By Brenda Sarabia
BuzzFeed published an article on Sept. 27, detailing the story of 23-year-old Lara McLeod, who had been allegedly sexually assaulted by her older sister’s fiancé the summer after her freshman year of college. During the summer of 2011, McLeod was back home in Gaithersburg, Maryland, when she agreed to go to a concert with her future brother-in-law to show support for her sister. However, the night took a horrific turn when, after the show, Joaquin took out a gun and gave Lara an ultimatum: to let him have sex with her or be taken to a party where she would be gang raped. McLeod fought for hours until she realized there was no escape, so she relented and let him take what he wanted. The next day, she told her family what had happened, but decided against involving the authorities. She just wanted to forget the assault had ever happened. However her older sister had already contacted the local police department near her home in Manassas, Virginia. So at their and her parents’ insistence, she agreed to make a statement against her assailant.
If someone were to stop reading after the previous sentence they would most likely assume that he was then booked and locked up for the rest of his miserable life. It’s only natural to believe our world is that perfect and our justice system is good and righteous. But unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world, and it definitely wasn’t the case for Lara McLeod because she ended up being the one to pay for her own rape.
Her attacker had caught the entire assault on video and, because it seemed like she wasn’t fighting back, except for occasionally saying no, the police immediately turned their attention towards her. People are born with an array of automatic defense behaviors that the brain is ready to activate at the first sign of immediate danger, according to the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. McLeod had made use of “tonic immobility” which is the last resort response to an inescapable threat when all other defenses have failed. Nevertheless, the police took her lack of action in the tape as consent and charged her for filing a false report. Though the charges were later dropped, this was not the end of Lara’s ordeal.
Two weeks after McLeod’s arrest, a burner email account sent an email to her ex-boyfriend and her sorority sisters with a link to a website with details of her charges next to her mugshot. Not to mention, the authorities released false information stating that Lara and her sister had tried to manipulate the crime scene and had already received a partial sentence, according to BuzzFeed. Needless to say, McLeod lost many friends and job opportunities.
The purpose of the police is to serve and protect the public. Yet, this specific department decided to take the side of a grade-A sociopath who had an extensive history of violence and deceit. During the custody battle over McLeod’s nephew, the social worker assigned to the case revealed that the accused was previously charged with domestic abuse for his other son. A police officer testified that he had also been a suspect in the murder of the child’s mother, according to the Washingtonian.
When asked for a comment, the police department’s spokesperson stated that BuzzFeed News’ claims were “erroneous” and that they looked the case over again in response to allegations of mishandling her case. They also stated that they could not provide data showing how many women report being assaulted per year or how many of those are proven to be false. While the county’s commonwealth’s attorney refused to “confirm or deny” due to their being no records of the case.
And out of all the stories I’ve heard involving police brutality and corruption within the system, this one is by far the worst. Those victims may have been shot dead, but this girl was forced to take the blame for her own rape and was pushed into isolation because of it. The ordeal took everything from her. Her job, her reputation, her mental health. This nightmare as well as slander made by the police department will follow her for the rest of her life.
Though Lara McLeod’s story is both depressing and infuriating, what I found the most troubling was the fact that she managed to keep this injustice to herself for 4 years and it could have happened to anyone. After all, she was just a normal college student. She went to her classes every day. She was a part of a sorority. And all it took was one pathetic excuse of a human to destroy her entire world.
One out of every six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape and those enrolled in college between the ages of 18 to 24, are three times more likely to be the victims of sexual assault. Additionally, males attending school are 78% more likely to be abused than those who aren’t, according to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. Out of those numbers, only 20 percent of victims report it. It’s understandable to not want to talk about being taken advantage of, especially after reading what happened to Lara McLeod when she spoke up, but keeping it bottled up will only cause more pain. In the end, it doesn’t matter who did it, what you were wearing, or where it happened. Rape is rape and should not be kept a secret.