Home / Articles / Features / Feature / The survivor
Print this Article
Thursday, March 3, 2005 07:25 pm

The survivor

art1855
COVER ILLUSTRATION FROM TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

The voice on the 911 tape sounds calm, maybe even weary. It’s 1:55 in the morning, and a woman is asking for a police officer to come to her apartment building to check on “a whole bunch of black guys” at her door. “They keep knocking and walking away,” she says.

The conversation is brief, with no tangible urgency. The woman indicates she knows these guys “through a friend.” She doesn’t mention being scared, never says, “Please hurry.” She certainly never reveals that the real reason she’s calling is that two of these men have just brutally raped her.

But her placid tone is a façade. Only 18 years old, she’s alone in her apartment and so terrified that she has dialed 911 as a three-way call to keep the one friend she can rouse at this hour of the night — a guy she “met” a week earlier on the Internet — on the phone to give her silent moral support.

He’s still on the line with her as she watches a Springfield police cruiser pull into her parking lot. She positions herself in the front window of her apartment, only to be blinded by the spotlight waved by the officer in the car. Realizing that she must not have been seen, she goes out her front door and stands on the balcony, frantically waving her arms at the cop.

The officer either doesn’t see her or chooses to ignore her distress signals. Within 10 minutes, the squad car pulls away.

And over the course of the next three years, that police officer — Renatta Frazier — completely overshadows the rape case. It was Frazier’s story, not the rape, that occupied the attention of the city of Springfield from January 2002, when the daily newspaper kicked off a media frenzy with a report that Frazier could have prevented the rape; through August of that same year, when Frazier resigned from the Springfield Police Department; through October, when Illinois Times discovered that the previous accounts were false; and finally, through April 2004, when the city paid Frazier and her attorney almost $1 million to settle her lawsuit.

All but forgotten in the wake of this turmoil was the woman with the counterfeit calm on the 911 tape. Over the years, as her intimate tragedy took a weird detour into a case about race discrimination in the Springfield Police Department, the woman found no motivation to make her voice heard.

That night, for myriad reasons, she couldn’t bring herself to tell the dispatcher, “I’ve been raped.” Now, however, she’s ready to use the phrase.

“I was raped by those guys, I was raped by the police department, I was raped again by the state’s attorney’s office,” she says. “And then I was raped by [Frazier and her supporters] using my case to win a huge settlement.”

It’s hard to stereotype a person who has been purposely rendered anonymous, but Jane Doe — as she wants to be called, citing a concern for her own safety — manages to be surprisingly nerdy.

She wears glasses, no makeup, and minimal jewelry. Her wardrobe and hairstyle emphasize practicality. She’s smart, articulate, polite, and funny. She is mature for her age, but then again, she’s just 21.

She’s proud of herself for surviving the rape and its aftermath and especially proud to have recovered enough to talk about it. Still, she arranges for an interview that lasts several days to be conducted in the presence of her mother.

What happened to Jane in the early hours of Oct. 31, 2001, was the kind of horrific landmark that splits a person’s life into “before” and “after.” Both mother and daughter say that the Jane who existed before the rape was “a regular teenager,” albeit a rather independent one.

She had just graduated from high school in one of Springfield’s bedroom communities, where she was a member of the National Honor Society and an officer in several extracurricular-activity groups — “a model student,” her mother says. Unlike her siblings, whose grades tended to fall if they took a part-time job, Jane could work full-time and keep making straight A’s. “She needed that to stay busy,” her mom says.

She suffered the usual adolescent yen to be part of the popular clique, but for Jane, the ache was exacerbated by her position as the middle child in a family full of jocks and cheerleaders. She doesn’t seem bitter about it now, but she prefers the unvarnished truth to her mother’s glossy recollections.

“She didn’t give herself a lot of credit for the amount of people who looked up to her. She wasn’t in that clique with those popular jocks per se, but there were people who thought she was pretty special,” Mom says, tossing in a comment about Jane’s being overweight and having problems getting dates. “She wasn’t the homecoming queen, but so what? She had other things going for her, and I never could get her to see that.”

“You’re tripping, Mom,” Jane chuckles. “I didn’t have anybody who thought I was ‘special’ or whatever when I was in school. Think about all the friends who were my age, walking all over me.”

It wasn’t just school; Jane felt unpopular with her own family. They didn’t attend her sporting events and caught her band performances only because they were already at the game to watch her siblings play on the field or lead cheers. “Everybody cared about everybody else in the family except me,” she says. “I was independent. They made me independent.”

She says the one person she really wanted to please was her dad, a Springfield police officer who had divorced her mother when Jane was in grade school. But he was tough to impress.

“I felt like I was never good enough for him,” she says.

