Cheryl Ann Araujo (1961–1986) was an American rape survivor whose case became national news, and was the basis of the 1988 film The Accused. Araujo was gang-raped in 1983 at age 21 by four men on a pool table in a tavern while other patrons watched but did not intervene. During the prosecution, the defendants' attorneys cross-examined Araujo to such an extent that the case became widely seen as a template for "blaming the victim" in rape cases. The case also raised tensions between the Portuguese-American community and other ethnic groups in New Bedford, as the defendants were Portuguese immigrants. Her case was widely known as the "Big Dan's rape" after the name of the bar in which the attack occurred.
On March 6, 1983, after putting her two daughters to sleep following the older daughter's third birthday party, Araujo left her home to buy cigarettes. The store she usually purchased from was closed, so she stopped at Big Dan's tavern in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Two men approached and asked her to leave with them. When she refused, a third man grabbed her from behind and threw her onto the bar's pool table. She was stripped below the waist, and several men raped her. According to Araujo's original report to police, widely reported in the press, she heard people "laughing, cheering, yelling", but no one responded to her cries for help. (Later investigation indicated that only three non-attackers were present in the bar, two of whom, including the bartender—the third was dead drunk—did try to intervene but were threatened by the attackers; as Araujo seemingly admitted later, there was no crowd cheering on the rape.) Eventually, Araujo fought off her attackers and ran half-naked into the street, screaming that she had been raped. Three college students passing by in a van came upon Araujo in the street and drove her to the nearest hospital.
Six men were originally charged with the rape, though only four, Victor Raposo, John Cordeiro, Joseph Vieira and Daniel Silva, were eventually tried in two separate trials because some of them implicated each other. The trials attracted international attention, and cast new light on how victims are treated in rape cases. During live TV coverage in the US, the victim's name was broadcast. The three college students who drove Araujo to the hospital testified as to the state of terror she was in when they encountered her. The four defendants were convicted of aggravated rape, two men were acquitted of the charges. The most any of them served was 6½ years.
Later life and death
Although her identity was somewhat shielded during the trial, Araujo subsequently went public and became an activist for women's and victims' rights. Araujo was essentially ostracized in New Bedford, however, and shortly after the trial, she moved to Miami along with her two daughters and their father—Araujo's high school sweetheart—to find anonymity. Araujo had entered school to become a secretary, was making a life for herself and had found some measure of happiness.
On December 14, 1986, she lost control of her car while taking her daughters to a Christmas show and struck a utility pole. The girls were injured, but survived. Araujo, however, died in the crash. She was 25 years old.
- The New York Times, 12 April 1984
- "Prosecutor Says Rape Trials Should Be Closed", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 25, 1984.
- "Today in history: Judge denies Rocky Point park purchase", The Providence Journal, March 26, 2009.
- Parker, Paul Edward. "Juries hear Big Dan's rape case". The Bristol County Century. (The Providence Journal). November 1, 1999. p. C.1.
- Greeniley, Jeannie. "The 30 Most Memorable Cases Of The Last 30 Years: 4. The Big Dan's Case: A Woman's Nightmare Awakens A Nation To Rape". Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. September 16, 2002.