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Violence and horror rarely told


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Violence and horror rarely told

Liz Porter

October 22, 2006

Source: The Age Newspaper

The young man had no idea he was being followed as he walked home alone in the small hours of a Sunday morning. The 19-year-old had been partying at two different clubs in an outer Melbourne suburb, and he'd had enough to drink for the bouncers at the last place to suggest it was time to go home. Anyway, all his attention was focused on the call he was making to his girlfriend on his mobile.

He was easy prey for the 21-year-old rapist walking softly behind him in the dark. Taller, heavier, stronger, the man had come armed with a predatory and violent disposition - and a knife.

Suddenly the younger man heard the words: "Give me your phone." Then he felt the sharp point of a blade in his back. Twisting around in an effort to glimpse his assailant, he saw a tanned arm and a clenched fist looming in front of his face. Dodging the first punch, he ran for his life, leaping out in front of passing cars in a vain attempt to flag them down.

As the running footsteps closed in and he was grabbed from behind, he knew he was at risk of being bashed or worse.

But the unremitting horror that unfolded over the next four hours went beyond his direst imaginings. He was frogmarched around the streets, punched, kicked and repeatedly forced to ring his girlfriend, in an attempt to lure her to the scene. Then, already bleeding and dazed, he was raped. Twice.

His ordeal ended at about 5am, when his tormentor gave him $20 for a taxi home, saying: "I'm really sorry. I just get like this when I'm drunk." But moments after watching the taxi drive away, the rapist was already dialling the victim's girlfriend's number. Her boyfriend was "going to die" tonight, he told her, and it would be all her fault.

The taxi driver asked his passenger if he had been in a fight - and he replied that he'd had "some trouble". It was clear that the young man did not want to talk to him about whatever had happened. The driver also suggested a call to police. But his passenger demurred.

Even today most rapes go unreported, and the majority of the male rapes reported are brought to police notice years after the event. The fact that this victim went to the police at all makes this case highly unusual. So does the fact that he reported it just 12 hours after the attack, enabling police to collect the forensic evidence that would be vital to their prosecution.

"Stranger" attacks like this one are also rare. Most cases investigated by police involve "historic" episodes, in which men come forward to report attacks that happened years earlier - or situations in which the alleged rapist is in some kind of relationship with his victim.

Once the taxi had left and he was safe inside his home, the victim was able to give his girlfriend some details of his ordeal: the threats to kill him and the fact that the man had dashed his head against a tree, a fire hydrant box, a sign and a plate-glass window.

But the sexual attacks were a different matter. Like the majority of rape victims, male and female, the young man was initially too shocked and shamed to say anything about them.

According to psychologist and researcher on male rape Sarah Crome, male rape victims bear an extra burden because a male-on-male assault affects a man's sexual identity in a fundamental way, shaming him by challenging his sense that, as a man, he should be able to protect himself.

All this victim wanted to do was have his girlfriend hold him tight, until he could escape into the numbness of sleep. But as he was collapsing on the bed, his girlfriend's mobile rang. At the mere sound of the rapist's voice on the other end, his limbs began to shake.

"Now that you've got my number give us a call when you want to get some more money," his tormentor said.

After the victim had slept for six hours, he rang his mother, telling her about the attack - but not about the rape. When the issue of reporting to police was raised, he broke down. His attacker had told him that, if he called the police, his family would be "hurt" - and his girlfriend would be first.

The young man pulled his girlfriend aside. "Something else happened, but I'm not ready to tell you," he said. Sobbing, he struggled to get the words out. "He raped me," he gasped. The youth couldn't bring himself to tell his mother. He asked his girlfriend to do that.

AN HOUR later they were at the police station. The wheels of the justice system had begun to turn. Officers from the specialist Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit met the victim and his family at a nearby hospital. Later they took him to the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault's crisis unit at Monash Medical Centre. There a doctor from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine documented his injuries and took swabs and samples for forensic testing.

The victim also took police to the scenes of the assaults, pinpointing them so they could be searched by crime scene officers. In a formal interview the next day, he gave them every detail he could remember about the attacks and the perpetrator.

He had been punched hard the first time he had tried to look at his assailant's face. After that he had been too frightened to venture another look, reasoning that his chances of surviving the night were better if the rapist thought he could not be identified. But he had taken careful note of his attacker's striped shirt, a distinctive lettered tattoo on the man's left forearm and the reddish-brown handle of his flick-knife.

Throughout the assault the rapist had repeatedly used his victim's mobile phone as an effective instrument of terror.

With sadism reminiscent of scenes from A Clockwork Orange or Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, he used his victim's mobile phone as an extra prop in his crude game of power and humiliation.

Early on in the attack, after slamming his victim's head into a window, the man had rung mates to boast about his theft of the phone and wallet. Putting the phone on loud speaker, he forced his victim to tell his friends on the other end "what just happened to you". As the youth complied, he could hear laughter coming from the phone's loud speaker.

But his relish for threatening calls would bring the rapist undone. After the assault he made calls to the victim's girlfriend, threatening to kill her. He also telephoned another friend of the victim, asking her to tell him "thanks for keeping his mouth shut". The perpetrator made all these calls with his own SIM card inside the victim's phone, enabling police to track him down.

Twelve days later police arrived at the rapist's workplace, where they found the victim's phone. During a search of his home, they seized a pair of bloodstained jeans and a knife. The 21-year-old was charged with rape, robbery, intentionally causing serious injury and making threats to kill.

LAST Tuesday morning the accused was sitting in the holding cells underneath the Melbourne Magistrates Court, neatly dressed in a suit and striped tie.

Four floors above him, Detective John Raglus of the Sexual Crimes Squad, who had arrested him six months earlier, was setting down two large boxes of files on a bench in courtroom five.

The victim was sitting nervously outside in the foyer, his girlfriend by his side. It was almost 10am, the scheduled start time for the committal hearing. It seemed certain the magistrate would commit the man for trial. The police case looked watertight. The accused had answered all questions with a "no comment". But semen stains on the victim's clothing matched the accused's DNA.

There was extensive photographic evidence of the victim's injuries, and traces of the victim's blood were found on jeans hidden at the accused's house.

The victim would be the first witness to appear. He was feeling ill at the prospect of having to relive the events of that terrible night and endure cross-examination by the accused's barrister. But at least he wasn't facing the ordeal of standing in a witness box only a few metres from his attacker. Instead he was going to be testifying via a video link. His attacker would only see his image on a screen on the court wall.

As the clock ticked towards 11am, the detective and the prosecutor were still conferring with the accused's lawyer. The previous night Detective Raglus had been hoping that the accused man would see sense and plead guilty.

By 11.30am the accused had conceded. An hour later the door into the dock opened and a security officer led the 21-year-old into the dock. His brow furrowed, he sat with his head bowed, the set of his lips suggesting petulance rather than repentance. When he stood to plead guilty, the slight shrug of his shoulders looked like jail-yard arrogance. Or was it only anxiety?

The magistrate committed him for a sentencing hearing to be held in the County Court in January. Seconds later, the security officer was taking him back to the cells.

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