First “The Accuser” book, now Netflix features Big Dan’s Rape Trials

first_imgOver the last few years, with the #MeToo movement, Americans have become more aware of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and how survivors who go public are re-victimized. Now, Netflix is paying attention to the gang rape trials of Cheryl Araujo’s attackers, as were crystallized in the 2019 true crimes book, The Accuser, by Karen Curtis. Araujo’s rape trials were the first of their kind to be televised, and became international news. Now, the story has been re-examined in Netflix’s true crime anthology.Cheryl Araujo was the victim of one of the most publicized sexual assaults of the 1980s. An attorney for one of the accused men insisted Araujo had consented, and that “one thing led to another.” Defense lawyer Edward Harrington asked her, “If you’re living with a man, what are you doing running around the streets getting raped?”In 1983, Cheryl Araujo was a 21-year-old mother of two living in her hometown of New Bedford, Massachusetts. On March 6th, she went into Big Dan’s Tavern to buy cigarettes from a dispenser inside the bar. After chatting with a waitress and ordering a drink, Araujo was attempting to leave the bar when a man grabbed her from behind. She was gang raped on the bar’s pool table while others looked on. One man admitted during the trial that he shouted, “Go for it! Go for it!” during the assault. After more than two hours, Araujo managed to escape, and ran half naked into the street where she flagged down a car carrying three three men, including brothers Dan and Michael O’Neill.Later that month, four men, John Cordeiro, Daniel Silva, and Victor Raposo, Joseph Vieira were charged with assaulting Araujo. Two others who were in the bar that night, Jose Medeiros and Virgilio Medeiros (who aren’t related) were charged with being accessories to the assault. They were accused of cheering the rape and preventing the bartender from intervening. The four accused of assaulting Araujo were convicted at trial in March 1984 and sentenced to serve between 6 and 12 years in prison. The Medeiros were acquitted.In 2020 the Araujo case was featured as an episode of the Netflix documentary series produced by George Clooney Trial by Media; the episode “Big Dan’s” explores the effect that the broadcasting of the trial had on Araujo, the New Bedford community, and American society at large. News reports of the assault brought national attention to the Massachusetts city. The assailants, like 60 percent of New Bedford’s population, were Portuguese-American, and some of the coverage took on xenophobic overtones, blaming Portuguese community as a whole for the crime. Hustler magazine ran a fake postcard featuring a naked woman on a pool table with the caption, “Greetings from New Bedford, Massachusetts, the Portuguese Gang-Rape Capital of America.”New Bedford rallied against the slurs targeting their community, but some turned to attacking the victim and supporting the accused rapists. Community members raised around $20,000, and bailed four of the men out of prison. Between 7,000 and 10,000 people later marched in protest of the convictions. One listener called into a local radio show to declare that Aruja was “dead meat.” Another woman told the local news that she “ should get punished, too. If they raped her, she was the aggravator. I’m sorry to say it but I think it was her.”Over 16,000 people signed petitions requesting leniency for the convicted men. After the trial, both Araujo and her sister moved to Miami due to the harassment they received. Even the O’Neills, who helped Araujo in the aftermath of the assault, received death threats for aiding the victim and testifying for the prosecution. None of Araujo’s assailants served more than six and a half years in prison.The attack inspired the 1988 film The Accused. Jodie Foster played a character based on Araujo, and won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal. By then, the real Cheryl Araujo had already died. In December 1986, at the age of 25, Araujo crashed her car on a South Miami road and died while her daughters, Jessica and Kerri survived with minor injuries. Toxicology showed Araujo was drunk at the time of the crash. She had struggled with alcoholism in the years after the rape, and spent more than six months of the year before her death in rehab. Also, as first reported in The Accuser, Cheryl’s daughter Kerri reported to the FHP who documented it in their report (featured in the book) that “a white van ran mommy off the road.”In 1984, the Senate held a hearing examining the effects of allowing the New Bedford trial to be aired on television. “Rare is the woman who can endure both the trauma of rape,” said then-Bristol County, Massachusetts district attorney Ronald Pina, “and the trauma of a highly publicized trial.”The Netflix Big Dan’s docuseries did make reference that Cheryl had trouble coping after the rapes and living in South Florida, they also reported that she had gone to secretarial school. However, they did not report that at the time of the accident, Cheryl was in rehab also that she had a book and movie deal that was brokered by a Miami Attorney. Hollywood, especially George Clooney who produced the Netflix series, don’t want you to know about her movie deal. It’s all in the book, The Accuser.Listen to Karen Curtis’ Full Rigor podcast featuring audio from interview she exclusively conducted with Araujo’s mother Arlene and her two daughters here.Netflix “Trial by Media” the truth behind the crimes. In this true crime docuseries, some of the most dramatic trials of all time are examined with an emphasis on how the media may have impacted verdicts.Order Karen Curtis’ The Accuser book here.last_img read more