SEVERAL YEARS AGO, there was an outpouring of outrage in this community over the outcome of a rape trial. The young woman testified that she had been attacked and raped in Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University. The jurors acquitted the defendant, saying they were not persuaded that the woman had done enough to fight off her attacker. After the verdict, the court revealed that the police had an oral confession from the defendant. That case was brought back to mind the other day when a Superior Court jury convicted a security guard of rape even though the victim testified that she offered none of the physicial resistance of the sort that the jury in the Goerge Washington University case appeared to be requiring.
In the law, rape has occurred if a woman submits to sexual intercourse out of "fear of death or grave bodily injury." In the GW case, the woman's assailant struck her head against the wall of a bathroom before she submitted to the assault. Testimony at the trail included a discription of "heavy red marks" on her throat and blotches on her face after the attack. At that time, it was generally believed by most women that they actually had to risk death defending themselves before a jury here would convict a rapist.
In the most recent caseM, the facts were different. The security guard used a ruse to get into the young woman's apartment. he had been drinking and was in possession of a handgun. The two had been on speaking terms from passing one another in the corridors of the building, and the woman was aware of the fact that the security guard was attracted to her. On the day of the assault, he made his feelings directly known, and the young woman told him she had no interest in his advances. All the same, he grabbed her, shoved her into the bedroom and committed the rape. At the time, the gun was in his coat pocket, but the woman said she feared that her life would be endangered if she tried to resist. The jury concluded that she was forced to have sex with the guard against her will and found him guilty.
One case, naturally, does not make a trend. So it remains to be seen if other juries in Washington will convict in rape cases where there is little evidence of physical resistance to the attack. Still it seems probable to us that there will be cases in which it is fair to conclude that rape occurred even though the woman did not put up a struggle. Years ago in the South, the assertion by a white woman that she had been raped by a black man was often all that was needed for a conviction in capital cases. Today, the problem of fabricated allegations of rape is not as serious as the danger that an actual rapist of any race might elude the law because the standards of proof have been made intolerably high. Pressure from the women's movement - and common sense - are helping to lead the law to a balanced concern for the rights of defendants - and of rape victims.