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A Rape Victim's Anger Against Fugitive Doctor

November 27, 1987|MARY BATTIATA | The Washington Post

For the longest time, Jan Davis couldn't talk about what happened. Now she can't stop. Her sentences spiral off into agitated silences, her face is anxious and drawn, but the words just keep on coming. Occasionally, this spectacle moves someone to suggest she find a counselor, someone to help put the past behind her. She always declines.

"I don't need that," she insists, with an admonishing look, as she leans back into the rose-colored sofa in her Fairfax County, Va., apartment. "I don't have any hidden anger. All of my anger is right up front."

Doctor Accused

Two-and-a-half years ago, Davis says, she was raped by her gynecologist during what should have been a routine examination in her hometown near Pittsburgh. She told her sister about it first, and then her mother, but for reasons they now find painful to discuss, neither encouraged her to go to the police. So Davis kept quiet for another six months, until the night her sister's neighbor reported the same complaint.

Eventually nine women came forward. The critical paragraphs of their police affidavits are almost identical. Most of them had hid their alleged attacks for years. "We didn't think we would have a chance against a doctor, my husband and I," one of the women later testified. "Who would believe us?"

Reza Rasti, a 44-year-old Iranian national, was charged with nine counts of rape and nine counts of indecent assault. His lawyer entered a plea of not guilty, but before the case could get to trial, the doctor disappeared.

Rasti has been a fugitive for more than a year now; the local assistant district attorney who handled the case has turned his primary attention to other things. Davis, however, remains a kind of prisoner. She broods over details of the investigation and stays late after her secretarial day at a local NASA contractor to type entreaties to public officials. ". . . I believe you are the only person at this point that may be capable of helping me," she beseeched First Lady Nancy Reagan not long ago. "I am counting on you," she told Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese.

Davis has trouble going to any doctor now, much less a gynecologist. "She puts it off and puts it off and then she just quivers and shakes and sweats when she gets in there," says her mother, Kay Silbaugh.

Davis hopes that talking about the case will give other women courage. But most of all, she wants the doctor to pay.

"You follow the system, you push all the right buttons," she says. "And then he walks away. There are nine people whose lives he's turned upside down for the past two years, and he got away with it.

"I think he left because he felt, deep down, I wasn't going to drop it. At the hearings, I didn't cry, like some of the other girls. And I don't care if it takes the rest of my life," she says flatly. "I'm gonna find him."

For most women, the idea of rape during, and in the guise of, a gynecological examination is almost unimaginable. The implicit violation of trust, the furtive, surreal looniness of it, is hard to fathom. Why would a woman stay on the examining table long enough to let it happen? Wouldn't there be some warning? And once it had happened, why wouldn't she go straight to the police?

Jan Davis can explain most of that now, but she is still troubled that it took another woman's example to bring her forward. "I wanted to be the kind of person who would stop him," she says sadly, "but I didn't. I just couldn't."

In April, 1985, Davis, then 26, thought she was due for a gynecological checkup. She was new to Fairfax County, so she arranged to see the family gynecologist during a weekend trip home to Fayette City, Pa., a speck of a town in the Allegheny Mountains about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh.

"I'd been going to him since I was 17, and I continued to go back; that's how confident I felt," she remembers. "He said sure, come in, we'll squeeze you in."

Mild-Mannered Doctor

Reza Rasti was about 5-foot-6, with thinning brown hair and a mild, almost apologetic manner. He spoke with a slight accent. He had finished medical school at the University of Tehran in 1969, and come to the United States shortly afterward. His wife, Fatemah, was from a well-to-do Tehran family; he had grown up in a rural village outside the capital.

His practice included everyone from the dutiful matrons of the steel mill towns along the Monongahela to the wife of a suburban police chief. His waiting room was decorated with the school pictures of the babies he had delivered, and he kept pictures of his two children prominently displayed on his desk. "I liked him real well," Davis' mother, also a patient, remembers. "He was gentle and he was always talking about family."

When Davis' niece was born, it was Rasti who performed the emergency Caesarean the family believed saved the baby's life. "We loved the man for what he did," recalls Billy Sterner, the baby's father. "After that, he was like a god to me."

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