Nevertheless, she moved in with him for her final year of high school, after the tension between her sister and her mother became too much of a distraction. She stayed with her dad until her senior year was almost over, then moved in with a girlfriend’s family. Then, in August 2001, Jane and the girl rented an apartment together in the Lake Victoria neighborhood.

They didn’t realize it was a high-crime area until it was too late. Of course, Jane’s police-officer dad would have told her, if she had asked.

“But I wasn’t speaking to my father at that point in time, so it didn’t matter what he thought about it,” she says.

And her mom sighs: “Exactly.”

Jane’s move away from her family wasn’t just a physical departure; it was also a move toward independence and a chance to discover her own identity.

Like many young people, she approached this mission through a series of impromptu experiments: How much should I drink? How does it feel to get high? How wide should I draw my social circle? How promiscuous do I want to be? Her research had just begun.

She found herself falling in love with a co-worker who happened to be black. This attraction contradicted not only her upbringing but also her own instincts.

“I knew my family was totally against blacks and whites dating. I was totally against it,” she says. “A week before I started dating [my boyfriend], I thought it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever heard of in my life.”

But “G,” as Jane calls him, made her feel special. He flirted with her, smiled at her a lot, and told their friends that he thought she was beautiful. “And the boyfriend I had before that told me I was fat every day that I was with him,” Jane says.

She also noticed herself drinking more than before, thanks to friends who were old enough to buy beer legally. But she figures that would’ve happened even if she had stayed at home.

“I came from a small town, so drinking was pretty much what small-town people do, to be completely honest. So, yeah, I would’ve been around drinking whether I was hanging around those people or not,” Jane says.

However, on at least one occasion in August, she got so drunk that she doesn’t remember what happened and thinks she passed out. G later told police that on that night, he invited friends into the bedroom while he was having intercourse with Jane and that she performed oral sex on them. Jane doesn’t believe that happened, but she’s not sure.

“I’m not ruling it out, because it could’ve possibly happened,” she says, “but I don’t think it did.”

A few months later, she tried marijuana for the first time, courtesy of one of her restaurant co-workers, but she denies trying any harder drugs. In fact, she says, she broke up with G sometime in August, when she reached into his pocket and found crack cocaine. They didn’t socialize again, she says, until Oct. 30, the night she was raped.

G had called earlier that week to suggest getting together, and on that night, he came over to her apartment. They had sex and then went to a party together, after which Jane dropped him off at his house and drove back to her apartment, arriving around 11 p.m.

Her roommate was out of town, so Jane was alone. She had dinner, made a phone call, and went to bed. The next thing she knew, she heard knocking at the door.

Through the peephole, she saw a screwdriver. It was her favorite screwdriver — one with interchangeable bits — and she had loaned it earlier that day to a neighbor named Ace, who needed it to assemble his new waterbed. When she opened the door, the man she thought was Ace asked to use the phone and said that his buddy — a taller, heavier man — needed to use the restroom. Jane said sure and went back to bed, telling them to lock the door on the way out.

Instead, they assaulted her. In the account she gave police hours later, Jane described how the men used her long hair to yank her out of bed and onto to the floor, then took turns raping her. The taller man muttered an apology, but Ace grew increasingly hostile, at one point using her phone to call someone to “come hit this,” saying, “We got to punish this bitch.” When the taller man left, Jane pushed Ace out the door and locked it with the deadbolt and a safety bar.

Immediately she got online and sent a message to a male friend in Tennessee to call her. He told her to call the police. But Jane didn’t want her father to find out what had just happened to her. She dialed 911 only after her attackers returned to knock on her door a second time.

How the responding officer — Renatta Frazier — spent almost 10 minutes waving a spotlight from the parking lot without seeing Jane remains a mystery (Frazier declined to comment for this story). More than once, in the months after the rape, Jane returned to the apartment building at night and tried shining her headlights toward the window. “I can see everything all the way back to the dining room,” Jane says.

So she has her own theory about why Frazier never knocked on her door. “I think she did see me and that she was too lazy to get out of her car,” Jane says. “I mean, there is no way in hell that she did not see me.”

When the police car drove away, Jane took a bath, still sobbing to her Tennessee friend on the phone. Her calico cat crawled into the tub to comfort her, then followed Jane to the bedroom and snuggled under the covers with her. They slept until the phone rang about 6:45 a.m.

It was Jane’s roommate, calling from another time zone. As soon as Jane heard her friend’s voice, she became hysterical and told her about the assault. Her roommate immediately phoned an aunt, who called 911 and headed directly to the apartment, arriving moments before police.

The report taken by the officers that morning mentions that Jane had called police earlier and noted that a cop had circled the parking lot without contacting Jane. The report clearly states that the rape had been committed before Jane ever called 911; nothing about the timeline detailed in this document is fuzzy. Yet somehow, for reasons no one has ever explained, word went out first to the department and then to the media that Frazier could have prevented the rape.

