A Condom Isn't Consent

updated 05/31/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/31/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

THE JURY HAS BEEN BEHIND CLOSED doors for four hours, and on a stairway of the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Tex., 26-year-old Elizabeth Wilson is nervously smoking a cigarette. "I would be satisfied if he gets 40 years," she says, referring to Joel Valdez, 28, who the day before was convicted of raping her and is now about to be sentenced. "I can't tell you how it feels, upon the stand and there's your attacker. You're looking at him—and holding your vomit back."

There are reporters and cameras everywhere, for this has come to be known in the papers and on TV as the Condom Rape Case. When Valdez broke into her apartment and assaulted her last September, Wilson—fearing AIDS—showed uncommon presence of mind and pleaded with him to wear a condom. Despite convincing evidence that Valdez had threatened Wilson with a knife, one grand jury declined to indict Valdez for rape—apparently because they felt the condom, which Wilson provided, implied her consent to having sex. "I was absolutely furious," she says. "How dare they judge me because I chose to live?" Indeed, so great was the outrage from women's groups and from Wilson herself—who marched down to Austin police headquarters to complain and later joined a protest rally—that a second grand jury was impaneled. Valdez was finally indicted in October.

Now, as Wilson waits for the justice she believes has been too long deferred, she learns that a jury has sentenced Valdez to 40 years in prison. Wilson is jubilant. As cameras flash. she falls sobbing into the arms of her older sister, Lisa. Later, composing herself, she considers the toughness and anger she has shown so publicly—and the private sense of hurt she still feels. "I'm a hard-ass," she says, later explaining, "but people weren't there when I was in the psychiatric ward for two weeks because I couldn't handle the depression anymore"

Wilson's nightmare began after midnight last Sept. 17 when she drove from a friend's birthday part to her four-unit apartment house in south Austin, where one of her neighbors was Valdez, a part-time housepainter. "It was not a great area," she says. "When I broke up with my ex, I took the first place I could find."

About 2:45 a.m., Wilson was in her bedroom when her German shepherd-chow puppy began barking. Wilson peered into her hallway and recognized Valdez, drunk and clutching a steak knife. She screamed, locked the door and began dialing 911 for help, but Valdez broke in and knocked the phone from her hand. "The rape started at 3 a.m. and lasted 45 minutes," she says. "He was holding a knife to me, raping me."

Though terrified, Wilson, in desperation, did ask him to wear a condom. He refused. "I told him, 'I'm afraid of AIDS.' He said, 'I ain't got no AIDS.' So I said, 'What makes you think I don't?' That's how I got him to wear a condom. He thought for a split second, 'Goddamn, maybe this woman does have AIDS.' "

Eventually, Wilson managed to seize the knife and run, naked and hysterical, to a neighbor's apartment. Police quickly collared Valdez, who confessed in the police ear, saying, "I did it. I did it. It's the first time I did something stupid in my life."

Despite the lengthy sentence imposed on Valdez. Wilson vows that living well won't be her only revenge. "He took control of me for 45 minutes," she says. "This time I'll have control over him for the rest of his life. If he gets out 15 years from now, I'll know. I'll check up on him every three months through police computers. If he makes one mistake, he's going down again. I'll make sure. I'm his worst enemy right now."

RON ARIAS
COLLEEN O'CONNOR in Austin

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