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Talking 'bout Madison in North Carolina
Author draws pointed lessons from treatment of local rape victims

Lorraine Cook
Lorraine Cook
Credit:Eric Tadsen
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Earlier this week I was in Durham, North Carolina, serving as Madison's ambassador to the South. I was there as part of national Sexual Assault Awareness Month to give a talk about my book, Cry Rape. But one of the things I most wanted to discuss, I told the group, was Lorraine Cook.

This, you see, is an old storytelling technique -- to mention early in a talk or article that you intend to get around to some other subject. This builds suspense and sustains interest.

Joining me on this trip, as she has on similar engagements in Wisconsin and Ohio, was Patty, the heroine of my book. Our visit was jointly sponsored by the Durham Crisis Response Center and the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault. The talk took place at North Carolina Central University, a predominantly black state college in Durham.

The early-morning audience consisted of about 50 people. That's not a whole lot, but in this case the quality of the crowd more than made up for the quantity. Our sponsors had used their influence to procure the attendance of area advocates for survivors of sexual assault, as well as representatives of the university, state Department of Corrections, and local police. The police chief of Durham, Jose Lopez, was there for part of the program; his wife Becky stayed throughout, and even afterward, when the Crisis Response Center hosted a luncheon back at the gorgeous three-story house that serves as its office.

Patty and I gave our usual presentation, about how she was raped only to have the Madison Police Department botch the investigation, then bombard her with lies to get her to recant; how she was charged with a crime when she went back to her original account; how the Dane County District Attorney's Office and the judges in the state and federal court system backed the police, with nary a care for what was right or wrong; how when she tried to fight back the Madison Police and Fire Commission spurned her and the city of Madison had its hired-goon attorneys try to crush her; how she was utterly defeated and driven into financial ruin; and how even after a suspect was identified and charged, the Madison Police Department remained poised against her, with about a dozen Madison police detectives coming to court to sit behind her rapist, in a show of their support.

Alongside us at the front of the room was Sabrina Garcia, the domestic violence and sexual assault specialist for the Chapel Hill Police Department. As Patty and I recounted these injustices, Garcia became visibly angry, and when it was her turn to speak was literally shaking with rage.

That seems to me to me an appropriate reaction to this story, one I encounter in most of the places I tell it, with the possible exception of Madison. I always tell these other audiences why I think this is so. People in Madison, from those in high command to ordinary Janes and Joes on the street, are so firmly persuaded of their moral rectitude they never feel the need to demonstrate the slightest moral sensibility, particularly if in involves standing up to law enforcement.

My favorite line in Cry Rape is the one that calls Madison "a city that despite its air of superiority is prone to bouts of moral narcolepsy."

All of with brings us back to Lorraine Cook. She's the 52-year-old Madison woman I wrote about recently, who was jailed on a probation violation after coming forward to report that she had been brutally sexually assaulted ("Raped, Then Thrown in Jail" from March 7, 2008).

I noted that Cook had a few minor brushes with the law, related to her abuse of alcohol, and was charged with a crime last year for an altercation with her girlfriend. She was sentenced to six months in jail and served some of it, then was sent to a halfway house for the remainder. But she walked away from the halfway house before her time was up and a warrant was issued for her arrest. Police apparently did not bother to look for her, since she returned to her former address without complication.

When, on Jan. 8 of this year, Cook was raped by an acquaintance, vaginally and anally, she decided to report it to police. She knew full well she might get in trouble but did it anyway, feeling her assailant posed a danger to others in Madison. The cops took Cook to Meriter hospital for a sexual assault exam, and then directly to the Dane County jail, where she sat for nearly two months, in great pain from an untreated broken arm.

The state Department of Corrections released Cook the day after my story appeared, and after other media began making inquiries. Cook's probation agent stated that she was released "due to media coverage." But then the DOC apparently realized it also looked pretty bad to have locked Cook up in the first place and that it might look less bad if it painted her as a dangerous criminal.

So, a couple of days after Cook was released, the agency got the DA's office to file fresh charges. Judge James Martin obligingly ordered Cook back to jail, for the remainder of her six-month sentence, or about 35 days (see "Madison Rape Victim Jailed Again" from March 13, 2008).

(Cook, not that anyone's asked, has since been allowed out into a treatment program. Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard tells me his office is still weighing whether to charge her rapist, who was released after less than a week. Word is he's since split town; let's hope, for all concerned, that he's kept the number of additional people he's raped since then to a bare minimum.)

Then I brought the discussion back to Patty's case, back to the painful situation that played out in Durham over the accused Duke University lacrosse players, and back to the central issue of whether and when victims should report. I noted that Patty, who is far more decent and courageous than anyone on the Madison Police Department or, for that matter, me, has always said that women who are assaulted should report it to the police.

But I told the group that this is not what I would advise. Rape victims, I said, should protect themselves, not their communities. Sometimes, maybe the smart thing for them to do is to keep their mouths shut. For Lorraine Cook to care about the safety of the Madison community was foolhardy, because when it comes right down to it, the Madison community does not care about her.

Anyway, that's what I told the audience in Durham, North Carolina, earlier this week.

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