was always talking about family."

When Davis' niece was born, it was Rasti who had performed the emergency cesarean the family believed had saved the baby's life. "We loved the man for what he did," recalls Billy Sterner, the baby's father. "After that, he was like a god to me."

The morning of her appointment, according to Davis' sworn testimony, the nurse-receptionist led her to an examining room and told her to disrobe. Davis slipped on an examining gown and climbed onto the examining table. It is standard procedure for many gynecologists to have a nurse or nurse's aide assist them during examinations, but Rasti seldom did. Jan Davis, who had never been treated by any other gynecologist, didn't know enough to know that was unusual.

"I yakked and talked to him like nothing, like I always did," she remembers. Rasti told her to put her feet in the stirrups on either side of the examining table, then draped her with a white sheet. He asked her to slide her hips toward him, a routine request, except that he had her slide so far down she was almost off the table.

The internal examination that followed, Davis now realizes, took far too long. "I had a hard time going to a gynecologist for a long time after this," she says, "but when I did go, and the examination was so fast -- a few seconds -- it just made me sick."

Halfway through Rasti's examination, she says, echoing her testimony, she decided that something was wrong.

"I couldn't see anything over the sheet, but I started to get a real awkward feeling," she says. "I was having intercourse -- you could feel the pressure. I thought, 'I'm having sex with this man!' It was like, I couldn't believe it! I didn't know what to do!

"I moved, because I was almost off the table at that point, and I felt a zipper, and that was it.

"I was real scared, and then I thought, 'Wait a minute. He's smaller than me.' So I started to concentrate on his face. It was so composed ... I said, 'What are you doing?'

"I started to scramble off the table. I said, 'You son of a bitch.' He had his hand under his coat, and he was running out of the room. He said, 'Come and see me when you're dressed,' just like he always did.

"I knew what had happened," she says. "But now what? I got dressed and I went into his office. I'm standing there in his office, he's writing a prescription. I said, 'You're sick.'

"He said, 'What do you mean? I'll see you next time.'

"I said, 'There won't be a next time.' But I didn't do anything. I was sick to my stomach. I left, walked out. The nurse asked what's the matter, but I just kept on going.

"I was shaking so bad I didn't know if I could drive the car. I didn't know if I should go directly to the police, or go to get the rape test ... but I knew I had K-Y jelly on me, and having just come from the gynecologist's office ..."

She drove to the Hair Cuttery at the local mall. "I had a hair appointment there," she remembers, "and I went to the girl who does my hair. I said, 'I just don't know if I can do this today.' I told her what happened and she said, 'I don't know if you should go to the police or not. I don't know who's going to believe you.' "

Davis told her sister Pam Sterner next. "I asked her if Dr. Rasti had ever done anything weird to her.

"She said, 'No.'

"And I told her, 'Well, I think we just had sex.'

"She said, 'Did you see anything?'

"I said, 'No.'

"She said, 'Well, it's your word against his.' She said, 'I don't know, I'd just drop it. Just don't go back.' And she kept asking me, 'Are you sure it was him, are you sure it wasn't the instrument?'

At the time, Sterner remembers, "I was thinking, I know how worked up she gets ... And if we push it ... if she goes home and tells Mom and Dad, Mom will lose it and Dad will probably go down there and try to kill him. And she was okay. Nobody else had to know."

A month later, Davis overheard her mother urging her teen-age sister to make an appointment with Rasti and decided she had to speak up. Her mother was angry she hadn't been told sooner -- "I felt like I was leading the lamb to the slaughter" -- but she also was frightened by the thought of her daughter accusing a doctor of rape. "When you go to a police station and say the gynecologist raped you, you can already see the eyebrows going up," her mother says now. "Much more so than if you went and said, 'I got raped in a parking lot' or garage. It's because he's a professional person ...

"It was a flabbergasting situation," she insists. "I couldn't believe a guy would do this, jeopardize his career ..."

