CLEVELAND (AP) — For rape victims, the good news and the horrible news may be identical: “We may be able to identify your rapist.”
On the one hand, results from an old rape kit can bring relief. On the other, the news can upend a life carefully rebuilt, bringing back excruciating pain that had eased over the years.
“I thought these women had so much time to process it,” says Nicole DiSanto, a special investigator with the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Task Force, which is hunting down the attackers of hundreds of women whose rape kits were long abandoned. “But when you sit down with someone and you bring this up, you can see it on their faces. It’s right there, it’s right in the moment.”
It’s all there — the agony of revisiting the past, the satisfaction of closing a door on those horrors — in two stories from DiSanto’s case files.
Allyssa Allison had always thought her landlord was the man who raped her, but she came to accept that she would never know for sure.
The masked intruder had entered by way of a broken latch on her bathroom window — the one she’d asked her landlord to fix. He was waiting in her apartment when she came home from her waitressing job on Oct. 8, 1993; he held a gun to her head and threatened to return and blow her head off.
She’d told police her suspicions, but the landlord’s wife backed his alibi. Allison had to move on, and she did.
Nearly 20 years passed, and then DiSanto came to her door. She had a new lead. But Allison didn’t give her a chance to explain. DiSanto recalls that she closed the door in her face — but not before the investigator managed to slip her business card in a crack.
Allison called DiSanto that afternoon, and that’s when she learned that some new tests from her old rape kit had found a DNA link to a possible suspect. His identity wasn’t known, but the same DNA had also been tied to attacks on three other women, including one in which Freddie “Lucky” Brown Jr. had been a suspect.
But Brown had died in 2005. It was 2013. Now what?
DiSanto decided to ask Brown’s son, then in his 20s, for a DNA swab. A familial match could determine if his father was the rapist.
“It was a gut-wrenching thing to do — telling this young man his father may be a rapist,” she says. He knew nothing of his father’s past as a possible sexual predator and DiSanto says when she told him, he cried. She’d noticed that in the house the son shared with his grandmother, there was just one photo on the refrigerator: his dad.
The son agreed to have his DNA taken. The results left no doubt.
“I tried to explain to him the sins of the father — those aren’t his,” DiSanto said. “It was a very emotional conversation. He was the nicest young man.”
For Allison, a mother of three, it was bittersweet news. She feels cheated of the opportunity to confront Brown in court — the rape, she said, “kind of messed me up mentally,” and she still goes to counseling. But the results were comforting, too.
“It felt good to really take a deep breath and not be afraid,” she says. “For the past 20 years, no matter what I’ve been doing … (I’d think) ‘Is this guy still out there?’ It was peace of mind knowing he had passed away. … It felt good not to be on guard anymore.”
Lisa Bridget also knew her rapist.
She had a relationship with a guy she knew as “Drew” in 1994; he was violent, and she tried to break it off. When he banged on her door at 2:30 one morning, she let him in, and, she says, he raped her.
There was an investigation, but it faded. According to a police report, investigators wanted to show Bridget a suspect’s photo, but were unable to contact her despite numerous attempts.
Bridget says she’d been a happy 21-year-old mother ready to start a career as a hairdresser, but the attack changed all that.
“The rape destroyed me,” she says, “I just thought I was a bad person. I turned to drugs, crime. I started going to jail. He didn’t just take my body. He took my integrity, my peace, everything a woman can have that makes her her. … He treated me like trash, and from that point on, I treated myself like trash.”
When DiSanto approached her with the results of her rape kit, Bridget wasn’t sure she wanted to pursue charges.
She asked: Was this a singular mistake in his life? No, the investigator replied, Andrew Gedson had a long criminal record, including violence against women
Bridget, now 42, later met with prosecutor Mary Weston to discuss possible penalties. She didn’t want to face Gedson or the scrutiny of a trial. She asked Weston to accept Gedson’s offer to plead guilty to sexual battery. Weston ultimately agreed.
He was sentenced to two years in prison on April 22, and will be required to register as a sex offender. At sentencing, he denied the rape and tried to withdraw his plea.
Bridget refused to look at Gedson, though she said she forgave him. In a raw, impassioned victim impact statement she’d written months earlier, she described herself as “emotionally scarred.”
“The mistrust I feel toward others has left me very guarded!! Not allowing myself to love or be loved because I don’t feel worthy of anything!! … The only reason why I’m still breathing now is because God has plans for me. … I have to stop being so fearful and allow him in and I don’t know how because I’m so dead and damaged on the inside. I just want my life back.”
Bridget says she regrets her case was resurrected. “It feels like somebody has opened an old wound and started pouring salt in,” she says.
While it’s a good thing Gedson is imprisoned, she says, she’s still paying the price.
“If you think about the victim, you gotta think, ‘They’re going to relive this — this traumatic thing that destroyed their life,'” she says. “They’re going to relive it every single day. Is it worth it?”
Sharon Cohen, a Chicago-based national writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Householder contributed to this report.