Decades later, rape victims still bear scars
The trauma of rape doesn’t have an expiration date.
After she was sexually assaulted by Kevin Coe on a dark South Hill street in October 1980, Julie Harmia slept with Tuffy, a protective German shepherd, and never again got on the city bus she’d ridden home that night after her first day at a new job. Her marriage failed.
Harmia, the mother of two and a Yakima special education teacher, was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to her rape 28 years ago. She had a panic attack at her hotel while in Spokane last month to testify during Coe’s civil commitment trial.
“I was spooked in broad daylight. You have these periods of panic – something will trigger it,” Harmia said.
Sherry South Paine, who also agreed to be identified for this story, was a 15-year old virgin and a Lewis and Clark High School student when she was raped on Aug. 29, 1980, shortly after midnight, two blocks from her South Hill home. She’d taken the bus home after a rock concert. “My first Pap smear was at the hospital that night,” she said.
Paine said her recurring nightmares about the rape were so severe that she’d slam her bed against the wall, waking her parents in the next room. Now a Tri-Cities hospital administrator, she was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and still has nightmares near the anniversary of the rape.
For weeks after she was raped and beaten in September 1979 near the Spokane radio station where she worked, 20-year-old Spokane broadcaster Shelly Monahan slept in a closet clutching a butcher knife. Her husband left her, and she said she dealt for years with nightmares and out-of-control emotions.
A woman who identified Coe in a photo lineup after her 1978 rape near Northwest Boulevard said she grabbed a knife to defend herself when a police officer rang her doorbell the next day to check out her story. She’s had recurring flashbacks and for years was only able to sleep during the day – never in the dark. She worked the night shift to compensate.
“After the rape, my marriage went straight downhill. You do not want to be touched,” the woman said, agreeing to be identified as “Ms. Carrico” – her former name. She has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is in therapy.
“I can’t go outside at night without my dogs and my daughter,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
In the trial that ended Oct. 16 with a jury verdict committing Coe as a violent sexual predator, the state said all the rapes of the women interviewed for this story were likely committed by Coe.
They fit Coe’s rape “signature,” including shoving his gloved hand down the throats of his victims and asking them vulgar questions as he raped them, according to the Washington attorney general’s office. The jury was allowed to consider 33 incidents in all, including rapes, indecent exposures and other assaults.
Only Harmia’s first-degree rape charge stuck after Coe’s two criminal trials. A jury acquitted Coe of second-degree rape in Carrico’s case in 1981. Monahan’s assault was never charged because she didn’t get a good look at her attacker. Paine’s case was overturned on appeal and a Seattle jury hung 11-1 in Coe’s second trial in 1985.
After the hung jury, “I didn’t want my case re-tried,” Paine said. “We thought his conviction on three rapes was plenty to keep him in prison. Then two cases were overturned” because Spokane police hypnotized the women as they sought a positive identification of their attacker.
The emotional fallout from rape can include divorce, post-traumatic stress, anger, suspicion of other people and substance abuse, said Marcia Gallucci, a crisis intervention specialist at Lutheran Community Services.
“There’s an acute phase with flashbacks, where the rape is still happening in victims’ minds. For some women, the reorganizing phase can take a lifetime,” Gallucci said.
Rape victims are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder if they experience a cluster of symptoms for over three months, including nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance that leads to sleep disorders, inability to concentrate and avoidance of people, Gallucci said.
“Therapy is recommended for these women,” she added.
Some women have had fewer problems, such as Coe’s oldest victim, a 51-year-old who was grabbed from behind early in the morning of Feb. 5, 1981, on her seventh lap jogging around Hart Field. The Spokane businesswoman agreed to an interview on the condition her name would not be used.
Juries convicted Coe twice of raping her, but the convictions were overturned on appeal because Spokane police hypnotized her.
“I got it behind me pretty well,” said the woman, 79. “My husband was 100 percent behind me.” Now a widow, she only recently told a larger circle of friends about her rape to protect herself in case Coe was released, she said.
Shortly after her rape, she said she got a “threatening letter” she believes was written by Coe’s late mother, Ruth Coe, who was convicted of trying to hire a hit man to kill the judge and prosecutor from her son’s first trial.
The woman initially agreed to be videotaped by the media during her testimony at Coe’s civil commitment trial – then decided against it.
“I don’t want people recognizing me. I decided to let sleeping dogs lie,” she said.
The rapes robbed some victims of important parts of their youth.
Paine said her mother was so traumatized by her rape that she felt she “had to be strong for her sake” and didn’t seek counseling. But her high school classes became an ordeal. She testified at Coe’s 1981 trial, where the jury convicted Coe of her rape. She left Lewis and Clark for Medical Lake High School, but still couldn’t function well and didn’t graduate with her class in 1982. She graduated a semester late, in January 1983.
“I was embarrassed to go back an extra semester. Nobody knew the reason why,” she said.
Paine had to testify at Coe’s second trial in 1985 after her rape conviction was overturned on appeal. The holdout juror in the 11-1 verdict said he believed Ruth Coe’s testimony that her son was home the night of Paine’s rape watching an Errol Flynn movie with his parents.
After Paine’s 1993 marriage failed, she moved to Kennewick, devoting herself to raising her three children and building her career as a hospital administrator. She remarried in 2000.
The jury verdict in Coe’s recent civil commitment trial came as a relief – although it also opened old wounds.
Paine said she felt vindicated by the state’s discovery of evidence from her case, called a rape kit. It contained DNA that was 95 percent likely to be Coe’s, the state said in court documents.
Jurors weren’t told of the DNA sample – and a positive sample of Coe’s DNA from Harmia’s rape kit – because the state elected not to present expert testimony on DNA that would have lengthened the trial. Coe’s lawyers challenged the DNA evidence on chain-of-custody grounds because the slides had been kept in a box for decades that also contained Coe’s hair and saliva samples.
For years, Carrico said she felt a deep sense of injustice because the jury acquitted Coe of second-degree rape in her case. “I threw a bowl of cereal at the TV when I heard the verdict. It started a downward spiral. I was raped and I didn’t get justice,” she said.
But in the state’s recent civil commitment trial, a state expert said Carrico identified Coe as her rapist after he was arrested in 1981 and the behavior of her rapist matched Coe’s signature in Harmia’s rape.
Carrico said she got a call from the attorney general’s office in spring 2006 informing her of the civil commitment case. Coe’s defense team notified her she’d likely be called as a witness, but to her relief she wasn’t.
The civil commitment verdict thrilled Carrico.
The next night, she went to bed at midnight and awoke at 9 a.m. – for the first time since her rape.
“I realized I had finally gotten justice – somebody finally believed I was raped by this man. I’ve lived for 30 years in fear,” she said.
Contact Karen Dorn Steele at (509) 459-5462 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.