Fayette City

Jan Davis remembers being disappointed by her family's reaction, but not really surprised. In Fayette City and the surrounding towns, a doctor commands a lot of respect. And although there are signs of change, attitudes toward rape, and rape victims, remain traditional too. "I don't mean to put them down," she says, "but there's a lot of stuff they don't understand about rape. Some of those men up there would have thought, 'Well, what did she do to deserve it?' "

Davis had always been the tomboy of the family, the rebel. In high school, she says, when her sister was attacked on the school bus by members of a girls' motorcycle gang, it was she who jumped in the car and headed for their hangout. "I'm always the one, when someone does something to someone I love, my sisters or something, I just go crazy," she says.

Her German-American family has been in Fayette City for generations. Her father is an electrician at West Pennsylvania Power, her mother is a traditional homemaker, and her sisters have settled nearby into similar lives. Davis' first marriage, to a man her parents disapproved of, lasted six years. (A second marriage, after the rape, fell apart in less than six months.) She'd seen the move to Fairfax in 1985 as a way up and out.

"It's not good for you up there when you're a girl," Davis says. "It's the kind of area, you can't get jobs, and people depend on their husbands. The men are the ones whoget the jobs, and they should, but if you're a girl, you take a back seat to everything. And if {the men} want to do something, they do it, and you're supposed to shut up."

Rebel or no, Davis was overwhelmed by her family's doubts and her own fears. Not sure how to proceed, she drove home to Fairfax and did nothing. "There was a big knot in my stomach. I didn't know what to do, but it was obsessing me. What do you say when your gynecologist rapes you? Who do you go to? First you don't even want to believe it! That's my big hang-up with this whole thing -- that it took someone else to bring it up.

"My personality isn't the kind to be weak, but I felt weak. I felt like he had taken that away from me."

The Pattern

Sexual assaults against patients have been reported in almost every medical setting: during physical and dental examinations, psychiatric sessions, pediatric visits, even in postsurgical recovery rooms, against patients groggy from anesthesia. The age and sex of the victims vary; the behavior pattern of the aggressors is similar to that of ordinary sex offenders.

No one knows exactly how many such assaults there are each year; there have been no definitive studies. But Dr. Harold I. Lief, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and editor of a series of medical textbooks on the subject, estimates that 5 to 10 percent of health professionals -- physicians and mental health workers in roughly equal number -- are thought to have engaged in unethical and/or illegal sexual contact with patients. Because the behavior is usually repeated with other patients, Lief and others estimate there may be thousands of victims. "If anything," Lief says, "these figures are on the low side."

But most of the victims, intimidated by the physician's social status or fearing stigmatization and blame, never come forward. The medical setting may add to the patient's confusion. "It's very hard in a medical situation, where a doctor has legitimate access to a person's body, for the patient to discern whether the doctor is doing what he should be doing," says Ann Burgess, a psychiatric nurse who has written on the subject. "A lot of people during an uncomfortable exam will dissociate; then when they realize something is happening, they don't know what to do." It is not unusual for the victim of a sexual assault to experience nightmares, mood swings, crying jags and general fearfulness long after the attack. The victim may suppress the memory for years.

The cases are considered difficult to prosecute. As in any criminal proceeding, the burden of proof rests on the accusers, and in these crimes there are seldom any witnesses or corroborating evidence. False rape claims are not unknown. The trial is often a matter of a doctor's word against a patient's, and juries tend to reflect society's biases. Also, the statute of limitations often means that not everyone who comes forward may take legal action.

Sometimes a doctor is acquitted by the courts but disciplined by the state medical boards, which have improved their once sorry enforcement record. But there continues to be uncertainty within the medical profession about how to identify and treat offenders, and a tendency to view reported incidents as isolated events. The Accusation

Six months after Jan Davis fled the doctor's office in panic, her sister Pam Sterner was awakened by a midnight telephone call from her next-door neighbor, Christine Crawford. Crawford sounded distraught. She asked Sterner to watch her baby for a few hours. Her husband had just finished the late shift at U.S. Steel, she explained, and they were going to the hospital.

"She said Dr. Rasti had raped her," Pam Sterner remembers. Sterner felt sick to her stomach as she hung up the phone, and ran to the bathroom. "It was a nervous reaction," she says. "I felt real guilty." She was the one who had recommended Rasti to Crawford two years earlier. She had never told her neighbor about her sister's trouble with the doctor.

