One of the most troubling aspects of Bill Cosby’s rape and sexual assault allegations coming to the forefront was the way people responded to it. I can’t tell you how many times I read “Why didn’t they report it? Why are they just coming forward now?”
The question may seem like an innocuous one at first glance. But in reality it’s one rooted in ignorance.
Rape and sexual assault cases are, by nature, difficult to prove. Lisa Avalos, a University of Arkansas law professor, told Buzz Feed, “One of the biggest problems in rape investigations is that police think women lie. When police think that, they typically fail to thoroughly investigate their rape complaints, thus doing a disservice to those victims as well as to the community as a whole, because a predator remains at large.”
In an investigative report, Buzz Feed found that his is exactly what happened to sisters Hera and Lara McLeod.
Lara was 19-years-old when her sister’s former fiancé, Joaquin Rams, raped her, two weeks after Hera had given birth to the couple’s first child together, Lara’s nephew, Prince.
Though Lara had never liked Joaquin, she agreed to accept his invitation to a Lil Wayne concert because the two were family now, united by the birth of his son and her nephew. At the concert, Joaquin told her he could get her backstage.
On the way to the show, Joaquin asked Lara if she was willing to do whatever it took to succeed in the music industry. She wasn’t sure what he meant…
Later on, Lara said, instead of taking her backstage, Joaquin brought her back home to explain: She could either have sex with him, right then and there, or he would take her to a party where she would be gang-raped by a group of men.
Lara later told the police that she tearfully argued with Joaquin into the early morning. When she protested that her sister had just given birth to Joaquin’s baby, he claimed he and Hera had agreed that Joaquin could sleep with Lara that night, the police report states. Lara even tried saying she had her period — that always discouraged pushy guys at college — but Joaquin was relentless. Earlier in the night, he had shown Lara the gun he had on him, she told police. Later, he put her phone in the trunk, and she didn’t know anyone in the area to ask for help, she said. As the night went on, Lara began to realize there was no escape. Joaquin led her into the basement.
The rape itself was an “out-of-body experience,” Lara said. Either her sister had put her in a position to be raped by Joaquin, Lara thought, or she had just destroyed Hera’s new family. Afterwards, Joaquin dropped her off at a subway station, gave her a hug, and told her not to fight him so hard next time, she says.
The next morning Lara told her parents and sister. Hera knew immediately that her sister was telling the truth. She had long since doubted and questioned Joaquin’s character but since she was having his child, she attempted to dismiss her concerns.
When her sister came home with that horrific story Hera told Buzz Feed, “I wanted so badly to believe that he was who he said he was. But then it was like someone finally threw a big bucket of water on me and I woke up screaming. I realized I didn’t know this person at all. I just saw a monster.”
Hera called the police to serve as an escort as she returned to their home to collect her son’s belongings.
When the officer entered the house, Joaquin started yelling that he never touched Lara. Later, he would tell authorities that he did so because he was “confused” as to why the officer was there.
It was then that the investigation turned into one for an alleged rape.
Detective Bradford Cavender called Lara to confirm the allegations and told her she needed to come down to the station for an interview.
Lara didn’t want to go. She described herself as groggy and shell-shocked but she had no way of knowing that “if you were innocent, someone might not believe you.”
Though Virginia law describes rape as “sexual intercourse that is accomplished against one’s will, not just by force but by “threat or intimidation,” Lara never described it as such. Instead, she used the phrase “unconsensual sex.”
Cavender repeatedly asked Lara why she didn’t try to escape. She told him she was afraid of his gun. When Cavender asked Lara why she didn’t try to keep her arms down when he tried to take her skirt off, she said she didn’t struggle because she was terrified. Lara described her mental state as catatonic.
Though Joaquin initially said that he didn’t touch Lara, he later said that their sex was consensual and he had secretly recorded a video to prove so. Hera had left the house with a camera a few hours before and police called her back asking her to bring it to the station. Though police couldn’t retrieve the video, Joaquin was able to find it. After watching it, police believed that because Lara didn’t cry or resist Joaquin, though the video didn’t show the hours that led up to that moment, she had not been raped.
After viewing the video police determined that Lara had lied. They charged her with making a false report to law enforcement and her sister Hera with obstruction of justice for deleting the video.
Lara never admitted guilt or entered a plea deal. But strangers and prosecutors said the complete opposite, painting her as a liar.
Later, the charges against Hera were dismissed but only after she spent $50,000 in legal fees.
In the most devastating aspects of this particular trial is that Joaquin used the false information about Hera to his advantage in a custody battle. He seemed to convince the court that Hera had been convicted of a crime and that he should therefore have more custody rights.
There was an insane amount of testimony against Joaquin. An officer testified that Joaquin was the suspect in the murder of his ex girlfriend. Another ex girlfriend said that he was abusive. A social worker said he had been charged with domestic abuse against his older son. Hera even testified that Joaquin had no music career. His only means of income was from his mother’s life insurance which he collected after her death, ruled a suicide, in 2008.
Hera also learned that he was the beneficiary on his ex girlfriend’s life insurance policy, giving him a possible motive.
A judge decided to give Hera sole custody but eventually allowed Joaquin the right to unsupervised visits even though Hera insisted he was a danger to the child.
On the fourth unsupervised visit, Hera received a call that her son Prince had been taken to the hospital, in a coma.
EMTs said when they arrived on the scene, where Prince was staying with Joaquin, he was cold, wet and had a bruise on his forehead and dried blood in his nose. An autopsy found that there was fluid in his sinuses, airways, lungs and intestines and small bruises and abrasions on his face, upper chest and back.
Prince died the next day. He was 15 months old.
Later, police and prosecutors charged Joaquin with capital murder. They alleged that Joaquin drowned his son to collect $500,000 from three life insurance policies. Joaquin said that he was trying to help his son who had been suffering from febrile seizures.
The McLeod sisters demanded that the Prince William County Police Department conduct an investigation into Lara’s rape case. In 2013, the police chief invited the family to discuss the results. Lara didn’t attend the meting but wrote a letter detailing what their actions had cost her.
She said that she spent her collegiate career having flashbacks, isolating herself away from people, crying in her room. She lost friends as a result of the lies spread about her and worst of all her nephew was gone forever.
She continued: “I’m not really sure how your police force can fix anything two years later,” she wrote. “I’m not looking for monetary compensation, and an apology just isn’t enough…you not only ruined my life, but you ruined my family’s life. It took me two years to finally get some of myself back, and I assure you that I will never be the self-confident, bright eyed girl I once was.”
The family requested that the officers be trained on how to properly respond to sexual assault allegations and to potential victims. They wanted the detectives who charged the sisters to be disciplined and they wanted a public statement issued so that someone who searches Lara McLeod won’t see that she “falsely accused someone of rape.”
While the police chief admitted that the decision to allow Joaquin access to the tapes was improper, violated their policies on handling evidence, and called the police report sloppy and shortcutted, he stressed that there are people who lie about being raped, though Virginia keeps no records to show how many or how often this actually happens.
In response to his officers needing more training in sexual assault cases, the chief said that it was already “cutting edge.”
Since Lara reported her rape, the detectives that handled her case were promoted. Hera sends them a card ever year with a picture of her son Prince reminding them of his would be age and that their actions can greatly impact lives.
Reflecting back on the whole ordeal Lara said, “My rape was awful. But the way the police handled it was even worse.”
You can read Buzz Feed’s full investigative report, here.