Rape victim advocates hope a guilty verdict in the case of a man charged with sexually assaulting eight women will echo far beyond the confines of the McHenry County courtroom in which he was tried.
A jury found Charles Oliver guilty Friday in the first case against him. Oliver, 45, was convicted of raping a woman who had answered his personal ad on Craigslist. His lawyer has requested separate trials for each of the women, most of whom he met on Craigslist and arranged to pay for sex.
A key element was whether someone who accepts money for sex has the right to say no. Defense attorneys sought to argue that the victim had consented because she took money from Oliver and did "what she was paid to do."
"We have a very long history of effectively saying, 'If she's in prostitution, then what happens to her does not matter,'" said Kaethe Morris Hoffer, executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. "This conviction stands firmly against that proposition, and we applaud it."
The research shows that men who pay for sex often believe that they buy the right to do anything they want, Morris Hoffer said. Friday's verdict conveys that no one has that right, she said. She praised prosecutors, noting that having the state stand up for the woman sends a "profound and important message to the community at large."
"The other message that we would hope it sends loud and clear is that prosecutors can achieve convictions, even when the victim of the sexual assault is a woman who has been prostituted," Morris Hoffer said.
Women in prostitution have long faced a stigma when it comes to sexual assault, said Jody Raphael, a visiting law professor at DePaul University who has written about violence against women. Her latest book, "Rape is Rape," was published last year.
"Women in prostitution, because of what they do, are rarely believed," Raphael said. "They have told me they don't go to police with these kinds of complaints because they feel they will be abused and … are afraid to come forward and to make a complaint."
She added, "I am pleased that the jury, in viewing the facts, was able to put aside any prejudices and find him guilty."
Authorities said Oliver took advantage of the stigma by threatening to out some of his alleged victims as prostitutes if they crossed him.
His attorney, Mark Facchini, sought to undermine the credibility of the woman in the first case by saying she didn't contact police immediately. He also said the assault "was not a date that went too far" but a "business transaction."
That defense, said Lynne Johnson, also of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, is problematic because it presumes that there is a category of people who cannot be raped. There is no exception to the Illinois sexual assault code if the victim is prostituted, she said.
"The prosecutor in this case for once saw through all those lies and achieved some really important justice," Johnson said, "and that to me is the story of what happened (Friday)."