Illustration by Melinda Beck
Gender Justice League director Danni Askini never shied from the public eye. For years, she shared intimate parts of her life with Seattle media, about the discrimination she experienced and her own transition. On her fridge, she kept an emblem of her struggle for transgender rights, a large magnet from Seattle’s Pride March in 2015.
In early 2016, she took her fight to Olympia; Republicans were pushing legislation that would have eliminated protections for trans people. The state senate narrowly struck down the bill that February, and the political battle helped vault Askini to prominence. On March 1, 2016, the 33-year-old announced her run for state representative in the 43rd district, which covers parts of Seattle.
The candidate could have been the first openly trans state legislator in Washington. It was a powerful message, Askini says, to have a trans woman running for elected office. In two months she raised $33,000, including a contribution from Brady Walkinshaw, the state legislator she hoped to replace.
Then, in May, she dropped out.
Askini explained to supporters that she would instead turn her attention to blocking a state measure known as the bathroom bill, barring trans people from using restrooms that matched their gender identity.
Privately, Askini was struggling with something else.
A few months earlier, on a December night in 2015, a disheveled Askini arrived at her mother’s house crying and shaken. She had fled the Ballard apartment she shared with her boyfriend of two years. He had raped her, she said. Days later, one of her friends saw bruises on her body.
She ended the relationship, but her ex-boyfriend—we’ll call him Glenn—continued to contact her, and then haunt her. During Askini’s campaign, Glenn trolled articles about the legislative race online, leaving comments that called her a narcissist, an abuser, and a deplorable hypocrite. He started a WordPress blog dedicated to smearing her and used his Twitter account to harass her.
In June 2016, Glenn violated a protection order, leading police to charge him with felony stalking and domestic violence months later. “The more you threaten me, the more I stay on my path,” the order says Glenn told her. “You have no power.”
He left the country shortly before a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he continued to harass Askini from abroad. She tried to shield herself, reducing her online presence, winnowing her Facebook friends, and limiting the private information she shares. But more than a year after the relationship ended, Glenn kept hounding her. Screenshots Askini took on her phone show someone with a foreign phone number called her 10 times on January 20, 2017, between 12:47am and 5:49am, and then once more at 10:52am. As she stood alongside other activists at the Women’s March the next day, protesting president Donald Trump’s inauguration, she received a series of texts:
“You lied about rape”
“You lied about rape”
“You lied about rape”
“You lied about rape”
“You lied about rape”
“You lied about rape”
“You lied about rape”
“You lied about rape”
“You lied about rape”
“Lying are an abuse. You used and abused me.”
“You are abusive.”
“You are a batterer and a liar.”
“I will not stop until you stop lying.”
“I am not afraid of you.”
Every year, thousands of people in Washington state, mostly women, tell authorities that someone raped them. But even more survivors are in the shadows; studies show rape and sexual assault are by far the most underreported crimes in the United States. Only a fraction of such crimes were reported to law enforcement in 2016—23 percent—according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, and even fewer of those resulted in criminal charges. In Washington, of more than 2,200 rapes reported that year, 476 led to arrests.
The state also has one of the shortest statute of limitations for rape in the country. Rape survivors who don’t report the crime within the first 12 months have just three years to accuse their assailant in a Washington state court. That puts us in the minority: Of the 34 states with a statute of limitations for sexual assault, only nine impose a three-year deadline.
Askini now must decide whether to pursue rape charges against the man she says assaulted her, a decision that could mean reliving the attack and enduring a potentially traumatizing trial.
She also worries legal action could provoke him. For now, he’s deleted the blog and Twitter account. “I’m just getting to the point where I feel like my life is back on track,” Askini says. “I don’t need my ex to go to jail. That’s not the point. What I care about is to be left the fuck alone, and to live my life in peace.”
As she weighs the stakes, the same questions run through her head: Are the stalking charges enough to protect me? Am I emotionally ready for a trial? Does it protect others? Would it feel like justice?
