SCOTTS VALLEY — In the winter of 1984, Steve Carney's name was getting a lot of exposure around town.
First his girlfriend's father saw it tacked on a bulletin board outside a Safeway store. Then his boss's wife noticed the name posted at a community center in this Santa Cruz suburb.
Carney also ran into an old high school chum who commented on his recent renown, producing from his wallet the particular piece of literature that was responsible for all the attention.
It was a list issued by Santa Cruz Women Against Rape, a 15-year-old organization dedicated to halting violence against women.
Under the heading Assault/Attempted Rape was a description of a well-mannered 18-year-old with rosy cheeks, perfect teeth and an upright posture. Right there for the world to see was Steve Carney's name, his address and his place of employment (Longs Drug Store in Scotts Valley), even what kind of vehicles he drove.
Carney, now 22, said his first reaction was, "Great, my mom's just gonna fall apart."
Then, in January, 1985, he filed suit against Women Against Rape and the woman who supplied the biographical information that was printed, charging defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The woman, who countersued Carney for assault and battery and emotional distress, has settled out of court and does not want to be named, according to her attorney, Therese M. Stewart of San Francisco. The woman also would not comment for this story because, Stewart said, she wants to put the incident behind her.
But the pending court case will be watched by rape crisis centers across the country, according to Jan Shirchild of Women Against Rape, which is one of the oldest organizations of its kind. David Oppenheimer, the attorney representing Shirchild's group, said he has fielded requests for advice from other anti-rape groups concerned about the implications of the Santa Cruz situation.
Oppenheimer, an assistant clinical professor at the University of San Francisco law school, said, "The reason there is such concern is that lawsuits do have a chilling effect on free speech. They make people afraid to speak. They are a very successful intimidation device."
Carney's attorney, David Sabih of Pacific Grove, said: "The purpose of this trial is to teach Women Against Rape to be responsible. I think they smeared the guy."
According to depositions from both sides and an interview with Carney, the incident that triggered the court action began on the night of June 23, 1984.
Steve Carney was working as a clerk at Longs. (Today Carney is a store manager.) The woman, then 20 and an acquaintance, had been upset because she had been fighting with her boyfriend.
A mutual friend who also worked in the store suggested to Carney that the two of them take her out and cheer her up.
So the men bought two six packs of beer for themselves and a pint bottle of rum that the woman requested, and the three drove to a secluded spot off the highway where they could drink where the police wouldn't see them, since two were minors.
They talked for a while, and then, according to Carney's deposition, the woman began looking at him and his friend "in an affectionate manner." Soon Carney was kissing her.
"She started drinking more than we did," he said in the interview and his deposition. "She was going back and forth between (my friend) and me."
The woman, in her deposition, said her recollections of the incident are hazy because she had downed a third of the pint of rum. But, she said, she does recall that Carney and his friend partially removed her clothes and threatened to "give her the beer treatment" (pour beer on her) if she would not cooperate with them.
"I was drunk, I couldn't move," she said. "I didn't give my consent. It was against my consent."
What she did remember, according to her deposition, was that "somebody pulled my shirt up and was exposing my body . . . someone unzipped my pants."
In his deposition, Carney said everyone had their clothes on, although he said that the woman's shirt was "slightly unbuttoned" and that he unzipped her pants. "It escalated, but no more than would happen on a first date," he added in the interview. He also said the woman did get some beer on her stomach, but only because it spilled out of his mouth. He said he had three or four beers during the evening.
Sometime around 2 a.m., the three of them drove back to where the woman's car was parked, and they went home separately.
In the weeks following the incident, the woman said in her deposition, she tried to get an answer out of Carney and his friend (who was also named in the description list) about exactly what had happened that night, because she could not remember all the details.