Exposing the Rapist Next Door
On a warm spring day last year in Dallas, a young feminist began a project that may escalate the ongoing war between women and rapists by giving militant women a new weapon to use in their defense. It all started with a phone call from Nikki Craft to Ruth Rinehart. Craft said she had an idea for a leaflet on rape.
Seven Days, April 25, 1977
by Jayne Loader © 1977
A year later on March 8, International Women's Day, the leaflet had become a 20-page newspaper with a very special feature. It contained, in addition to articles, news items, and personal accounts of rape, the names of every man indicted for a sex-related offense in Dallas County from 1960 to1976. The list named over 2,100 men; 341 of them were multiple offenders [making up 1600 of the total cases]. Most of them are walking the streets today, and many will rape again.
The newspaper grew out of Craft's and Reinhart's frustration with the criminal-justice system's notorious reluctance to try and convict rapists. Authorities estimate that about 75% of rapes go unreported. Of the 3,562 rapes that were recorded in Chicago in 1972, only 833 men were arrested. Of these, 204 were indicted, 23 went to trial, and 8 were convicted.
In addition to offering hard facts on rape, the newsletter is designed to serve as a consumer guide for women that can be posted in single's bars, on campuses, in restaurants and public buildings, bring rapists out into the open and "providing women with information that will enable them to make conscious decisions about the men they relate to."
Indictments of adult offenders are a matter of public record, but the criminal files made available to Craft and Reinhart were not broken down by crime. They had to examine thousands and thousands of three-by-five index cards, listing every indictment for every crime committed in Dallas over the 16-year period.
The two women began to call the courthouse their second home. Since both worked full-time, they spent their lunch hours, evenings, and weekends on the project. Soon other women joined them in the tedious work they labeled the Kitty Genovese Women's Project, naming their group after the 28-year-old Queens woman who was stabbed to death in 1964 while many of her neighbors watched. Many were rape victims themselves. As working-class and minority women, they had been repeatedly denied the protection either of the courts or police, who, as one woman put it, "believe that the only thing in Texas lower than a 'nigger' is a woman."
As they worked in the courthouse "eating rapists" names for lunch and dinner," several findings strengthened their resolve to go on. Many women saw the names of their own friends or former lovers--men whom they had willingly trusted with their bodies--accused of raping other women. Several found that they had been raped by the same man. One particularly grisly incident stood out: the former lover of one woman was alleged to have raped the 10-year-old daughter of another during a burglary.
The Kitty Genovese Women's Project distributed 22,000 copies of their paper, and the response was immediate and positive. At public-access radio station KCHU-FM, which listed the names during its International Women's Day broadcast, the lines were flooded with calls from Dallas women asking for copies of the newsletter. A group of wealthy Dallas women, calling themselves the Friends of Kitty Genovese, began raising money to run the list in the Dallas Sunday News, which has a circulation of over 200,000. The normally conservative Dallas media, which several years ago laughed at the women's liberation movement, gave the event prime-time and front-page coverage.
Other Texas women are compiling their own lists and planning to distribute them, and the event may spur women's groups around the country to expose rapists in their own communities. While these women recognize that such lists reflect a criminal-justice system which is much more likely to indict, try, and convict minority and low-income males than the affluent whites who may rape with impunity, they feel that such action will protect minority and low-income women who are doubly victimized, first by rapists and then by the courts, and that the list will be especially useful to them precisely because it contains a disproportionate number of poor and Third World men.
One of the first actions of the Kitty Genovese Women's Project was to leaflet the neighborhood of a rapist who raped two black women and then tortured them with lighted cigarette butts and broom handles, trying to force them to say, "Yes, master, I loved it." The rapist confessed, but was acquitted by an all-white jury.
Publication of the names may inflict damage on those who are innocent of the charges brought against them, but the Dallas Civil Liberties Union has decided not to take any action. "We disapprove of this kind of thing," said Office Director Michael Oseasohn. "But it's not a civil liberties issue. If men who were cleared of rape feel they have been libeled, they can sue." Militant women feel that the benefits of the action outweigh its possible drawbacks, given the difficulty of getting indictments for rape and the criminally low rate of convictions. Such actions are necessary, says the newsletter, "because this society has failed to deal with rape, and women must."
Below is a list of the crimes committed by over 2,100 men in Dallas County from 1960 to 1976:
attempted aggravated rape
aggravated sex abuse
aggravated or attempted rape
attempted burglary with intent to rape
attempted rape of a child
assault with intent to rape
assault with a prohibited weapon
burglary and rape
burglary with intent to rape
burglary of private residence at night with intent to rape
burglary of private residence at night
fondling of a juvenile
rape of a child
rape and incest
rape and statutory rape
sex abuse of a child
serious bodily injury
(statutory rape was only included if there were other violent charges involved.]
statutory rape by force