Nightmare of Rape Compounds to Deadly Tragedy

Times Staff Writer

At 14, Marie was a shy, straight-A student leader who loved music and animals, and had never had a date or held hands with a boy.

What happened to her and her family and to a co-worker--who was eventually charged with unlawful intercourse--is atypical, adolescent pregnancy experts said.

But among all the tragedies of unwanted pregnancies, Marie's story, in particular, "touches on everything we hide in our closets that perpetuate this thing: date rape, the shame of the young girl who can't say anything, the lack of prenatal care in this county, the difficulty of pressing charges against young men and that young men are victims as much as young women," said Cindy Scheinberg, director of the Coalition Against Adolescent Pregnancy.

Tells Story to Aid Others

Now 15 and still accommodating and shy, Marie (not her real name) is willing to tell her story to help others, but the memories do not come without tears.

Since toddler age, Marie had wanted to be a veterinarian. At 13, she started observing in a veterinary office in a coastal community. A year later, she was hired at minimum wage to work weekends and Thursday nights, feeding dogs and cats boarded there. She rode her bicycle the 2 long blocks to work.

He was 25, tattooed and peroxided, a technician who lived in the veterinary office. She remembers him as calm, as someone who was kind to animals. "I didn't expect him to do anything to me," she said. "I didn't perceive him as being violent."

One Thursday night, 3 days before school began in September, 1987, Marie was upset after a sick rabbit had been killed. The man hugged her, comforted her and led her to his room.

"In the back of my mind," Marie said, "I knew something was not right here. I told him to stop. He didn't. . . . I didn't think it was rape. I had heard (rape) was a violent thing, with threats. I felt guilt. I didn't physically fight back or yell or anything like that. Yet I knew it wasn't right."

By January, she had learned enough from her mother and her biology teacher to know she was pregnant. She also had a venereal disease, chlamydia. But she didn't want to think about it. If she told her mother, her sister, her teachers or her friends, she believed that they would all reject her.

"They'll think it's my fault," she said.

No One Knew in 7th Month

Marie wore large sweat shirts, so halfway through her seventh month of pregnancy, still no one knew. Her mother took her to counseling because she thought her daughter had a drug problem.

"There was a kid dying in front of my face," her mother said, noting that Marie was withdrawn from her friends and family. "The light had gone out of her eyes."

Eventually, Marie was confronted by her physical education teacher, and because Marie suspected that the teacher already knew, she told her the truth.

If they had known in time, both Marie and her mother said they would have chosen abortion. But by this time, the baby was due in 5 weeks. Marie felt relieved.

Her mother, a twice-divorced teacher, accepted the problem and flew into high gear. She found a doctor--not an easy task because Marie had had no prenatal care and was therefore considered a great risk--arranged for MediCal to cover what her insurance would not, found a teacher to tutor Marie at home and found an infertile couple who wanted to adopt the child.

Wanted to Kill Co-Worker

She also talked to lawyers and to the Orange County Sexual Assault Network. She wanted to kill the man her daughter said was responsible. Instead, they went to police.

"One of the most horrible things is that he took her power," her mother said. "The biggest thing (for a rape victim) is to be given their power back."

"Mom asked me before each action if it was OK," Marie said about the re-empowering process.

After the police investigation began, she and her sister were afraid that the man would find them on his motorcycle and retaliate.

Eventually, the county district attorney's office charged the man, Jeff Pettit, with unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He signed papers waiving his right to fatherhood.

A few months earlier, when she was 13, the law would have considered the incident child abuse. Without a struggle, rape would have been hard to prove, police told her.

Most troubling of all on that score, there had been more than one incident: They been alone in the office again, Pettit had approached her sexually again and again she had not resisted.

"You don't want to believe it's happening," she explained. "I tended to freeze."

Adoptive Parents Sent Photos

The child was a boy. The adoptive parents sent pictures of his development until Marie and her mother asked them to please stop.

Pettit's first hearing on the charges was Sept. 1, almost a year after the encounter. Three days later, Marie's mother said, they heard that he had shot himself to death. His body was found by a cousin.

Detectives said they had no proof linking Pettit's suicide with the criminal charges he faced. Nonetheless, Pettit bequeathed Marie a double legacy of guilt. "The way I took it was, as a result of my telling (police), this is what he had done," Marie said.

Wanted a Fresh Start

This year, she has changed schools because she wanted a fresh start. She is more afraid of boys than ever and finds it hard to relate when her friends talk about sex. She wears no makeup and still has never been on a date.

"In some ways, you grow up fast," she said.

Before, she had a fantasy world where she could retreat when things became too hard. It's harder to enter it now. "There are some things you would choose not to face if you had the choice," she said, hugging the family dog.

Marie still wants to be a vet. "I still have my love for the animals," she said.

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