As she thought about it, however, Sterner felt even more guilty about her sister. "I felt that night maybe I hadn't done right by Jan, maybe I should have pushed her to do something about it."

Crawford is a tall, big-boned woman in her midthirties. She works as a counselor at a community mental health center. She'd gone to the doctor's office that morning for a routine procedure. Her reaction to Rasti's alleged assault was swift and violent.

"I said, 'What are you doing?' And he looked real surprised. His mouth, like, came open and his eyes got big," she later testified. "He started saying, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.' "

The doctor tried to run out of the room, but she grabbed him by his lab coat and smacked him up against the wall. He denied having intercourse with her. She said, "Pull down your pants, and if you're clean, then we know you didn't do anything.' " He refused, she testified, and begged her to consider the gravity of her allegations.

She testified that as she was walking out, the doctor grabbed her and kissed her hand. "Then, in this real cheery voice ... he said, 'Goodbye. If there's ever anything I can do for you, let me know.' And I walked out and there was this whole room full of women sitting there and all of them were staring at me."

That was 10:30 a.m.

Crawford went to work, where her supervisor counseled caution. "He said, 'Well, it's your word against his.' He said, 'They're going to drag you through the courts.' "

She went home and showered several times, as rape victims often do. She waited for her husband, who was due home at midnight. When he arrived, she told him what had happened. They called the Jefferson Borough police department, whose dispatcher assigned the case to Richard A. Bonacci, the officer on duty.

The Investigation

When Crawford's call came in, Bonacci remembers, "I was real skeptical, I guess because she had been at a doctor's." He told Crawford to meet him at the hospital so a rape test could be administered, figuring that would discourage a false claim. "She showed up, and I started thinking, this is probably legitimate."

In the meantime, Sterner had telephoned Jan Davis at their mother's house. Davis rushed to Jefferson Hospital to corroborate Crawford's story. The next day, she called Jefferson police to report her own allegations.

In the days that followed, Bonacci learned that Rasti had telephoned local police a year or two back to complain that the husband of one of his patients had threatened his life. Yes, he'd threatened Rasti, the man confirmed angrily when the police contacted him this time. "Because he {had intercourse with} my wife!"

Now there were three victims. News stories soon brought forward three more, including one who had gone to police several years earlier alleging that Rasti had sexually assaulted her during an examination at a local clinic. On the advice of his civil attorney at the time, Rasti had insisted on taking a polygraph test, and passed. The woman never pressed charges.

Affidavits showing probable cause were filed, and an arrest warrant was issued. A few days later, at 11:25 p.m., two squad cars rolled up in front of the doctor's house in an affluent neighborhood outside Pittsburgh. Two of the officers went around back. Bonacci rang the front doorbell. The doctor answered, wearing light blue pajamas and slippers. He remained impassive while Bonacci explained the warrant, but his wife became upset.

Rasti was taken before a magistrate at 1:45 and arraigned on charges of rape and indecent assault. He steadfastly maintained his innocence. The magistrate allowed the charges of indecent assault, but she ruled there was insufficient evidence of the "forcible compulsion" necessary to justify a rape charge under Pennsylvania law. Assistant District Attorney John Zottola decided to withdraw all of the charges and regroup. Rasti hired John Doherty, one of the top defense lawyers in the city.

In the next two months, the assistant DA brought his case -- evidence and witnesses -- before a few other magistrates, each time arguing, unsuccessfully, that the simple fact of penetration was enough to satisfy the necessary element of forcible compulsion. Jan Davis drove from Fairfax to Pittsburgh for each of these proceedings, as well as a few that were canceled at the last minute, after she had already made the trip. The case began to take up so much of her time that she quit her job and took temporary work.

In the meantime, three other women came forward, bringing the total to nine. With the exception of Davis and Crawford, the women were strangers to one another. The youngest was 18, the oldest in her midfifties.

Rasti was arrested a second time, and this time both the indecent assault and the rape charges were allowed to stand. Bond was set at $15,000. The doctor made bail, and continued to declare his innocence. "We had entered a plea of not guilty and we would have persisted with that plea," says defense attorney Doherty.

Rasti returned to his practice, but within the month the state board of health temporarily suspended his license. Two months later, Doherty requested a final hearing for the purpose of attacking the legal soundness of the rape charges. Rasti did not attend that hearing, but eight of the nine women showed up to testify.

