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Of all the excuses offered to doubt the Portland masseuse who has accused Al Gore of sexually assaulting her in 2006, this is the saddest: She kept the pants.
When news of the woman’s year-old accusations broke Wednesday—-she first approached police about the incident in 2006, declined to continue with the investigation, then returned to provide a detailed statement in 2009—-some commenters chastised the masseuse for not saving the pants she wore on the night of the incident, pants she claimed revealed “suspicious stains” from Gore. “She did not keep the pants, nor submit them to the police for testing,” one Gawker commenter provided as reason to discredit her story.
But once the media got wind of the fact that the woman did, in fact, retain the pants—-she keeps them locked in a bank safety deposit box—-some used her evidence collection as an even stronger reason to doubt her claims.
On Double X, Hanna Rosin wrote: “The latest detail is that the woman saved the pants she was wearing that day (four years ago!), which apparently have some suspicious stains. Why were there ‘suspicious stains’ if she escaped from the room? Do ‘suspicious stains’ make for good DNA evidence four years after the fact?” But in a later post, Rosin backed down from her initial doubts: “this very long and detailed statement paints a picture of Al Gore that is so disturbing and so completely at odds with everything we know about him that it’s hard to know what to think,” she wrote. In an e-mail, Rosin explained, “I hadn’t read the police report when I wrote the first post, just the news stories. Then I read the police report, and it’s so long and specific that, even though it’s only her side, it forces you to take the allegations seriously.”
Retaining evidence of an alleged assault is not, in fact, a valid reason to cast doubt on the accusation. But for Bonnie Russell, the accuser’s vigilance provided a rare opportunity to make some sexual assault jokes at the accuser’s expense. “Personally. . . I can’t imagine saving a dirty pair of pants for four years for the simple reason there would come a time after ignoring laundry chores for so long . . . I’d wind up tossing them in the wash and be done with it,” she wrote for Salon. “That said, maybe laundry is part of her trauma. Maybe she’s too traumatized to do laundry. That I understand. Doing laundry always traumatizes me.”
Russell’s harrowing experiences with housekeeping aside, few tasks are more unnerving than a victim’s efforts to retain the last physical remains of his or her own assault. Keeping the pants isn’t evidence of an accuser’s weird obsession—-it’s a troubling sign of police apathy. Also in 2006, a Howard University student attended a college party where she says she was drugged, led to an upstairs bedroom, and sexually assaulted by a classmate. For days following the incident, the woman pleaded for area hospitals and the D.C. police department to collect evidence from her body and begin investigating her case. They refused.
Now, the woman still retains the underwear and T-shirt she was wearing on the night of the assault. They’re wrapped in a plastic bag in her sister’s closet, sitting there on the off-chance that police will finally open her case and investigate her claims. “I didn’t want her to wash them,” the woman’s sister said in a deposition. “Because we weren’t being helped.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery