Cheryl Araujo:The First Ever Televised Rape Case

Rachel Lee Perez

*Trigger Warning - Rape*

On March 6, 1983 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a twenty-one-year-old woman named Cheryl Araujo was gang-raped by four men. People stood around, watched it happen, and did nothing. She would take her assailants to court and would later become infamous as her trial became the first televised rape case in History. Araujo had just put her two daughters to bed. She left to buy cigarettes but found that the store she normally went to was closed. She knew that Big Dan’s Tavern, a local bar, sold cigarettes and went there instead. While Araujo was sitting at a table alone, two men came up behind her and began tearing at her clothes. Two other men joined in on the attack and threw her onto the pool table where they pulled off her pants and undergarments and raped her. Araujo kicked and screamed and tried to get away while others stood around and did nothing. In fact, she reported hearing people “laughing, cheering, yelling”. After further investigation, it was determined that there were approximately ten people in the bar at the time of the assault, six of which included her attackers. Araujo eventually got away and ran into the street where she was picked up by a couple of college students that drove her to the hospital. When they picked her up, one of the students reported that Araujo was wearing only a coat and a single sock. Statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network indicate that 3 in 4 victims of sexual assault do not report sexual assault. Araujo, thinking of her two daughters, chose to come forward with her story and to fight for justice. And she wasn’t alone. In fact, some 2,500 people of the New Bedford community joined together in protest to have the men involved in this case arrested and charged.
Cheryl Araujo:The First Ever Televised Rape Case
Cheryl Araujo

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In the weeks following the assault, the six men involved were arrested

All six defendants in this matter were Portuguese Americans. At this time, the Portuguese community made up 60% of New Bedford. Many from the Portuguese community organized protests to question the charges against the six men, feeling as though their community had become the scapegoats. Araujo’s credibility and character were called into question. What she was wearing, why she had left her children at home alone, and the overall narrative that she was “asking for it” permeated throughout the town. As if this case was not already big enough, the presiding judge allowed for it to be the first ever televised rape case. It is widely known amongst courts and journalists across the country that the names of sexual assault victims do not get disclosed. Many States have laws prohibiting the disclosure of this information as confidentiality is vital to the protection of the victims. To ensure her protection, it was decided that Araujo’s face was never to be shown on camera. But, when Araujo later took the stand, all of this changed. Keeping to their agreement with the judge, the media did not show Araujo’s face on camera. Unfortunately, no one (including the judge) had thought about the fact, that the victim would be saying her name and address on the stand. And that this would be filmed and recorded live. When Araujo took the stand, her name and address became a part of the public record. The trial was sensational with news outlets such as CNN airing it for three hours a day! Everyone across the country, particularly the New Bedford community, knew who Cheryl Araujo was. The four defendants charged with aggravated rape were found guilty. The other two men charged with watching the rape and not stopping it were acquitted. However, of the four men put away for raping her, none of them would serve more than six years. For Araujo, this changed her life forever. She was forced to move out of New Bedford. Just two years after the trial ended - at only twenty-five years old - Araujo tragically died in a car accident. Despite the fact that her trial had been so widely publicized, her death received next to no media attention. The legacy of this case is far-reaching. Following this case, there was a significant decline in rape victims willing to come forward. In addition to being criminalized and blamed for her own rape, Araujo’s case also displayed the dangers of televised court proceedings as her confidentiality and safety were lost in the process.
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Cheryl Araujo:The First Ever Televised Rape Case

Rachel Lee Perez

Rachel Lee Perez is a two-time published author, paralegal, ballet instructor, content editor, and podcaster. As co-host of the Hashtag History podcast, she releases weekly episodes about History’s greatest stories of controversy, conspiracy, and corruption. Hashtag History can be found on all major podcast platforms.
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