He was her friend. So the 26-year-old real estate agent agreed when he asked to come over after work one night in May 1987. Around midnight, she unlocked the door to her one-room apartment overlooking Connecticut Avenue. She listened indulgently to her friend, a former lover, complain about his job managing a local restaurant. Finally, she asked him to leave. He seemed to ignore her, so she decided to lie on her bed, fully clothed. She dozed off as her friend droned on. At one point, she slipped under the comforter on her bed and wriggled out of her jeans. Sometime in the next hour, she was aware that he was sitting on the bed. Suddenly she awoke with a start, as she realized he had climbed on top of her.

She screamed and tried to push him off the bed. He shoved her back, wrenching her neck and pinning her down. She began to cry. He placed his hand tightly over her mouth and penetrated her. Sobbing and unable to breathe, she began to choke. Blood vessels around her eyes popped from lack of oxygen.

Then she stopped fighting and went limp, psychologically retreating to a place where he could not hurt her. His hand slipped off her mouth; she gasped: "Just get it over with."

With that, he stopped. He rolled off her. He apologized. He swore at himself. He said he had made a mistake and threatened to kill himself. Then he ran out of her apartment carrying his clothes.

She picked up the phone, dialed 911 and reported she had been raped.

Three years later, the man who had been her friend pleaded guilty to one count of sodomy and was sent to jail. Date Rape Underreported

Women are most often raped by someone they know, not by a stranger who leaps out of the bushes or climbs through a bedroom window in the middle of the night. Acquaintance or "date" rape remains one of the most underreported violent crimes and may account for 80 percent of sexual assaults.

Victims are especially reluctant to report date rape because of the murky circumstances that frequently surround a crime involving two people who may have had a sexual relationship in the past. When the victim knows the assailant, it fuels suspicions that she in some way encouraged or consented to the attack.

Victims face other formidable obstacles as well. Police are often dubious about what really happened, and prosecutors fear no jury will convict. A 1983 study of more than 900 sexual assault complaints filed in Indianapolis showed that men often were not charged when the victims' behavior raised the question of consent.

The author of the study, Gary D. LaFree, a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, found that charges were rarely filed if the victim delayed in filing a report, if she had a prior relationship with the suspect and if no weapon was involved.

Those same obstacles confronted the Washington real estate agent. Her three-year odyssey through the legal system at times left her feeling abandoned by her friends and family and paralyzed by self-doubt. What makes her case unusual and noteworthy is the fact that she persevered and was successful in pressing her case.

At her request, only the victim's first name, Donna, is being used in this story. Although her case is a matter of public record, The Washington Post does not publish the names of rape victims without their consent.

Jeffrey Darrell Smith, the 36-year-old man who assaulted her, has been confined to the mental health unit of the D.C. Jail since May.

His attorney Steven Kiersh said Smith is being held there because he is a recovering alcoholic and has a recurring psychiatric problem that must be treated with lithium, a drug commonly used to treat manic depression.

Corrections officials and Smith's lawyer declined to allow Smith to be interviewed.

This story is based on court records as well as interviews with Donna, her counselors, police, Smith's lawyer, and U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens. Judge Warren King, who presided over the case in D.C. Superior Court, did not return several telephone calls requesting comment about the case. And Stephens declined to permit Paul Howes, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, to be interviewed.

Smith was indicted on one count of rape and one count of sodomy. As part of an agreement made during the first day of his trial last February, he pleaded guilty to sodomy, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Rape, a more serious charge, carries a prison term of 15 years to life.

Since 1987, the case has dominated Donna's life. "I thought about the rape, about what to do about it, every single day," she said. "I needed to do something." Would Anyone Believe Her?

From the beginning, Donna wondered whether anyone would believe she had been raped.

Several hours after she reported the assault, she said, the detective who questioned her at D.C. police headquarters asked whether she really wanted to put her "boyfriend" in jail.

A week later, her father accused her of provoking the attack by having a man in her apartment and by being sexually active. Several male friends advised her to forget the rape: She was sexy, they said, and had to expect trouble.

