Big Dan's is closed now, plywood nailed over the tavern's windows, furniture carted away, not even a sign or street number to mark the site.
Two weeks ago, Big Dan's was open for business. At about 9 p.m. that Sunday, according to authorities, a 21-year-old woman stopped at the corner bar to buy a pack of cigarettes, and she stayed to have a drink.
After she tried to leave, authorities said, she was forced onto the bar's pool table and for two hours was repeatedly raped and beaten by four men. The bartender and about a dozen patrons stood by, and some customers cheered the men on, yelling, "Go for it, go for it," police said.
Allegations of the brutal crime and the onlookers' inaction shocked and enraged residents of this historic whaling and textile town on the state's southern coast. More than 2,500 residents, joined by representatives of women's groups and appalled New England citizens, held a silent candlelight procession last Monday night to protest the incident. They carried signs that read, "Rape is Not a Spectator Sport," and, "Rape is Violence."
Four men were indicted by a Bristol County grand jury last week on charges of aggravated rape, and two others were indicted on charges of being accessories to rape by encouraging the alleged rapists and preventing other patrons from leaving the bar or summoning help.
Four of the men, including three of the alleged rapists, are being held in the New Bedford jail, and two are free on bail. All have pleaded not guilty, and a trial date has not been set.
Perhaps most deeply troubled by the incident is the city's large Portuguese community, descendants of sailors who arrived during New Bedford's heyday as a whaling port during the 1800s, and recent immigrants from mainland Portugal and the Azores islands.
Big Dan's was in a working-class Portuguese neighborhood, New Bedford's North End. Indicted on aggravated rape charges are Daniel C. Silvia, 26, Victor Raposo, 23, and John M. Cordeiro, 23, all of New Bedford, and Joseph Vieira, 26, of Pomfret, Conn.; indicted on charges of being accessories to rape are Virgilio Medeiros, 23, and Jose Medeiros, 22, of New Bedford. All are Portuguese nationals who emigrated to the United States.
Many members of the city's Portuguese community, who comprise 60 percent of New Bedford's 98,000 residents, believe that the entire group is being blamed for the actions of a few.
"Inexcusable amounts of racial, prejudicial and discriminatory innuendoes have surfaced against the Portuguese throughout the area," a citizens' group, Portuguese Americans United, said in a statement last week. The alleged rape, while deplorable, "should be regarded as an isolated incident and by no means serve as a vehicle to stigmatize a large segment of this community," the group said.
"All the newspapers, it's Portuguese this, Portuguese that. They really want to get to the Portuguese, that's what it is," said Walter Silva, a construction worker who came to New Bedford in 1968 from the Azores.
Indeed, during a recent lunch at the Cafe Mimo, where patrons debated the issue among themselves in Portuguese and some spoke in English to a reporter, sentiment ran more in favor of the accused than the victim.
"She went there for one reason--not cigarettes," speculated one customer, who refused to identify himself. "She was asking for it," he said, expressing a sentiment fairly common among many patrons interviewed.
"I know this group: they do crazy things, but nothing like this. For them to do it, she had to do something to them," he speculated further. As for spectators who did nothing to prevent the incident, he said, "Why stop something that has nothing to do with you?"
Big Dan's was known as a tough bar, residents said, not the kind of place that women entered unescorted. "The girl's no good if she goes to that bar," said David Arruda, owner of Mauricio Hardware next door.
Manuel Ferreira, editor of the Portuguese Times, suggested that such a reaction reflects a macho ethic of Portuguese culture in which, he said during an interview, "if a woman walks in by herself to a bar, automatically they assume she's no good. Even if a woman smokes, they think she's no good." Big Dan's, he said, was "not the kind of place a woman walks into to buy cigarettes."
"You open the door and see all guys, you don't walk in," said Patricia Raphael, 19, a clerk at the Rossi Bakery across from the cafe. "They shouldn't have done it, but she shouldn't have been there, either."
But Stephen Mello, who said he participated in the candelight march to help educate his two young daughters about violence against women, said that blaming the victim is wrong. "It's like a black person in Alabama getting lynched and people saying, 'Well, he shouldn't have been there,' " he said.
"The double standard is very much at work in Portuguese culture," said Rita Moniz, a founder of the Coalition Against Sexist Violence, which organized the candlelight vigil, and a professor at Southeastern Massachusetts University who has studied Portuguese culture and politics extensively. But she rejected the double standard as an explanation for the incident.
"Given the respect that the Portuguese have for women in their traditional roles, I would think they would be more apt to come to a woman's aid," she said.
A lawyer for one of the defendants said in court last week that his client had a "prior relationship" with the victim.
In a statement released Saturday by her lawyer, the woman responded to that and other accusations that she had initiated the incident or had a poor reputation:
"There have been a lot of lies told and printed about me and this incident. I wish people would not believe them and wait until the trial for the truth to come out."
The woman's lawyer, Scott Charnas of Boston, said rumors about her are irrelevant. "Even if they were true, it's irrelevant," he said. "She couldn't possibly have done anything that could make her deserve what happened to her. She was crying and screaming. She clearly did not enjoy what was going on."
Charnas has filed a $10 million damage suit against the tavern and bartender Carlos Machado for failing to take steps to protect the woman.
Machado's lawyer, Russell Sobral, said today that his client was afraid to call police and had given the police emergency number to a customer who also was too frightened to use the bar's pay phone to summon help.
Meanwhile, city leaders worry that the negative publicity strikes yet another blow to efforts to revitalize economically battered New Bedford. The decline first of the whaling industry and then of the textile industry have left the city with a depressed heavy manufacturing base and an unemployment rate of about 14 percent, nearly double the state average.
It has not always been that way.
"Nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford," Herman Melville wrote in "Moby Dick" in 1851. "In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises apiece."
The city has been trying for nearly a decade to recapture some of that lost glory, forming WHALE, The Waterfront Historic Area League, to restore brick buildings that line the cobblestoned streets of the historic port district, where a fleet of 150 ships still sails to harvest scallops in the rich fishing grounds on George's Bank.
"This is another undeserved black eye for New Bedford, which we don't need," said John Bullard, a leader of the restoration efforts. "There's nothing good about the effect of this story on New Bedford or its people, when the news of 'Crowd Cheers Rape in New Bedford' goes coast to coast. That sort of thing lingers in people's minds, and it hurts."