Perhaps, at the moment it was first uttered, it seemed like a harmless fib. But it festered and grew until it claimed Frazier’s career. When the lie was revealed, public outcry forced several police and city executives to retire. In all the commotion, Jane felt forgotten.

“Everybody’s making Renatta Frazier look like the victim here, and she’s not the victim,” Jane says. “I am.”

The first story connecting Jane’s rape and Renatta Frazier was published Jan. 4, 2002, on the front page of the State Journal-Register. Jane says that it pushed her over the edge.

“I went in the bathroom, locked the door, broke open a razor, and slit my wrists,” she says.

It wasn’t just the story; the story was simply another straw. As if dealing with the rape weren’t enough — “It’s not something they teach you in health class,” Jane says — she found herself so utterly bereft of support that she can almost laugh about it now.

“After the rape, they put me on Zoloft, and it made me crazy,” she says. “I went from being mad at the world to wanting to kill myself.” Several times, she parked her car on the railroad tracks in the hope of being hit by a train; each time, her phone rang and a friend talked her into driving forward. Almost daily, she says, she held a knife to her wrist but lacked the courage to cut herself. The incident with the razor was as close as she came, and even that didn’t require medical attention.

But there were other signs of her despair. In the first year after the rape, Jane moved seven times, each time farther from her family.  Jane says they seemed intent on using the rape to prove that she never should’ve been living on the East Side in the first place.

“Everybody told me if I hadn’t been hanging out with those people, I wouldn’t have been raped. And maybe they didn’t say, ‘It was your fault,’ but the way they were putting it, it made me feel like it was my fault,” Jane says.

Their strategy backfired. Instead of listening to her parents, Jane says, “I literally dropped out of my family’s life.” Gravitating toward the wildest crowd she could find, her downward spiral soon landed her in jail after she got into a fistfight with a roommate she believed had stolen her money. Jane’s next stop was a homeless shelter.

“I think most people have to hit rock bottom before they can start going up again,” she says.

She stayed about two months at Helping Hands. While there, she swore off alcohol and drugs. She found a new job and got help renting an apartment. She attended counseling sessions at Prairie Center Against Sexual Assault. She began dating “J,” a guy she met at a rave, and says he was a positive influence on her.

“I was still making wrong decisions when it came to friends,” she says, “but J would always tell me, ‘I don’t know why you’re hanging out with these people, you could do so much better.’ ”

In hindsight, Jane wishes that she had made different choices — not about living in Lake Victoria or hanging out with “those people” but about insisting that her file be kept closed. She made the request within hours of the rape, still fearful of her father’s interference, but she now says he could have ensured that her case was handled properly. Instead, she believes, the investigation was botched.

The morning after the rape, Jane sat in an SPD detective’s office and thumbed through mug books looking for her attackers. She recalls leafing past several familiar faces, all friends of G’s, until she found the guy she thought was Ace. She told the detective where Ace lived — in an apartment close to hers — and sure enough, Ace gave a statement admitting that he had borrowed Jane’s screwdriver and returned it to her late on the night of Oct. 30.

Furthermore, Ace mentioned that his cousin Shawn Greene had helped him assemble his waterbed and may have gone with him to return the screwdriver. Both men denied having sexual relations with Jane, and they submitted DNA samples.

A few weeks later, Jane realized that she had picked out the right face but the wrong name. The man in the mug book wasn’t Ace, but it was someone Ace knew, and knew well enough to have given her screwdriver to, Jane says. But because she had originally insisted that Ace was the rapist — and because Ace confirmed her story about the screwdriver — the detective never interviewed the man she picked out in the mug book.

When the results of the DNA testing came in, there was evidence implicating Greene — but no one else — in the crime. Jane attended Greene’s plea hearing expecting to hear him testify about the identity of the other rapist, but he did not. Instead, he simply pleaded guilty and is now serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for sexual assault.

Less than two months after Greene’s incarceration, focus shifted to Renatta Frazier. On the one-year anniversary of the rape, an Illinois Times investigation revealed not only the true timeline of events but also evidence of SPD’s hostile attitude toward the rookie officer. At a special City Council meeting called in response to the revelation, then-Mayor Karen Hasara decided to turn over to the media the internal-affairs files on Frazier. Jane’s detailed rape report — the one she had requested be sealed — was among those documents.

Jane felt violated all over again.

“Nobody cared about me at all,” she says. “I felt like they were just walking all over me.”

After that, Jane’s case was hopelessly subsumed by the Frazier’s story, and every article and broadcast was like picking a scab.

