From the editor: The voice of a woman who says she was raped at 14 deserves to be heard

Why are we publishing a story about a young woman who says she was raped almost a decade ago?

We’re taking a risk, as a newspaper, because there was no physical evidence of the 2009 rape since the woman was a 14-year-old girl, a ninth-grader at Guilderland High School, when, she says, she was assaulted. She did not tell her parents until more than two weeks later. Her clothes had been cleaned. Sheets had been washed.

Beyond that, the girl had first told Guilderland Police officers, after a friend called them, that there had been no rape; later, she changed her story. Worse still, her deposition said she had met with the young man she says raped her because she was buying “magic mushrooms.”

So, as our lawyer bluntly put it, “Your source is a liar who used drugs.”

But we believe her story is worth telling. And we believe that what happened to her on the night of Jan. 29, 2009 has haunted her life and the life of her family.

Further, her story is emblematic of many stories that go untold, that never see the light of a courtroom — the stories of victims that have no hope of justice.

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, about 12 percent of the 283,200 annual rapes or sexual assaults between 2005 and 2010 resulted in an arrest. Two-thirds of victims had their legal cases dismissed, and, more than 80 percent of the time, this contradicted their desire to prosecute.

Last year, we considered the rarity of a rape case that, first of all, made it as far as an arrest and then, second, made it to court, worth covering fully.

So, in December, our Guilderland reporter, Elizabeth Floyd Mair, thoroughly covered the trial of Franklin Castelli. A jury convicted him of raping a college student in her University at Albany dorm room as she slept. Casatelli was sentenced last week.

Sitting in the courtroom every day along with Floyd Mair was the mother of the woman who says she was raped by Casatelli in 2009. Floyd Mair listened to her story. She talked to the young woman. She read the depositions.

She also talked to the Guilderland Police and learned there is another rape case, from 2010, still open against Casatelli. Of course, committing one rape doesn’t mean you’ve committed others.

But Floyd Mair talked, too, to the State Trooper who investigated the case. He believes the girl was raped. He feels, as we do, that a girl can lie when she is hurt and scared. Maybe she didn’t want her parents to know she was buying mushrooms. Maybe she wanted to deny, even to herself, what had happened.

“I believe Frank sexually assaulted her,” the investigating officer said. “Victims are scared, especially when they’re that young. They don’t know what to say. Once she got comfortable with me, everything came out.”

He went to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office to ask if there had been anything he had missed that could help bring a case, he said, and was told, “We can’t do anything with this” — she was inconsistent and drugs were involved.

We get it. We know, especially with sex crimes, if there is no witness — and often there is not — the victim feels put on trial. It becomes his word against hers. That doesn’t mean the crime didn’t happen. It means it is tough, or impossible, to successfully prosecute.

The University at Albany victim was fortunate that Casatelli had talked to students before the rape about looking for sex and after the rape about having had sex. They became witnesses during his trial but, even so, Casatelli’s lawyer made a point that the victim wore thong underwear and was drinking that night.

“We owe the SUNY student such a debt of gratitude, that she had the courage and determination to get to the point that he’s unable to damage further lives,” said the mother of the girl who says she was raped in 2009. Casatelli was sentenced to 37 years in prison.

Floyd Mair spoke to the friend of Casatelli who, in 2009, drove the 14-year-old girl and Casatelli to the apartment where she says she was raped. The driver said he had thought it must be consensual but says, too, that he has struggled all his life with interpreting other people’s emotions. No one but the 14-year-old and Casatelli know what went on in that bedroom.

Even if they had had sex that was consensual, it would have been against the law since she was 14 and he was 18.

Our front-page story is told without saying a rape happened. It lays out the views of those involved. We’ll let each reader decide.

We believe the story is worth telling in this #MeToo era because it is not just well-known women who have suffered indignities from men. It could be the girl next door who has spent the better part of her lifetime coming to terms with what she experienced at age 14.

She deserves to be heard.

More Editorials