A voice for the victims
Redmond's coalition targets 'rape culture' in athletics
LITTLETON, Colo. -- Kathy Redmond still remembers Christian Peter's eyes, nearly 13 years later. "I told him, `No,' both nights, and it didn't register," she said. "His eyes were very predatory. Just blank. There was nothing there. I remember that vividly. Nothing behind those eyes. It's like these terrorists, you wonder how they can do what they do. It's just a lack of conscience."
The 5-foot-2-inch, 120-pound Redmond, then 18, was enrolled at the University of Nebraska for just one week when she met the 6-2, 265-pound Peter, a nose tackle on the football team. She says Peter, who could bench-press 450 pounds, lured her to his room and raped her. The next day, she says, Peter pushed his way past dorm security and into her room, where he raped her again, this time with two of his teammates keeping watch.
Now it is Redmond who is keeping watch. She is the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, a nonprofit watchdog group based in Colorado. Between the Kobe Bryant rape case and sexual-abuse scandals at the Air Force Academy and Colorado University, Redmond says she is at the epicenter of a "rape culture."
Controversial and outspoken, Redmond has been hailed as a hero by some of the 250 women she has counseled. Others label her a liar, an egomaniac, and worse. She calls her detractors the "Good Ol' Boys Club," one that holds athletes accountable only on the playing field.
Ironically, it was not Peter but one of his New York Giants teammates that motivated Redmond to change her life. She created NCAVA after the suicide of a 22-year-old woman who said she was assaulted by Giants defensive back Tito Wooten.
According to police reports, Akina Wilson said that on Dec. 7, 1997, while she was pregnant, Wooten choked her and punched her in the face in a New Jersey hotel. Wooten had a history of domestic violence. But 10 days later, when they appeared together in court, Wooten's lawyer, Pasquale F. Gianetta, said he was representing both parties. He told prosecutor Frederick Allen that the couple had reconciled and Wilson wanted the charges dropped. Hasbrouck Heights Municipal Court Judge Harry Chandless dismissed the charges. According to a New York Times account, the judge ended the hearing by telling Wooten to "have a good game."
Wilson died of carbon monoxide poisoning 24 days later after leaving a suicide message on her father's answering machine. Her body was found in the garage of Wooten's West Paterson, N.J., home next to his idling Mercedes. The next month, Wooten signed an $8 million long-term contract with the Giants.
Redmond was furious that the suicide was not national news because she saw a direct link between Wilson's death and the dismissal of the case.
"I was staring at my computer and I just started crying," she said. "I was angry. I was so enraged. I could identify with where she was mentally at that point. I thought that could have been me easily. It inspired me to launch [NCAVA]. I decided nobody is going to do this on my watch."
Nightmare at Nebraska
Redmond's journey is steeped in pain. In 1991, she graduated from the not-yet-infamous Columbine High School, where she was cheerleading captain. But the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers were her favorite team. She was born in Nebraska, and four generations of her family attended the university. Her great uncle wrote the Nebraska fight song, and her grandmother's Russian meat-and-cabbage sandwiches were sold in the football stadium. Her father starred on the varsity baseball team and once homered off Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller in an exhibition game.
Nebraska was the only college Redmond applied to. When she was accepted, she felt like she was going home.
But after she was raped, she says, she plunged into a shell, telling her parents nothing about it. "I was scared my family would pull me out of school and I would be a victim for life," she says.
After her freshman year, her family figured out why Redmond was so withdrawn. Her mother confronted a Nebraska assistant coach, who, Redmond says, did nothing. Her father, an Air Force radar navigator who flew more than 200 bombing missions in Vietnam, still weeps when he discusses what he feels is a betrayal by his alma mater. "I just feel numb," he says.
It was more than two years after the rapes, Redmond says, that she went to the university police. Some questioned why she waited so long.
"What I feared most was the reaction of the people of Nebraska, because that was my home and they made me feel I was the villain, I was the perpetrator," she says.
Redmond says she received death threats and prank phone calls (with the callers playing the Nebraska fight song). Her car was vandalized, and she says she was trailed by a private investigator. "The university knew and they just didn't care because they were playing good football," says Redmond.
Peter was never charged with assaulting Redmond.
In 1993, Melissa DeMuth filed a police complaint saying Peter invited her to his room in the company of his friends, and then sexually assaulted her. Also in 1993, Peter repeatedly grabbed Natalie Kuijvenhoven, a former Miss Nebraska, by the crotch in a crowded bar and in an obscenity-laced tirade told her how much she loved it. Peter was convicted of sexual assault and received 18 months probation.
Peter was arrested a total of eight times, and convicted four times. The charges included threatening to kill a parking attendant, trespassing, public urination, refusing to comply with police, illegal possession of alcohol, failure to appear in court, and grabbing a woman by the throat.
He continued to play football for Nebraska. After the 1993 conviction, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne suspended Peter for one game, a spring exhibition.
According to Redmond, Osborne apologized to her in 2000, saying, "I just want you to know I'm sorry for everything, and I didn't do right by you."
Attempts to interview Osborne, now a congressman from Nebraska, were unsuccessful, but his staff confirmed that Redmond and Osborne had talked.