Donna typifies many young women who gravitate to the Washington area after college, eager to establish their careers. She grew up in a small town in upstate New York, graduated from college and worked in Boston and Denver before deciding to move to the District, then in the midst of a real estate boom.

When she arrived in 1986, she knew virtually no one. In order to meet people and save money, she moved into a group house in Bethesda. Through a housemate, she met Smith, the son of an administrative law judge who lived with his parents in Potomac. Tall and slim, Smith was a restaurant manager and Donna thought he was "kind . . . a nice guy."

In January, five months after they met, they began dating and had sex. After a month, Donna broke off the relationship, saying she just wanted to be friends. After that, they saw each other infrequently but amicably. The night of the attack, May 15, 1987, was the first time Donna had seen Smith in a month.

During her initial interview with the detective assigned to the Sexual Assault Unit, Donna talked about her prior relationship with Smith. "The detective kept saying, 'You don't want to send your boyfriend to jail for life, do you? Because that's what's going to happen . . . I kept saying: 'You know, he's not my boyfriend,' " she recalled.

The detective declined to be interviewed.

The next morning, hours after the attack, Donna drove to the emergency room of Suburban Hospital in Montgomery County. Hospital records show that a doctor found bruises around her mouth and hemhorraging around her eyes. The doctor, noting on the hospital chart that Donna said she had been raped, told her that the eye injury was a result of blood vessels that burst, a condition that results from a lack of oxygen.

The following day, Donna said, Smith called her at home. As she later testified in a deposition, Smith told her he wanted to apologize for his behavior. He said he had been drinking. He said he didn't know what had come over him; he did not use the word rape.

The following weekend, Donna's parents drove down for a visit. Her relationship with her father, always tenuous, quickly deteriorated. During an argument, Donna began crying and blurted out that she had been raped.

His response left her feeling rejected. If Smith had really raped her, she said her father asked, why hadn't she had him arrested?

To her amazement, Donna heard herself making excuses for Smith: He was her friend, he had threatened to kill himself, she didn't want to send someone she knew to jail for life.

Her sense of reality was slipping, she realized later, a phenomenon psychologists say is not uncommon among date rape victims. While medical evidence -- the bruises around her mouth and eyes -- indicated she had been assaulted, Donna said she felt "a little scared I had done something wrong. Why had I let him in my apartment? It was like I was half asleep at the time. I thought, 'Did I lead him on?' " Getting Angry, Taking Action

The first person who believed Donna was Peggy Speaker, a colleague at the real estate office where Donna worked and on whom she relied for motherly advice.

A few days after the attack, Donna told Speaker about the assault. A petite, dark-haired woman who usually came to work meticulously dressed and manicured, Donna that day "looked awful," Speaker recalled. Her hair was limp, she wore no make-up and looked like she had just dragged herself into the office.

Speaker was most alarmed by Donna's demeanor. Usually vivacious, she seemed frightened and withdrawn. "Somebody had to say, 'You're okay,' and allow her to get angry . . . instead of feeling that she deserved it," Speaker said.

Speaker pushed Donna to do something. She urged her to call the U.S. Attorney's office, to follow up on the police report and to track down information during the investigation that could strengthen her case. The two frequently discussed what Donna could do.

A week later, Donna returned to the police sexual assault unit and filed a formal complaint against Smith. Because the first detective had been promoted, she was assigned a new detective.

Detective Michael Sullivan said he interviewed Donna for hours; her account never varied. With her help, Sullivan contacted another woman Smith knew. Sullivan said she told him she had been sexually assaulted by Smith months before Donna was attacked but had never reported it because she was an illegal alien. Sullivan said by then he was convinced Donna had been raped.

Kiersh, Smith's lawyer, disputed the allegation that Smith had attacked another woman. "That case was never presented to a grand jury and was never presented for a criminal charge. If the U.S. Attorney's Offfice wanted to move on it, it could have. But it didn't, so there must not have been enough evidence," he said.

