Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

06 November, 2006

Cry Rape

Yesterday evening I finished reading Bill Lueders' newest book, Cry Rape. It concerns the rape of a woman here in Madison named Patty and her tribulations to bring her assailant to justice.

In September 1997, a visually impaired woman named Patty was raped by an intruder in her home in Madison, Wisconsin. The rookie detective assigned to her case came to doubt Patty’s account and focused the investigation on her. Under pressure, he got her to recant, then had her charged with falsely reporting a crime.

The charges were eventually dropped, but Patty continued to demand justice, filing complaints and a federal lawsuit against the police. All were rebuffed. But later, as the result of her perseverance, a startling discovery was made. Even then, Patty’s ordeal was far from over.


Lueders, the news editor for Madison's alternative weekly, Isthmus, has written a wonderfully compelling narrative. It opens with an account of the rape. The sober, deliberate tone in which he describes it mirrors, in large part, Patty's reaction to it. She remained fairly calm in the immediate aftermath of her assault while it was her daughter Misty that got hysterical. From there, Patty's story only gets worse.

Lueders tale is a mostly straightforward account of Patty story. She reports the rape which is investigated by a rookie detective. He uses interrogation as opposed to investigation techniques and gets Patty to recant her story. The next day, Patty goes back to her original claim of having been raped. The police decide to charge her with obstruction of justice. And so Patty's fight is twofold: 1) to be absolved of the obstruction charge and 2) to get the police to actively seek out her rapist. The book is about the institutional inertia that Patty encountered as well as the intense desire of individuals to maintain the status quo.

Here are some of my observations:

1) Lueders has this annoying (for me, anyway) tendency to tell the reader that someone or some event will be of importance later in the narrative. I was a bit distracted as I continued in the book because I kept an eye out for the person or event to make a return appearance. My personal preference is to not note that something will come back later and instead note this when the reappearance has already happened. This helps me keep my mind on the story instead of parsing through it for a specific person or whatever. In addition, I prefer the surprise of a character or event mentioned previously coming back into play without me knowing ahead of time. Nitpicking, I know.

2) I wish Lueders would have expanded upon some of his tangents. The two I'm thinking about are the ones about the MPD and the city of Madison itself. Firstly, there the MPD. Lueders mentions its reputation as being "progressive" and responsive to the community and how this stood in contrast to the image it had in the late 1960s/early 70s when the police chief regularly sent the cops out to beat the students protesting the Vietnam War. I'd like to know more about the transformation of the police department and its reputation. This one can probably be chalked up to my curiosity as a resident of Madison.

The second one is the city of Madison itself. Lueders briefly mentions the city's liberal reputation and its whiteness and then says residents were shocked that such a thing could happen here. I think Lueders gave short shrift to this. While I feel this way partly because, again, I'm a resident of Madison and would like to know more about something in my own backyard but I also think that this could help readers who aren't from Madison or weren't here when the events in the book took place. I understand that this isn't necessary to Patty's story nor in understanding Lueders' larger point, but I can't help but feel that it would have bolstered his plea for an independent board to oversee the various doings of city institutions or at least give readers a clue as to how difficult a task this may be. After the trial of Joseph Bong, Patty's accused rapist, one of the jurors said something about not having known anything about Patty's ordeal despite it having been in Isthmus and in our two dailies (and presumably on local TV news). This woman could not have been alone in her ignorance and others like her represent an impediment to bringing about the kind of independent review board that Lueders favors. Lueders wrote several pieces over the years about Patty and her tribulations. In the book he doesn't say much about how readers reacted. The only time that I can recall was after the first piece he wrote when he mentions only that a few people wrote in to say that it was good that the police are on the lookout for false accusations of rape because many women seek to hurt men with them. I have to wonder how many people are out there under the impression that women are lined up out the door of police stations to falsely report rape out of spite. How did the people of Madison react? What does this say about the chances of reforming our city's institutions to make sure that no women have to go through what Patty did and that they deal with and help rape victims appropriately?

3) The last thing I want to comment on was the conduct of certain police officers at Bong's trial. That women are raped is a fact of life. It's sad, unfortunate, and anger-inducing, but it happens. That police have fraternal bonds and stand by their fellow officers is something I accept. However, I was appalled when I read that several officers sat behind Bong at his trial while wearing their uniforms. Bong was already in jail when he was accused of being the assailant that raped Patty. Couldn't these officers have found some way to show that they stood behind their brother in blue which didn't also involve showing support for a violent scumbag asshole? This is another reason to delve into the whom may have become distrustful of the police because of Patty's ordeal.

I was surprised at how surprised I was about this. I know that I'm cynical because I grew up in Chicago where some of the police torture people and get their kicks in the wee hours of the morning by dragging bums off of subway cars, beating, and sicking police dogs on them. Cops is cops. Every force has officers that get off on their power trips and/or are corrupt just as every force has some really great officers who serve and protect. While I expect some bad cops and understand that all cops are human, that certain Madison officers supported an absolute cocksmoker who had no respect for them still shocks and angers me.

So there's my complaints. Two menial, one medium menial. Lueders has written a very good book. His style is clear and concise. While I would have liked to have had some of the tangents fleshed out, the book as it is offers a compelling story and plenty of food for thought for folks who live here in Madison or elsewhere. Even if changing the character of institutions doesn't interest you, the story of an incredibly brave woman who remained resolute and steadfast in the face of adversity that would have killed lesser women will.
|| Palmer, 5:04 PM

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