Depression, then recovery
In July 1995, angered by the university's inaction and the assaults on other women, Redmond filed a federal Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit against the University of Nebraska.
Her lawsuit was the first to specifically charge an institution with sexual discrimination caused by indifference. It sent shock waves through college administrations nationwide because it claimed they could be held financially liable for not protecting women on campus.
"It's a way of leveling the playing field for victims of violence," says Diane Rosenfeld, a lecturer in women's studies at Harvard University. "When the rights of male athletes are privileged over the rights of women's bodily integrity and sexual autonomy, then the campus is violating Title IX."
But the threats and the psychological pressure were wearing Redmond down, and she plunged into depression.
"I did the self-mutilation thing where I would cut myself everywhere with pieces of glass," she says. "I was bulimic, I used any utensil to throw up. At one point I was so desperate that I took shears and got lacerations in my throat. I was a psychological mess. It took me seven years of counseling to be somewhat normal." She received a $50,000 out-of-court settlement from Nebraska, along with an undisclosed settlement -- though not an apology -- from Peter. The lineman was drafted in the fifth round by the Patriots in 1996, but a day later the Patriots disavowed their pick after a hailstorm of bad publicity about Peter's violent past. Unknown to Redmond, she had an ally in the Patriot family, Myra Kraft, wife of owner Bob Kraft. The Patriots released Peter three days later.
Kathy Redmond felt she had a pulse again.
She is grateful to the people of Boston, she says, "for truly making a difference in my court case and in my life. Their reaction was a life-saving event. Boston did what no city has ever done when it came to a problem player. They proved you can win a Super Bowl without a bunch of thugs.
"He [Peter] felt just a little tinge of what it's like to be raped."
Peter sat out a year, then signed with the Giants, with whom he underwent 14 months of counseling. Peter wound up playing six NFL seasons with the Giants, Colts, and Bears.
In an August 2002 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Peter said, "I was young, I made mistakes. I'm sorry for the things I've done." He married a psychologist, had a daughter, and pledged to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.
Calls to his New Jersey home were not returned.
Her word is spreading
Redmond is a single mother. She cares for an energetic young son born with a heart problem, and works in public relations in the Denver area. She maintains her website, www.NCAVA.org, with help from volunteers. She says about 5 percent of victim inquiries are from men.
She is currently involved in cases at Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Colorado, St. John's, the University of Washington, and other smaller colleges and high schools.
Nine women have accused Colorado football players or recruits of rape since 1997. Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar decided not to file criminal charges because of concerns about evidence and the reluctance of some women to testify. Three of the women have filed Title IX lawsuits.
In April, Redmond testified before the independent Investigative Commission looking into the use of sex and alcohol as recruiting tools at Colorado. With football coach Gary Barnett in attendance, Redmond told the panel that a "rape culture" exists in the university's sports programs.
"Athletes are led to believe that when they come here, they will get women and sex, that they are entitled to it," said Redmond.
Last month, the commission confirmed that sex, alcohol, and drugs were used to lure recruits, but it did not recommend firings. A grand jury investigation is ongoing. Barnett was placed on paid suspension by school president Elizabeth Hoffman, then reinstated. "That no firing decision did more for my organization than anything I could do," Redmond says. "It's sickening, it's a horrible move, but it's created an outcry."
Redmond says athletic departments nationwide are out of control.
"I compare it to a Mafia underground, where you have this athletic department full of money and power and boosters," she says. "You have the university presidents who don't dare get involved with the athletic department because they're bringing in so much money. They are so conditioned to believe Coach is God."
Phillip Jennings, whose daughter Alison was allegedly gang-raped by four Oklahoma State football players in 1999, says Redmond has been a godsend. "My daughter said it was like talking to an angel, like her prayer was answered," says Jennings."How they treated Alison Jennings was horrible," says Redmond. "They told her nobody corroborated her story and enticed her into signing a waiver of prosecution. They destroyed the rape kit." Two accused players, Marcellus Rivers of the New York Giants and Alvin Porter of the Cincinnati Bengals, apologized to Jennings without admitting wrongdoing. Redmond has also recently aided two women in Title IX cases against Notre Dame. In one "Jane Doe" case, a woman alleges she was gang-raped by four football players in 2002. Another woman recently was awarded a $1 million settlement in a case against former Notre Dame football player Clifford Jefferson for an alleged 2001 rape.
Redmond said she called Notre Dame to offer her services, speaking to Bill Kirk, assistant vice president for residence life.
Kirk was reluctant, she says, and expressed concern that it would be seen as admitting there was a problem. Contacted by the Globe, Kirk said he has spoken to Redmond but denied that particular conversation ever took place. "That's simply not true," he said.
Richard Lapchick, founder of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, says Redmond is making a difference. "I think she's raising issues people are afraid to talk about," he said. "I think she's terrific."
Redmond says having a son who survived three open-heart surgeries has put her life in perspective.
"Rape doesn't have to be the end of your life," she says. "Even though I was raped, I still have a happy, productive life. I'm very happy-go-lucky. I feel blessed every day."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.