Speaker also urged Donna to seek counseling at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. At first, she resisted. But she began feeling frightened, especially at work whenever she had to show a house to a male client.

Home was no refuge. "I was afraid," she recalled. "I'd look under my bed. I'd look in the closets. I lived in a first-floor apartment then, and I was scared." Most of all, she was terrified that she would run into Smith on the street.

Two months after the attack, Donna made an appointment to see a counselor at the rape crisis center, which operates out of a church near Dupont Circle.

From the outset, Donna told counselor Debbie Aubinoe that she wanted Smith to be prosecuted. Even if he were not convicted, Donna told Aubinoe, she would feel that she had done everything she could.

"She kept saying that she trusted {Smith}," Aubinoe said. "It was a real violation of trust. The physical abuse and the rape itself were horrendous, but I think the breaking of trust was just as devastating. You expect a total stranger to rape you, not someone you know." Going to Court

In most rape cases, prosecutors say, there are usually two successful defenses: either the police arrested the wrong man, or the woman agreed to have sex and changed her mind after the fact. In Donna's case, they were worried that Smith would contend that she consented.

Donna waited more than a year before her case went to the grand jury. For months, prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office debated whether to seek an indictment. The same issues Donna faced during the initial police interview were paramount: She had admitted Smith to her apartment, she had had sex with him previously and he hadn't used a weapon during the attack. In August 1988, more than a year after she reported the rape, assistant U.S. attorney Paul Howes presented her case to the grand jury, which voted to indict.

Every month for the next year, Donna called Howes and detective Sullivan to ask when Smith would be charged and when her case would go to trial. But resistance was building within the prosecutor's office to spending time and money on a trial that, experience had shown, was a poor risk.

Sullivan said that the case bogged down over the same questions that threaten any date rape prosecution: Would a jury find fault with a former boyfriend who demanded sex? Was the case winnable? Had Donna really been raped?

"There's a big problem with date rape. And it's a really big problem when it's brought into the court system. People are always going to question what happened and what her motive is in bringing the case to trial," Sullivan said recently.

As the months dragged by without a court date, Donna, like many victims of date rape, felt tremendously ambivalent.

"So many times, I would cry about it and say he should go to jail. But I really can't stand the thought of jail. I don't believe it does anyone any good. I think anyone who goes to jail ends up worse off," she said.

Crisis center counselor Karen Erdman said the internal struggle Donna faced is typical. "Even if the police and the district attorney are being as helpful as they can be, there's a struggle through each step of the process. The amount of discouragement that {Donna} had would have discouraged most survivors. She was more persistent than most."

Donna kept pressure on the U.S. Attorney's office with visits and phone calls. After nearly a year, she decided to drive from her Northwest Washington office to talk to Howes about the status of her case. As she was rounding the corner near the U.S. Attorney's office, she saw Stephens, the U.S. Attorney, walk out the door and climb into a cab.

She followed him for blocks. At the Willard Hotel, the cab stopped. She quickly double-parked and ran after him as he walked toward the hotel. "Are you Jay Stephens?" she recalled asking. "Because if you are, I want to talk to you. I'm a rape victim and want to know why you won't prosecute my case."

Stephens, surprised but polite, talked to her for a few minutes. He promised to call her back.

And he did. In a recent interview about Donna's case, Stephens said he "doesn't usually get involved in individual cases" but her case highlighted a potential problem with the way his office handled the approximately 125 rape cases it prosecutes annually.

"Experience leads you to believe these are very difficult cases to prosecute," Stephens said. "But that alone should not preclude prosecution."

Stephens would not comment on the internal discussions in his office about the case or permit Howes to be interviewed. He said that Donna's demeanor, which he called "very genuine and credible and victimized" plus the strength of the evidence led him to believe in the case.

Because more than a year had elapsed since the first grand jury voted to indict, a new grand jury reviewed the case. On Aug. 16, 1989, it issued indictments and this time, the U.S. Attorney's office moved for a trial.

