Why Some Rape Victims End Their Silence Arrests Like That Of Shane Wheale, Accused In A Slaying, Often Prompt Others To Go To Police.

Posted: August 09, 1998

Some victims don't think anyone will believe them. Some blame themselves. Some fear telling their story to strangers in police stations and courtrooms; others dread the stigma among family and friends.

For many reasons, victims of rape and sexual assault often choose not to alert police or seek prosecution. And a sexual predator can turn this silence to his advantage - choosing victims he thinks he can intimidate, emboldened each time he is able to operate below the radar of authorities.

That is how police describe the suspect in last weekend's rape and slaying of Regina Marie Carr, the Andorra woman found dead in her car in Willow Grove. They paint a picture of a kind of stealth serial rapist, a man who had violently attacked three other women before Carr's bloody death.

In the hours and days after Shane Wheale's arrest last Sunday for Carr's rape and slaying, those other women came forward and accused him. By the week's end, Wheale, 27, had been charged with a beating and two other rapes in addition to Carr's rape and murder. Authorities also said they believed other women may come forward.

Experts and rape counselors say it's no surprise that Wheale's accusers did not bring charges until Carr's death and Wheale's arrest had hit the headlines and the evening news.

``They were probably afraid they wouldn't be believed before,'' said Jan Licence, a rape victim and counselor from Roslyn who has campaigned for tougher laws and serves on the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency. ``And now they felt safe. [They say] `Look at this. Well, it happened to me too.' ''

Police say Wheale, a man whose criminal history included assault, slashing tires and making terroristic threats, met Carr at an Upper Dublin bar late Friday, chatted with her and got her to agree to drive him home. Carr's battered body was found in the early morning in her Honda Accord, parked near Wheale's Willow Grove apartment.

Wheale is being held without bail. His court-appointed lawyer, Richard D. Winters, visited him in Montgomery County Prison on Friday, but said he does not know enough about the case yet to comment.

The accusers who have surfaced since Carr's murder have something in common: All were acquainted, to varying degrees, with Wheale. A former live-in girlfriend says he beat her in her apartment in October 1996; a second woman says he raped her after meeting her in a Bucks County tavern; and a former coworker says he raped her in his apartment just two days before Carr's death.

Rape counselors say women are sometimes reluctant to come forward when their attacker is an acquaintance, such as someone they met in a bar.

``They feel ashamed or embarrassed, like they won't be believed, or that somehow their character will be questioned,'' said Deborah Callahan, director of counseling services at Women Organized Against Rape in Philadelphia. In her six years at WOAR, Callahan says, she has seen a gradual change as more victimized women are willing to come forward - a change she attributes to greater societal recognition of rape as a heinous crime. She also credits the increasing number of victims who, like Jan Licence, have spoken out publicly. But Callahan and others say many victims still choose silence.

Among these victims' reasons are fear that the attacker will come back to hurt them, or dread of recounting intimate details to doctors, to police and ultimately to a jury. But stigma tends to be the biggest fear, according to a 1992 study by the National Victim Center, an Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group for crime victims.

The study found that the foremost concern of sexual assault victims was - in the words of Barbara Solarz of the Delaware County chapter of Women Against Rape - ``that family and friends will find out.''

Statistics vary on how many rapes go unreported. A 1994 survey by the U.S. Justice Department found that 68 percent of rape and sexual assault victims did not contact authorities. The National Victim Center's 1992 survey produced an even more disturbing figure: Only 16 percent of victimized women reported rapes to the police.

Authorities say Wheale appeared confident the women he attacked would be among those who would keep silent. According to a police affidavit filed in court, one woman reported that Wheale had raped her in his apartment and had said to her afterwards: ``I guess you won't want me to call you. . . . Am I going to have some big brothers at my door?''

To Montgomery County District Attorney Michael D. Marino, rape victims' silence is understandable.

``They don't want to go through the rigors of the justice system,'' said Marino, whose office is prosecuting Wheale. ``Sometimes the cross-examination is so detailed that it's demeaning . . . They also have to do it in a public forum in front of strangers - and sometimes, worse than strangers: their families, their husbands. . . . All these factors go into the reluctance of women coming forward.''

The result: A rapist ``thinks he got away with it . . . and he thinks he will get away with it again. It emboldens him to continue,'' Marino said, ``and that's tragic.''

But after sexual assaults and rapes are highly publicized, as with Carr's death, women often come forward and report that they have been attacked, experts say.

Rape victims ``often feel that they're the only ones in the world who this has happened to,'' said Peggy Gusz, executive director of the Crime Victim Center of Chester County. Hearing that other women had the same experience, she said, means ``they're not alone.''

In addition, Gusz said, in victims' minds, the news provides a kind of umbrella to shelter them from part of the stigma: If he attacked several women, some victims reason, they couldn't all have deserved or provoked it.

At Women Organized Against Rape, counselors have seen an increase in the number of women reporting sexual assaults and seeking help. The counselors attribute that to the publicity surrounding Carr's death and the sexual assaults at the Greek Picnic last month.

``All this stuff in the paper and on the news has definitely increased calls to our hotline,'' Callahan said.

While counselors encourage reporting of rape to educate the public and stop the perpetrators, they emphasize that no one should pressure or force a victim to go to authorities. ``You certainly don't want to be one more person adding to the loss of control in that person's life,'' Gusz said.

In the short term, counselors said, some victims' tendency to blame themselves may provide a bit of comfort. Zeroing in on something within one's reach - I should have had one fewer drink, I should have gone home earlier - can give the victim a sense of control, said Pat De Majistre, who coordinates counseling at the West Chester center.

But none of those decisions necessarily prevent a vicious assault, De Majistre said, and that kind of hindsight can add to a victim's misplaced sense of guilt.

Similarly, counselors emphasize that none of the women who say Wheale previously victimized them should feel responsible for Carr's death.

``That responsibility should not be put upon a victim,'' Gusz said. ``She did not cause this person to be killed.The rapist caused this person to be killed.''

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