Jane Meredith was 20 when the rape occured. The man was a college classmate and, she thought, a friend.

Late one August night, Meredith answered the door and found the man outside. But he wasn't there to laugh over a cup of coffee, as they had done so often.

He forced Meredith into another room, grabbing her neck and threatening to choke her. Then, in her bedroom, in the early hours of the morning, he raped her.

"I wasn't thinking about being naked. I wasn't thinking about the sex thing at all," Meredith recalls, as she begins to cry. "All I was thinking about was that I was going to die.

"I always saw my body as something that was only mine to control, something that belonged to me. But he violated the very core of me, my inner space."

It happened 12 years ago, but for Meredith, the terror only recently began to diminish.

Still, she asks -- no, insists -- that when her story is told, her real name be used.

"I want people to know that this happens to real people with real names. Not just some 'Anne' on the front page."

In 1980, in Alexandria, the number of reported rapes increased 41 percent from the previous year, from 44 complaints to 62. In Arlington, 58 rapes were reported in 1980, up from 42 in 1979. Only in Fairfax County was there a decrease in the number of reported rapes, from 124 in 1979 to 95 in 1980. Yet last month alone there were 12 rapes reported in Fairfax, including a five-day period in which one rape was reported each day.The county's rape crisis center reported that in 1980 the center received twice as many calls as the 95 reported rapes.

In the last decade, 36 states have revised their sexual assault laws. Virginia is not one of those states.

For four years, Virginia legislators have urged reform of sexual assault laws. This week, the General Assembly was trying to reach a compromise on a reform bill.

Meredith, who now lives in Northern Virginia, was raped in New York City. But area officials say her experiences with the judicial system -- often frustrating, often agonizing -- could have occured nearly anywhere in Virginia over the past decade.

And attorneys and women involved in rape prosecutions say that Meredith's case illustrates many of the problems that still face rape victims in Virginia. Meredith's assailant was arrested, but never convicted. During a grand jury hearing, Meredith testified that she did not resist because she feared the man would strangle her. The defense contended that her lack of resistance indicated consent.

Although the law in Virginia is vague, attorneys say that in practice, a woman must prove that she resisted her attacker in some way. Such a proviso, a state task force on sexual assault reported four years ago, contributes to conviction rates that may be as low as 5 percent in some jurisdictions. (Under two bills now before the General Assembly, proof of physical resistance no longer would be required).

During the grand jury hearing, Meredith recalls, her reputation was assailed by the defense. For example, Meredith says, she was asked if she always answered her door in a nightgown.

"I came out of (the grand jury hearings) feeling as if I had been raped all over again," Meredith says. "This was the system I had trusted, the system that I though would be my vindicator. But not only was it not my saviour, but it joined forces with my rapist.

"If this had been any other crime, if this had been a bank robbery, I would never have been treated the way I was. If a bank had been robbed, would the robber be let go because the bank didn't have enough guards, or would questions about (the bank's) reputation be raised?

"At times, I think I would rather go through the rape again than go through another grand jury hearing."

Meredith's anger about the court proceedings was compounded by the pressure from her family to keep the rape a secret. Meredith would be "ruined," her mother said, if anyone knew what had happened. Meredith's mother also insisted that her daughter's hymen be surgically repaired to retain the appearance of virginity.

Under such pressure, Meredith said, it was several years before her closest friends, or even her sister, knew what had happened.

The treatment of rape victims has changed substantially since then; police and hospital staff are increasingly trained to meet the needs -- physical and emotional -- of rape victims. Still, Northern Virginia officials estimate half of all victims never seek help and never tell anyone they have been raped.

The reason, according to many women and officials involved in rape prosecutions, is that it is still the victim, and not the assailant, who goes on trial.

For example, as Virginia law now reads, evidence regarding "the general reputation [of the victim] for chastity" can be introduced in a rape case.

Under a rape reform bill sponsored by state Sen. Frederick C. Boucher (D-Washington), that provision would be stricken. But in a last-minute compromise, the House Courts of Justice Committee tacked on an amendment stating that evidence regarding a victim's sexual history could be introduced at the discretion of a judge, if it is found to be necessary under the state constitution. The state Senate, however, rejected the amendment and the bill was scheduled to go to a House-Senate conference committee this week.

In another development, Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr. (D-Newport News) introduced a second bill that is identical to the amended version of Boucher's bill. The bill was approved by the House and has gone to a Senate committee for consideration.

Officials involvled in rape proecutions contend that allowing past sexual history to be used as evidence in a trial could be used against rape victims.

"Again and again we have seen lawyers find a way to introduce the fact that a woman is on birth control pills, that she is unmarried and living with someone, that she might be an unwed mother. The lawyer will say something like, 'I see you were on medication at the time you were raped. What is it here on the medical chart? Birth control pills? Are you married Miss Jones?'" said Candy Reus, a participant in the Fairfax County Court Observer program, an adjunct of the county women's commission.

The court observers, who have attended nearly every sexual assualt trial in Fairfax County during the past two years (more than 200), plan to present their findings to the Board of Supervisors this spring.

Although Boucher said this week he has not decided whether to support a bill with evidence option, he is puzzled about the insistence of House members to include such a provision at all.

"I just don't understand it, after four years there is a continuing insensitivity (in the legislature) to the real problem of rape . . . that women don't report rapes because of the way they are treated by the judicial system . . . there is a general feeling that rape trials should proceed the way they have always proceeded -- putting the victim on the stand," Boucher said recently in an interview.

A major problem with the provision, say officials who have been following the legislation, is that the restrictions on introduction of a woman's sexual history are unclear.

"At best, the [provision] would depend on the wiliness of the defense lawyer and the laxness of the judge," said Alice Burgess, a member of the Fairfax County Victim Assistance Network.

Nationwide, officials estimate that five times as many rapes occur as are actually reported.

"There is no doubt that rape is the most major underreported crime," Boucher says. "And there is only one reason for that: women fear the way they are going to be treated once they get into the courtroom. It's as clear as anything I've ever seen."

For Jane Meredith, not a day passes when the rape does not influence her life. Immediately after the incident occurred, Meredith dropped out of college in New York and returned home to South Carolina.

She had never had intercourse before the rape, and her relationships with men became increasingly difficult.

Meredith is now married and has a 6-year-old daughter. Still, she says, although her husband has strongly supported her decision to speak out and has shown a deep understanding of the agony she went through, sexual relations are sometimes difficult.

Four years ago, when Meredith and her family moved to Northern Virginia, she became a volunteer counselor at a rape crisis center in Fairfax County. Only then, she says, did she begin to resolve some of the terror and anguish that had racked her for years. But even now, she says, that terror often is difficult to forget.

"It's hard to erase it," she says. "There are days when I hit the wall, throw down a scrap of glass, listening to it shatter, or get into my car and scream.

"The anger is gone now, but I hate him for taking away my self-confidence. Before I was raped, I was always certain and never afraid. After the rape, I was never certain and always afraid.

"My fear is not as severe or specific, but God, I live in fear of it ever happening again."