A trial date was set and then postponed. Finally, on Feb. 20, 1990, the first day of the trial before opening arguments in D.C. Superior Court, Smith pleaded guilty to one count of sodomy.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys say that plea bargaining is common in criminal cases and is, in fact, a necessary part of the judicial system. In many cases, such dispositions save money, ease the already swamped court docket and ensure punishment. About 1,800 trials were held last year in D.C. Superior Court, in which 20,000 felony and misdemeanor cases were filed. Roughly 90 percent of these cases were settled by plea bargain agreements.

In rape cases, the percentage settled without trial is even higher, according to Stephens. In Donna's case, however, the plea was a bit unusual. Prosecutor Howes and Kiersh, the defense lawyer for Smith, asked the judge not to sentence Smith to jail.

Both lawyers requested that he be placed in the John Hopkins University Sexual Disorders Clinic or a similar program to receive counseling, including treatment for alcohol abuse. Maryland Department of Transportation records show Smith was arrested by Montgomery County police and convicted of drunk driving in 1983 and again in 1986.

"It's not common," Stephens said about the plea agreement. "But a disposition of a case tries to take into account as many interests as it can . . . these were two people who knew each other, and {Donna} expressed concern about his health. The disposition reflected her concern and interest in him."

On May 9, King listened to the participants in the case: Howes, Smith's attorney Kiersh, and Smith himself.

According to court records, Smith told the judge that he agreed with the prosecution's statement that he "used force . . . and in the course of the encounter had sexual intercourse with {Donna} and forced her to commit oral sodomy."

By accepting the plea, Smith said, he was making "an act of contrition in the only way that I know how, to the victim in this case."

But it turned out that King was not willing to accept all the terms of the plea bargain agreement. According to the transcript, he said that he viewed the issues raised by Donna's case "a bit differently" than either the prosecution or the defense did.

"I see a serious assault committed by you," the judge said to Smith. "It strikes me that the conduct in this case calls for a period of incarceration."

As Donna watched in astonishment, Smith was handcuffed and sent to jail for a term not less than 2 1/2 years and not to exceed 7 1/2 years. He is eligible for parole in 2 1/2 years.

Smith's attorney has now asked the court to reduce the jail sentence on grounds that Smith was receiving treatment for manic depression at the time of the assault and had stopped taking his lithium a month earlier.

Donna has moved five times since she was raped. She has trouble trusting men who want to know her better. She has dated a few men for months at a time and has had sexual intercourse since the rape. But she often ends up crying afterward.

Donna talks confidently, however, about the future. Like many people who have survived traumatic experiences, she wants to help others who are coping with the same ordeal. She has been able to reconcile with her father about the rape. "We kind of made up," she said. "I think at the time he thought he was supposed to be protecting me and instead he took it out on me."

"I feel like I've been in an emotional coma for the past three years," she said. "Sometimes I think, I just want to be normal. And I try so hard."

Sexual assault centers throughout the area have trained staff members to help survivors of rape and incest through the healing process. Services include 24-hour telephone hotlines, individual counseling, support groups, accompaniment to the hospital or court, and legal and medical referrals. District of Columbia

D.C. Rape Crisis Center 333-7273 Maryland

Anne Arundel County Sexual Assault Crisis Center and Hotline (301) 222-7273

Baltimore Sexual Assault Recovery Center (301) 366-7273

Howard County Sexual Assault Center (301) 997-3292

Montgomery County Sexual Assault Services 656-9420

Prince George's Hospital Sexual Assault Center 618-3154 Virginia

Alexandria Rape Victim Companion Program 683-7273

Arlington County Victim of Violence 358-4848 (answering service)

Fairfax County Victim Assistance Network 360-7273

Fredericksburg Area Hot Line; Sexual Assault Service (703) 371-1212

Fredericksburg Area Rape Crisis Program (703) 371-1666

Loudoun County Victim/Witness Program (703) 777-3399

Prince William County Sexual Assault Victim's Advocacy Services (703) 368-4141 (answering service) - Angela Walker