“It was like I couldn’t get away from it. I couldn’t heal because they weren’t letting me,” Jane says. “I would read the paper and just burst into tears — like, why does the public care? Why does this have to be so huge? Why does my sexual assault have to turn into the case of the century?”

As recently as last month, Frazier was featured in local media, publicizing the release of her book. Titled The Enemy in Blue, the book ends on a high note, with Frazier receiving a settlement amounting to more than $800,000 delivered with a verbal apology and a hug from Mayor Tim Davlin.

Jane, on the other hand, has had no such happy ending.

“I want to basically feel the same way that [Frazier] does right now — she has closure, and I don’t,” Jane says.

Last month, Jane filed a lawsuit against Frazier, attorney Courtney Cox, and Rickey Davis, an SPD lieutenant who is a Frazier supporter and a plaintiff in another race-discrimination lawsuit against the city. Jane’s attorney Stephen Hedinger alleged in his complaint that Frazier, Cox, and Davis defamed Jane in their efforts to settle their own lawsuits. Through their attorney, they have denied those allegations.

 Much of Jane’s complaint is based on a November 2003 encounter with Cox and Davis. She was at home alone when Cox’s assistant, Judy Carson, rang her doorbell. Carson introduced herself and asked whether Jane would be willing to discuss the Frazier case, and Jane agreed. But as she opened her door, Cox and Davis appeared and joined Carson. Jane says that their questions were so upsetting, she even tried telephoning her father for help.

“Everything they asked me, they were pointing me toward saying that the rape never happened,” Jane says. Instead, they wanted her to admit that she had consented to have sex with Greene. She refused.

Months later, Cox laid out a similar scenario in an eight-part series aired on WICS (Channel 20) during the February sweeps period. The series also featured protracted interviews with Frazier and with Greene, who proclaimed his innocence from the Graham Correctional Center. In her book, Frazier credits the WICS series with pressuring the city of Springfield into settling her lawsuit.

To Jane, that admission links Frazier’s settlement directly to the surprise visit from Cox. Even though Frazier wasn’t present, Jane holds her responsible. “She’s involved because she hired Courtney Cox,” Jane says.

And Jane’s mother agrees: “It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for [Frazier] from our point of view.”

As tough as it was for her to watch the series, Jane says that it gave her a glimmer of hope because Greene appeared on camera backing up her belief that the man in the mug book — the man she assumed was Ace, the man Channel 20 dubbed “Suspect B” — was the one who had been especially brutal during the rape.

“When I heard Shawn saying that, it made me think, ‘OK, I’m not crazy,’ ” Jane says.

Last week, Hedinger filed another civil suit on Jane’s behalf, this time against Greene, in an effort to compel him to repeat the account he gave Channel 20 under oath. If that suit succeeds, Hedinger hopes to convince the state’s attorney to file charges against Suspect B.

Jane faces an uphill battle if she wants to get the rape investigation reopened. The state’s attorney’s office has been criticized for not prosecuting sexual-assault cases more aggressively. And in September, Greene formally recanted his guilty plea by filing a postconviction petition alleging that he received ineffective representation from Sangamon County Chief Public Defender Brian Otwell.

Jane and Frazier have never met, but if they did, they might be surprised to discover how much they have in common. Both are strong-willed, rebellious souls who see no virtue in conforming. Both have experienced homelessness and severe depression, and both attribute their survival to their Christian faith. Both have a certain disdain for the Springfield Police Department.

And both have now achieved some measure of stability, although at differing magnitudes. Frazier took her cash settlement and moved her family to a new home in Georgia. Jane, on the other hand, lives in an apartment on the near West Side of Springfield with J, who is now her fiancé, and their 4-month-old daughter.

“I didn’t have $800,000 to pick myself back up. I had to pick myself back up from nothing,” Jane says. “I have what I have today because I worked for it.”

The baby, Jane says, was a complete surprise, because doctors had told her she would be unable to have children as a result of medical complications associated with the rape.

“I think I was put here on the planet to be a mom. I have never been happier in my life [than] since the day she was born,” Jane says. “She has made everything go away, all the bad in the world.”

Her family’s acceptance of this biracial baby has helped mend Jane’s relationship with them all, especially her mother, who can’t help but dote on her first grandchild.

But an even bigger change, Jane says, is her sense of self-worth, won in her survival of the rape. “I’ve been able to rekindle relationships with my family because I have higher self-esteem,” she says. “The rape and the Renatta Frazier case, too — it’s all in one, whether I want it to be or not — has made me a stronger person.”

Log in to use your Facebook account with
IllinoisTimes

Login With Facebook Account



Recent Activity on IllinoisTimes

Calendar

  • Mon
    20
  • Tue
    21
  • Wed
    22
  • Thu
    23
  • Fri
    24
  • Sat
    25
  • Sun
    26