MANHATTAN (CN) - Hundreds rallied outside Manhattan Criminal Courthouse last weekend to protest the acquittal of two New York Police Department officers accused of raping a drunken woman they were supposed to escort home.
"If you're wondering why women hesitate to report a rape or a sexual assault to the police, and why a victim wouldn't trust the justice system, look no further than the acquittal of NYPD officers [Kenneth] Moreno and [Franklin] Mata," one speaker, Nancy Schwartzman, told the crowd that gathered Friday.
A day earlier, a jury refused to convict Moreno and Mata of raping and burglarizing a drunken woman, despite evidence that prosecutors described as a taped admission, a photograph of a cervical irritation and a videotape showing the pair entered her house four times without alerting patrol.
Instead, jurors found the cops guilty of three counts of official misconduct, misdemeanors that can collectively carry three-year sentences.
And yet compared to national statistics compiled by a leading support group for rape survivors, the jury threw the book at Moreno and Mata.
Most alleged rapists never even get misdemeanors, and only 6 percent of all rapists ever see the inside of a prison, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. One protester's sign echoed the 6 percent statistic.
Officially, the organizers demanded reform within the NYPD, but several notable participants in the demonstration held little hope that the numbers would improve.
The self-ordained Rev. Billy Talen, often arrested for performance-art demonstrations against major corporations, said in an interview at the protest that his experiences behind bars leave him with "little romance about due process."
Distrustful of the courts, he urged what he called an agnostic spiritual response to sexual violence.
"We here in America get violent signals all day long," Talen told the crowd. "And those two sad officers: They'll be especially sad if they go back into their lives now and make excuses for what they did. They need to change. ... The NYPD needs to change. We need to change. America needs to change."
University of Colorado Law School professor Aya Gruber said in a phone interview that many of her students confide in her about rape.
"I tell them, 'Do what's best for you to heal. If you think you can only heal by going through this criminal process, OK. Go through it with your eyes open. But if you think you can heal by other means, don't feel that you have to prosecute, or you're a bad victim,'" explained Gruber, a former defense attorney.
Schwartzman, a speaker at Friday's rally, described a unique way to voice allegations outside the court.
Like the cops' accuser, Schwartzman said she survived a sexual assault. And also like the cops' accuser, Schwartzman secretly recorded her attacker admitting his crime.
In the trial against Moreno and Mata, Moreno disputed the sound recording that captures him telling his accuser that he used a condom. Moreno said he said that to calm the woman down when she confronted him at his precinct.