The stories don't quite match: Driver Whitney Valentine said the 17-year-old girl willingly stepped inside his limousine, and once in the back seat with the hockey players, never screamed or struggled.

The girl has told police, her boss and a friend that four Washington Capitals hockey players in the limousine participated in raping and sodomizing her. A fifth team member has told investigators he saw the girl struggling with his teammates, who he said were partly clad.

Many of the facts surrounding the incident in an alley outside Champions sports bar in Georgetown on May 12 remained untold as the story unfurled last week. More witnesses are expected to testify this week before a D.C. Superior Court grand jury considering charges. None has been brought so far.

Still, the discrepancy between the accounts given by the driver and the girl strongly suggest that a key element in the high-stakes and now well-publicized incident will be the most volatile of issues in the emotional subject of rape -- the issue of consent.

Simply put, even if there was sexual activity, and even if it involved more than two people at a time and a 17-year-old girl, if defense lawyers can effectively show the accuser as a willing participant, under the law there is no rape.

"In rape cases, the grand jury serves a very important function in evaluating credibility, more so than in the usual run-of-the-mill cases," said former U.S. attorney Joseph E. diGenova, who would not comment on this case.

"Usually there is no doubt that a crime occurred and the question is, 'Who did it?' " diGenova said yesterday. "But with a rape case, the grand jury must address a fundamental question: 'Was a crime committed at all?' "

About 30 people demonstrated at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street last night to protest what they called the unfairness represented by skepticism they said was shown to the 17-year-old in contrast to what they termed the deference and regard shown the members of the Capitals. The demonstrators, who said they represented Outraged Women of Washington, were heckled and jeered by several passersby during the demonstration, which began about 9 p.m. and lasted about an hour and a half.

In her statement to police, the girl said she was at the bar and had had several drinks when Capitals player Dino Ciccarelli grabbed her by the arm and led her into the alley.

Once inside the car, she told police, she was raped and sodomized. She identified the four players who she said participated as Ciccarelli, Geoff Courtnall, Scott Stevens and Neil Sheehy.

Sheehy, Ciccarelli and Stevens have denied the girl's accusations. Courtnall has declined to comment.

There was no dispute in last week's statements that the girl stepped inside a limousine parked behind the bar at 1206 Wisconsin Ave. NW and that there was sexual activity inside the limousine. It is the accounts of why the girl got in the limousine and what happened inside that differ.

The girl's friend, Sheriese Mayo, and her boss, Kevin C. Rychlik, the manager at Rick Walker's Scoreboard in Fairfax, have said that she told them she got inside the limousine because the players offered her a ride. She trusted them because they were friends with another Capitals player whom she was dating, Steve Leach.

Limousine driver Valentine said he opened the door for her and she was "smiling."

The 17-year-old girl said that once inside the car, the players grabbed her and one pulled off her clothes. She said she then was forced to participate in sexual activities that included oral sex and intercourse.

The limousine driver has told investigators that he did not see any sexual activity. But he said that he got out of the car at one point and when he returned, he saw it "quiver" and "rock." Valentine said that while he was driving the players back to Capital Centre, he overheard some of them saying "they were surprised she was able to do some of the things she did" with them.

D.C. law defines rape of a woman as carnal knowledge "forcibly and against her will." A rape conviction is possible if the woman gave consent while "in fear of grave bodily harm." Consent is not a defense if the victim is under 17. In that instance, the charge would be statutory rape. The law also stipulates that a suspect who did not participate in a sexual act can be convicted of rape if he aided and abetted those who did.

A variety of sexual acts other than intercourse in which consent is absent are listed as crimes under the law, but not as rape. Among such offenses under D.C. law are sodomy, assault (which in this instance would refer to unwanted sexual touching) and assault with intent to rape or commit sodomy.

A key issue that the grand jury will explore is the girl's state of mind on the night of May 11 and the early morning of May 12.

The girl's boss has said she was a "model employee" and "not a flirt." Some statements made to investigators and the media suggest a contrasting image.

The girl, who just turned 17 last month, regularly spent time with players and dated one of them, investigators have been told. The girl is under age to be served alcohol in the District, but has acknowledged having several drinks at the party. Moreover, the girl's boss said in an interview that he placed her on leave without pay because she lied to him about her age.

The girl told police that she told the players, "Don't do this to me. I don't want you to do this." At one point, she said, she screamed. She told her friend, Mayo, she was "hysterical" when she left the limousine.

Driver Valentine said that he never heard a scream, and that when he opened the limousine door for her to leave, she said, "Thanks, guys, see you later."

For the Capitals, it is unclear whether the players, who make up part of the core of the squad, will play again for the team. It is also unclear how much the publicity will damage the image of the franchise.

"When it's all over with, that will be the appropriate time to say things and make statements," David Poile, the team's general manager, said yesterday. "We have to let the situation run its course."

Staff writers Barton Gellman, Dave Sell, Elsa Walsh and Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.