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New news brings back old hurts
2006-03-02 - 6:38 a.m.

I don't know if the young Boston woman who was raped and murdered in NYC this week has made national news. I know it's the top story in these parts. I'd tell you the details, but I don't know them, beyond that she was out late, argued with a friend, had a few more drinks with some people she'd just met, and was later found dead. Bound, raped, murdered. I don't need to learn any more.

One of our local Dj's, a talk radio guy I don't listen to, has gotten himself in trouble with insinuations that the victim bears some of the blame for what happened to her. Because women should know better than to put themselves in vulnerable situations.

It's so hard when things like this happen. All I can think of is my friend Melissa. For anyone who doesn't know the story, my friend Melissa was kidnapped, raped, murdered, and left in a shallow grave where she remained unfound for over a week by a man who appeared to be a "good samaritan," giving her a ride when her car broke down.

When Melissa disappeared and the news of the circumstances came out, all of her friends said, "WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?!" WHY didn't she call one of us to come get her? WHAT made her get into a car with a stranger like that?

Of course, in a perfect world, he would have brought her home and she would have been fine.

I remember being in a broken down car myself late one night in the middle of a giant downpour. I was young--a little younger than this girl in New York--and without my AAA card or a cellphone, and something *really bad* had happened to my car. Two different sets of strangers stopped and helped me. The first was a man in probably his early 30's who stood in the rain and talked to me through my cracked window while I tried to start the car, then let me use his cellphone to call Mom and David. The second, a young couple with a baby, gave me a ride to the garage where my car was to be towed so I wouldn't have to sit out in the rain. Should I have gotten into their car? Maybe not. But I was young and near-hysterical upset, and he was so kind.

I made it to the garage without incident. A short time later, David showed up, we made arrangements for the car, and I went home to bed, safe.

Melissa's car broke down in the middle of the afternoon at the Sagamore rotary. A man stopped to help her. He tried to start her car, and when he was unsuccessful he called a mechanic friend to come try as well. When that didn't work, he let her use his cellphone to call her mother. After much discussion, it was decided that this man would give her a ride to Brockton, where she would meet up with her mom. Melissa spent much of the ride on the phone with her mom and another friend, never once giving any indication that she was in distress. But the car never showed and the next time Melissa was seen it was by a volunteer searcher who saw her foot sticking out of the ground.

What's the difference between her story and mine, other than the ending?

Should she have accepted his offer of a ride? Obviously not. But in her same situation, would I have done anything different? I don't know.

Women have a difficult responsibility to shoulder. In the best of circumstances, we are taught to look out for our own safety. We know we shouldn't get in cars with strangers. We shouldn't get too drunk when we're out, lest we lose our ability to say no. We should only take our drinks from the bartender, and then we should never leave them unattended. We shouldn't walk alone at night, especially in known high crime areas. We should hold our purses under our arms with the strap securely over our shoulder. We shouldn't put on too much makeup or dress too provocatively, lest someone think we're "asking for it." We certainly shouldn't stay out until 4 am, drinking with strangers. That's just inviting trouble.

A lot of that is common sense. And the unfortunate truth is that we do live in a society where individuals bear the brunt of keeping themselves safe. But to blame the victim when trust is misplaced? When the unfortunate (but often understandable) decision is made to go with the stranger, to have one more drink, to flirt with the cute boy at the other end of the bar who has the drugs hidden in his pocket...That's still wrong.

I still believe in the basic decency of the majority of our population. Otherwise, I just wouldn't get out of bed. But choose carefully where you put your trust, and please be safe.

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