I write today about a young woman who has been dead now for 34 years. Though I knew of her case when I was a teenager, a Netflix series reminded me of the tragic and macabre story.
On the night of March 6, 1983–3 weeks before she was to turn 22- she put her two kids to sleep after the older one’s birthday party and ventured out for cigarettes. The store she normally visited was closed so she stepped into Big Dan’s tavern to buy some. There, she met a waitress she knew, had a drink with her, and watched some men play pool. Her friend left and as she was on her way out, two men grabbed her and forcibly removed her clothes. Then, with the help of two other men, they carried her to a pool table where the four of them raped her for a period of 2 hours. The other men in the tavern cheered the rapists on. About half a dozen jeering men did nothing to stop the brutalization of this 21 year old.
After the ordeal, she managed to escape the bar and was helped by 3 college kids who were driving by.
The crime took place in New Bedford, MA, a whaling town populated largely by Portugese-Americans. The crime and the subsequent trial gained national attention and fed a media frenzy; the entire trial was televised. During the lead up and then the trial itself, anti-immigrant sentiments were expressed from many quarters and the Portuguese-American community largely ended up reflexively banding around the accused- 6 men of Portugese descent. During the trial itself, the victim was treated roughly, her character was questioned, she was accused of lying, and the attorneys for the defendants- including a female attorney- employed what is now referred to as a “blaming the victim” defense. Interviews of New Bedford citizens during the trial suggested that they were glued to the drama on TV and were for the most part rooting for the defendants; the victim was slandered and many suggested that she was to blame and that she “wanted it” or “asked for it.”
Ultimately, of the 6, the actual rapists were all found guilty of aggravated rape. The 2 onlookers were found not-guilty. The other people present were not brought to trial.
The community reacted to the guilty verdict with violence. The woman had to move from New Bedford, where she was born and raised, to Miami with her kids and her high-school sweetheart- out of fear for her life. By all accounts, she was trying to rebuild her life; she went to secretarial school and attended to herself and her children.
On the night of December 14, 1986, she was taking her children to a Christmas show and ended up wrapping her car around a pole. Her kids survived. She died.
She was 25.
Sources indicate that her death was barely covered by the very same media that couldn’t get enough of the crime and ensuing trial; when it was, headlines called her “gang-rape victim” and so on. Her entire identity was reduced to a horrible crime perpetrated on her. She tried to escape it, but circumstances did not allow her to lead a full life. She died, as one person involved in her case said, “largely forgotten.” The media- and the population- had moved on. The movie “The Accused”- made after her death- was loosely based on this crime.
Her grave is in New Bedford.
A young woman who hankered for a cigarette left her house, kids asleep, to get a moment of peace. Through strange circumstances, she made her way into Big Dan’s tavern; passing through the portal (the front-door) she was taken into the grim world of inhumanity, as 4 men violently raped her and “Nero’s Guests” watched and cheered or at the minimum did nothing. 3.5 years later, she was dead.
Her name was Cheryl Araujo.
The Netflix show is here:
All of the episodes reflect the terrible fact of inhumanity but also of the terrible toll money-seeking media can take on society and of our own complicity, voyeurism, and schadenfreude.