IT WAS ALWAYS the nameless crime, the crime that took place only in statistics. There was no face, no person, only an anonymous secret act committed by a man against a woman. If she went to the police and if he were arrested, his name might be in the papers. Hers would not. Her name might be whispered by the police to a reporter if she was prominent, but it never was published. The idea was to protect her good name. She had, after all, been raped.
Last November, Karen Mulhauser was raped. Several years ago, Janet Bode was raped. Mulhauser was attacked for more than two hours in her Washington home by two men while her son slept. Bode was attacked by three men who grabbed her after she left a night course in Prince George's. The men involved have been convicted and sentenced. Both women have decided to publicly identify themselves as rape victims, doing what for many women still is utterly unthinkable, but doing what may profoundly change the crime and punishment of rape.
"It's a very difficult thing to talk about," says Karen Mulhauser, who as executive director of the national abortion rights action league is used to talking about difficult things. "I surprise myself when I realize how shaky I get, how shaky my voice gets . . . but I'm convinced this has to be done before people come convinced of the reality of this thing. Until more women share these experiences you're not going to see a change in public attitudes toward this."
"I was embarrassed," says Janet Bode. "It's like talking about your dirty underwear. I would say it to friends and they didn't know how to respond and I didn't know what type of response I wanted."
Bode has written a book, "Fighting Back," which begins by telling how she was attacked. Her decision to go public did not come easily. "I was 29 when it happened and one of the reasons I hesitated was because I didn't want my father and stepmother to konw about it . . . after a while, I told my two sisters and a few close friends."
She left Washington four months after the attack, because of the attack, and began working with San Francisco Women Against Rape after moving there."People had to see what a real rape victim looked like. We were closeted. Hidden away. I thought it would be very effective to stand up before 500 people and say here I am. I'm a human being, not a statistic. As with any social refor, you've got to be visible. You've got to have your name attached. You have to humanize it."
Bode believes more women than ever before are identifying themselves as victims now, in part because of widely publicized changes in police and hospital treatment of rape victims. "It's making women more willing to identify themselves within their circle of friends, which may be wider thatn it used to be. But still, they are very reluctant to tell their parents. Their concern is why worry the parents."
And women are concerned about how their children will react. Mulhauser told her son what had happened after she decided to try to organize the women in her neighborhood against the rapists operating there. "I wanted him to hear it from me rather than from someone elese. Given the nature of my work, he probably knows more about reproduction and so forth than other 7-year-olds do. So I sat down and told him the whole story.
"I told him I'd been raped and asked him if he knew what that was. I told him it was sexual intercourse agianst my will and that when daddy and I do it, it was with love and feeling. He said he was sorry it had happened and didn't want to know anything more about it then. Given the relationship we have. I told him that if he wanted to talk any more about it to talk to either daddy or me."
That concern about how their children will react is "another reason why women don't speak out," says Mulhauser . "Chances of them not reacting well will increase if parents haven't been open with them about sexuality in general.
"There's still prevailing in our society the mythology around rape that women enjoy it, the attitude that it could be avoided, that no one is really raped against their will, that she could have done somethin to avoid it . . . But that night, in my home, with my mind thought being that my son not be awakened and see this horror, there was no way I could have have called out. I really don't think my experience was that unique."
The men who raped Mulhauser were suspects in 15 other rapes in Washington, according to Tom Kelly of the D.C. sex squad. They peladed guilty to three armed rapes and one received 25 to 75 years, the other 18 to 55. Kelly thinks more women are willing to report rapes these days and more women who are victims are willing to discuss it publicly. He thinks that will lead to more arrests and convictions of rapists and he thinks that the change in women's attitudes toward rapists has to do not only with better police and hospital treatment of victims but also with the fact that "women are coming into their own now."
Mulhauser says the men who attacked her were raping women and getting away with it and that made them continue. "If more women decided they wouldn't stand for it and reported it and the men would get long prison terms as these two men did, then rapes would decrease. The risks woudl be too great."
Mulhauser not only reported her rape to the police but she subsequently alerted women in her neighborhood about what happened so they would protect themselves. Last week, she testified before a Senate subcommittee on Medicaid funding for abortion and told the senators what had happened. "I decided it was really important for these elected officials, who have little experience in this, for them to hear the real human story, to hear from women directly, if they are passing laws that control our lives."
Bode and Mulhauser are taking the final steps toward bringing the crime of rape out into the open, taking it out of the shadows where men could attack relatively freely and without fear of apprehension because their victims were too ashamed of what happened to them.
Women like Bode and Mulhauser are in the vanguard of a new breed of women who absolutely have rejected the notion that women are somehow guilty of getting themselves raped. They are telling rape victims and society that the victim did nothing wrong. They are telling victims not to stand for it, to get angry, to make the risks of apprehension so great that men will think twice before they do it.
Women have always lived in fear of rape. With the change of attitude that Bode and Mulhauser are exemplifying, men may finally have to fear it. too.