On local talk radio, where rape isn't rape

On AM radio one morning last week, a local host whose show I don't feel like advertising lent his limited expertise to a serial rape trial going on at the downtown courthouse. You think the days of blaming women for being raped are over? Not on this show.

The facts of the case: Richard Dorsey, the defendant, is accused of raping three women and trying to rape two more, all at knife-point. Most of them were working as prostitutes at the time. Police used DNA evidence to link him to some of the crimes. His pattern, the prosecutor told the jury during at the start of the trial last week, was the same with each victim. (The defense says there isn't enough evidence to prove the charges.)

The radio host read an ADN story about the trial and, he told listeners, an interesting thought "crept up to him." It wasn't about whether Dorsey was innocent, it was about whether Dorsey should have been charged at all. Lady listeners, the host warned, might get offended. He didn't care, he said. "(Dorsey) goes down and gets a prostitute," the host said. "The prostitute gets in the car to, uh, to have sex with him, under the condition that he's going to pay them some money, so he pulls out a knife, forces them to have sex, doesn't pay them, and I'm assuming kicks them out of the car."

Suggested hed: On local talk radio, where rape isn't rape

"My question would be under that scenario, given that the woman had already gotten in the car deciding to have sex with him at that point, isn't it more theft than rape?

He went on: "Didn't he more steal a service, a good or a service, from a woman, rather than rape a woman that didn't want to have sex with him?"

The host went on with this line of talk. He made half-apologies about being sexist, but the underlying questions were as old as rape itself. Can a promiscuous woman really be raped? Isn't being a prostitute, by its sheer nature, inviting whatever happens, even if it's violence? The answers to those questions, established by common sense and our laws, are yes and no. This host wasn't looking for those kinds facts. He was looking for his phones to light up. And they did.

Many callers told the host his theory was outdated garbage. The guy forced himself on women at knife-point. That meant it was rape, whether the victims were prostitutes or not. Others thought he was onto something. Maybe no didn't mean no if a prostitute was saying it once she got into a car with a potential customer. A female caller wondered if the women would have "cried rape" if they got paid afterward. A male caller said, "You could just put (the rapes) under the 'some like it rough' category."

This host was looking for attention, which is why I'm not using his name. But listening to about an hour of the show, the thing that got me besides his bogus argument was the fact that what he was talking about wasn't theoretical. The prostitutes the host thought weren't really raped? They are real people. Their suffering is real, too.

I found one of them on the witness stand Wednesday morning in the downtown courthouse.

She was conservatively dressed, in her mid-30s, with short, dark hair. When she took the stand, she began to weep. The judge told her to take her time. The rape happened a decade ago, she said, when her life was very different than it is now. She is married now. It appeared she'd gotten sober. She doesn't live in Alaska.

In the late '90s, she was injured in a motorcycle accident, she told the jury. She was prescribed painkillers and soon she started to abuse them. Her addiction became so intense that by 2002, when she was 24 years old, she was injecting Oxycontin daily just to feel normal, she said. To feed her habit, she turned to prostitution. (Addiction to opiates like heroin and oxycontin is common among the city's street prostitutes, according to Sgt. Kathy Lacey, head of the vice unit.) The woman was living in a hotel room in Mountain View.

One night in October, a man picked her up on 30th Avenue between Spenard Road and Arctic Boulevard. She got into the front seat of his small pick-up. She couldn't see his face that well in the streetlight.

"I asked him if he wanted some company," she said. "He said yes."

The idea was that he would pay her and they would have sex, she told the jury. But when she tried to get specific about what she would do and how much he would pay, he didn't reply. He pulled the car over on a side street off Northern Lights. He got out, came around to the passenger door and opened it. Then he pushed her down and started to get on top of her, she said. She told him to stop and moved back toward the driver's side. If he wanted to have sex, she said, he had to pay. He fumbled around under the seat. She thought he was looking for his wallet. He pulled out a cheap-looking steak knife with a pointed tip and serrated blade, she testified.

At about that point in the courtroom testimony, the woman's face crumpled. She wiped her cheeks and took a deep breath.

"I'm ... this is overwhelming," she said.

The prosecutor asked what Dorsey did with the knife.

"He put it up to my throat," she said.

She remembered looking up through the windshield, she said. She thought about her young son.

"I'm thinking, 'I'm going to die,'" she said.

She decided to do what he said. He climbed on her.

"He kept saying just relax and I'm not going to hurt you. Just do what I say and I'm not going to hurt you," she testified.

When he was done, he asked for the money in her purse, she said. She gave it to him. Then he let her go and told her to keep walking and not to look back. She reported the rape to police later that morning and had a rape examination at the hospital. The tape from that exam, which included details of her sex life and drug use at the time, was played for the jury while she sat on the witness stand. DNA evidence collected in that exam linked Dorsey to the crime.

The moment from the hearing that stuck with me most came when the prosecutor asked her if she wanted to have sex with Dorsey once the knife came out.

"I didn't say anything," she testified. "I just laid there and shook."

I don't call into local talk radio. But if I did, I might ask the host of last week's show: How can you call that anything other than rape?

Julia O'Malley writes a regular column. Read her blog at adn.com/jomalley, find her on Facebook or get her Twitter updates at www.twitter.com/adn_jomalley.

O'Malley blog