One of the most disturbing episodes of Netflix’s new series Trial by Media is the episode titled “Big Dan’s,” which examines the trial of the four men who raped a woman on a bar’s pool table while other patrons watched. The trial was televised live on CNN, which gave the woman no anonymity and laid bare the brutal cross-examination she endured.
Here is what you need to know about Cheryl. Araujo and what happened to her after that terrible tragedy.
Araujo Was Gang-Raped at Big Dan’s Bar
In 1983, 21-year-old Cheryl Araujo was gang-raped by four men on a pool table in Big Dan’s bar in New Bedford, Massachusets, while three other people were in the bar — the bartender, drunk asleep in the corner, and a patron who tried to call the police, according to the New York Times. Eventually, Araujo fought them off and ran into the street where three college students driving by stopped and picked her up, taking her to the nearby hospital.
Six men were charged in connection with the rape: John Cordeiro, Victor Raposo, Daniel Silva, and Joseph Vieira were charged with aggravated rape, while Virgilio Medeiros and Jose Medeiros (no relation) were charged with encouraging an illegal act and not acting to stop it, which is called “joint enterprise.”
Araujo’s initial account of the rape was that she heard people cheering, something one of the accused later admitted on the witness stand that he had done, shouting, “Go for it! Go for it!”
But the disparity between what Araujo remembered and what the accused said happened fed into the idea that Araujo was confused and partially to blame for her attack. This trial became a template for the “blaming the victim” line of questioning, particularly after her brutal cross-examination, which aired live on TV.
The two different sets of defendants were tried in different trials. The four defendants charged with aggravated rape were convicted, though none served longer than six and a half years in prison. The two charged with joint enterprise were acquitted.
Araujo Died Two Years After the Trial
Following the trial, Araujo fled New Bedford for Miami, Florida, with her two daughters and their father. But in 1986, when she was just 25 years old, Araujo lost control of her car and was killed in the crash. Her daughters were injured but survived. It later came to light that she was severely intoxicated at the time of the crash and had been struggling with alcohol abuse since the trial ended, according to the Washington Post.
Two years after Araujo’s death, Jodie Foster won her first Academy Award for her portrayal of a woman loosely based on Araujo and the attack. Kelly McGillis played the prosecutor in the film and during press interviews for the movie, revealed she too was a rape survivor.
McGillis said she was actually offered the role of the victim in the film, but turned it down “because I have been a victim in real life and had no need to re-create it on screen,” she told People, recounting her 1982 attack and rape by two men in New York City.
“That 20 minutes of my life seemed to last 20 years. In a moment of crisis, there is a part of your brain that takes over and you become unemotional and detached. … I’ve never known who called the police, but I thank God every day that they did because it saved my life,” said McGillis.
“For a long time, I wanted to withdraw from the world. I continued to go to school, but I became much more of a loner and much more alone. I couldn’t go down into the subway without getting nauseous and gagging because the smell reminded me of the men who had raped me. I didn’t want to leave my little apartment. I would become so overwhelmed with anxiety and grief that I would just start crying. I gained about 30 lbs. I had nightmares. Because I was so afraid to go to sleep at night, I would drink, and it got progressively worse. It was like having a little demon inside eating me up. … If it had not been for the understanding of my friends and teachers at Juilliard, I probably would have killed myself.”
The men whom McGillis identified as her rapists were arrested within a month of the crime. The more vicious of the two attackers was a 15-year-old who lived two blocks from McGillis. He served more than three years. The other alleged attacker was not convicted because the evidence failed to incriminate him.
Trial By Media is out now on Netflix.
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