On the drizzly, overcast morning of Thursday, July 28, 15 activists gathered outside the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago to send a clear message: “I am Jane Doe.” The Jane Doe in question was a recent rape victim who decided to remain anonymous, though the declaration was one of solidarity with all such victims. The demonstration was organized to coincide with the first status hearing of Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez, two Chicago police officers charged with sexually assaulting a woman while on duty on March 30. The woman was walking home following a long night of drinking and arguing with a friend. She was crying when the officers pulled up alongside her and offered a ride home. In the woman’s lawsuit, she alleges the officers told her she could not sit in the back seat, but made her to sit in Clavijo’s lap. The 22-year-old Jane Doe’s blood-alcohol content was tested at .38, nearly five times the legal limit, but the officers decided to drive to a liquor store after picking her up. While one of the officers was inside the store, the woman was sexually assaulted in the marked SUV. After reaching her apartment, they played a game of strip poker, and the woman was again sexually assaulted. She began to bang on the walls hoping to awaken her neighbor. She screamed and ran out of her apartment when another neighbor saw her and called the police. Defense attorneys are toting the typical victim-blaming line—the encounters were consensual. Prosecutors and activists say the woman was too drunk to consent and was clearly taken advantage of.
“We’ve been talking about ways to fight the culture of impunity that systematically tries to deny the legitimacy of any rape case, and tries to justify rape,” feminist activist and organizer Cassandra Avenatti said. Avenatti has been taking part in organizing meetings of Chicago Activists against Police Sexual Violence, a coalition force united for Jane Doe. Thursday morning’s demonstration was their first action, with more still to come. The Chicago case came on the heels of a stunningly similar police sexual assault case in New York, reflecting an ugly trend of abuse of power amid a still-raging war on women. The two officers involved in that case were acquitted of rape in May, once again validating just how hard it is to defeat the rape culture that stigmatizes women who speak out. This evolving trend, from the Assange accusers to the DSK maid (who chose to identify herself recently to counter increasing scrutiny) to cases of predatory police, is part of the reason the coalition is so fired-up to work around this issue. Avenatti is uniquely positioned to speak up about police raping women as a former sex worker. She was involved in sex work while living in Miami, and said some of her friends in the industry were regularly subjected to brutalization by police. “The cops will say ‘I’m going to take you to jail or you’re going to give me a blow job,’” she said. Avenatti became radicalized as a feminist activist after her experience there. With laws popping up in state legislatures across the country seeking to soften the definition of rape to only include that which is “forcible,” the idea of consent is once again being taken up by women’s rights activists participating in the SlutWalk marches around the country. Activists chanted one slogan that emerged from the SlutWalk in front of the courthouse Thursday morning: “However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no.” But attacks against women continue to mount steadily. In the most recent event, a Planned Parenthood clinic in McKinney, Texas, was attacked with a Molotov cocktail, breaking the glass door and starting a fire. Clavijo is also facing sexual assault charges of another 26-year-old Jane Doe, the incident occurring within only 19 days of the assault of the 22-year-old Jane Doe. Clavijo and Vasquez’s attorneys told Judge Flood Thursday they are requesting audio and video from the Chicago Police Department to use in court. The officers are expected to reappear in court September 9. They will be accompanied by silent activists in the courtroom with name tags that read “I am Jane Doe.”
Candice Bernd is an editor and staff reporter at Truthout. Her work has also appeared in several other publications, including The Nation, In These Times, the Texas Observer, Salon, Rewire.News, YES! Magazine and Earth Island Journal, as well as in Truthout’s anthology on police violence, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? She received two awards from the San Francisco Press Club in November 2018, and the Dallas Peace and Justice Center’s annual journalism award in December 2016. Follow her on Twitter: @CandiceBernd.