Two of the women said that they'd been in the late stages of pregnancy at the time of the alleged rapes. The 18-year-old witness -- who said she had been raped 4 1/2 years earlier -- clung to her mother's arm through the hearings and trembled so violently on the witness stand, says one official who was present, "that she nearly fell off." All of the women said they'd realized they were being raped as it happened, but hadn't known what to do about it. Even the women who'd told their husbands had begged them not to go to the police.

One week after their testimony, the district attorney received a call from an anonymous tipster who claimed that Rasti had left the area. A month earlier, it was learned, the doctor quietly had transferred power of attorney to his brother-in-law, a student at the University of West Virginia. Rasti's civil attorney, Henry Rea, handled the matter -- accepting, he says, his client's explanation that the arrangement was a precaution in case he ended up in jail. Rea now believes that Rasti had been planning his flight for several months. "He is someone who could not have faced the prospect of prison," Rea says. "He was a quiet, meek little man."

The day after Rasti disappeared, the judge who had listened to the women upheld the legitimacy of the rape charges. "There was no consent, either verbal or tacit, in these cases," the judge wrote. "It is not necessary that the victim be beaten, that the victim cry, that the victim become hysterical, or that she be threatened by a weapon. ... All that is necessary is that the perpetrator know or should know that his victim who is capable of giving consent has not done so."

Earlier, Davis had hired her own lawyer and filed a $250,000 civil complaint alleging assault and negligence against Rasti. She won a default judgment after Rasti fled, but there was no way to collect. The doctor's two properties were sold shortly after he fled, but the mortgages were several months past due, according to Rea, and there was no profit from the sales.

Had the criminal case gone to trial, defense lawyer Doherty's plan was to attack the women's credibility, particularly the women who waited for newspaper articles before they came forward. He thinks the women honestly believe they were assaulted. "People don't concoct that, but what I do think is that in most or all of the instances, there was not rape. Later, after they'd read about it, they thought, 'Something felt funny. Let's go join the bandwagon.' Not in a malicious sense," he adds.

The Pennsylvania State Medical Board revoked Rasti's medical license in July 1986. This past summer Fatemah Rasti was traced to an address in Nottingham, England. Last month she telephoned Henry Rea. She said she was calling from Tehran and that her husband was living with her there. Rea does not know whether Rasti has resumed the practice of medicine, but says he remembers joking with Rasti's brother-in-law that the Iranian military probably was eager for his services.

"I have no idea where he is," says Doherty. "For all I know he could be in Philadelphia."

The Lessons

Officer Richard Bonacci was surprised by how reluctant people were to take the word of nine women over one doctor. "People would ask me, other law enforcement officers, I had family members asking me, 'Do you believe these women?' I was amazed. Look at all these women! Do you actually think they all got together and said, 'Listen, let's make this up'?"

Christine Crawford hopes that publicity about the case will teach other women the lesson she has learned: "That women pay attention, and they don't trust automatically. The trust has to be earned," she says firmly. "The doctor is not your father."

Crawford has tried to understand Rasti's motives. "My only guess can be the power. To have so much power and have all these women love you and trust you and yet get something over on them. Without them even knowing it. And I'm sure it was even more thrilling when they did know it, and he was able to keep them quiet."

"I think the man had a sickness," attorney Rea says simply. "It was a closet sickness."

Jan Davis says that the day she learned the doctor was gone was "the worst I ever felt." She still telephones the assistant district attorney from time to time, but he doesn't return her calls as quickly as he used to, and there isn't a lot he's allowed to tell about the investigation anyway.

With the help of her boyfriend Gary McGuffie, she continues her letter-writing campaign. They talk about finding an Iranian lawyer to track Rasti overseas.

"Somewhere he's living with his wife and kids and they're having a nice meal together," she says wanly. "He's not thinking every day about it like I think about it. He's not afraid to go to the doctor's. He has his happiness. He took it away from me."

She speaks again, and this time her voice is cold. "If I lived there and he was still in that town, I ... I don't know what I'd do. I'd flatten his tires, throw eggs at him, make him miserable," she whispers. "Make him miserable.