While criminal defendants in the United States are innocent until proven guilty, the presumption can leave rape accusers feeling exposed. Defense attorneys could scrutinize their pasts and cast doubt on their character, and the trial may trigger painful memories about an assault—a kind of PTSD. And, ultimately, few rape cases end in convictions.
Those that do? They can still leave survivors raw and lacking resolution.
Five foot six and nearly 200 pounds with a black, shaggy beard, Jamison Rogayan was a brash, gregarious character who lived and worked in downtown Bellingham, the college town 90 miles north of Seattle. His brick-red apartment was close to Rumors Cabaret and Cap Hansen’s Tavern, two bars popular with Western Washington University students. He was a familiar face in the Bellingham restaurant community and bar scene.
In 2014, Rogayan worked at Avenue Bread, a sandwich shop on James Street, just north of downtown. One evening he invited a coworker out for a drink at Cap’s. Lisa Greene, a 25-year-old WWU psychology graduate, agreed; she thought Rogayan had a girlfriend, and she assumed there would be a group at the bar. When she showed up, though, they were alone. Rogayan bought her a gin and tonic and ordered another for her while she was in the bathroom. Then she blacked out.
When she came to the next morning, she recalls, she woke up in Rogayan’s bed with his hand down her pants and his fingers penetrating her. She was sore; her breasts were exposed. I have to go, she told him repeatedly, but she says he followed her to the elevator, kissing and groping her as she tried to leave. When she finally reached the street, she ran the nine blocks home.
In shock, she decided not to report the incident, or tell anyone. She had never blacked out from alcohol before and she blamed herself for what had happened. That afternoon, she went to Avenue Bread for her shift—and continued to work with Rogayan until he left to run his own business a few months later.
He turned 31 the month Cosmos Bistro opened in April 2015, a warmly lit two-story restaurant with wooden furniture and chalkboard menus. The smell of freshly roasted potatoes reached the sidewalk during brunch and patrons raved about the food online.
One diner recommended it on Reddit when, in September, someone asked about the best restaurants in Bellingham. Another user advised against the bistro, though. Cosmos, no, the commenter warned—One of the owners is a rapist.
When Cordelia Fiterre saw the accusation, she knew which owner the person was referring to, and she decided to weigh in. I heard that too, she said. The comment got her kicked off Reddit. She complained about the ban on Facebook, this time identifying Jamison Rogayan after her friends demanded to know who he was. Then the comments started piling up: One, two, then three more women accused him. Friends of survivors started referring them to Fiterre, and she received messages from even more women who didn’t want to say publicly: me too.
Fiterre didn’t know what to do with the information, so she created a Facebook group, a secret one that doesn’t turn up in search results, called Bellingham SOSA—Survivors of Sexual Assault—as a safe space for the women to talk about their experiences.
The conversations about Rogayan continued, and soon his business partner, Cinnamon Berg, saw a Facebook post in which several women accused Rogayan of rape. She was horrified, and furious. Her two teenage daughters were often around him at the restaurant. Some employees had already complained to her about his behavior, claiming he mistreated them. When he showed up at Cosmos later that day, she yelled at him to get out and never come back.
Eight days later, on September 25, 2015, police arrested Rogayan at his apartment on charges of rape. It took about a week for the news of the accusations to reach his former coworker at Avenue Bread. Like Berg, Lisa Greene discovered a Facebook post discussing the allegations against Rogayan. Suddenly she was no longer staying quiet. She told her sister about her rape, and then she sent a message to Fiterre asking to join the Facebook group.
She was one of 10 women who ultimately told police that Rogayan attacked them, as early as 2006 and as recently as April 2015. Each story seemed to show a pattern of how he had preyed on the women he picked up at Rumors and Cap’s, buying them drinks or offering cocaine. Several women thought he was gay, and therefore not a threat. They were humiliated, and some buried their secret for years. But their silence cost them.
Many of the women couldn’t pursue criminal charges. Too much time had passed since they allege Rogayan raped them.
While advocates and legislators have pushed to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual assault survivors, adult cases haven’t drawn the same attention. In 2013, lawmakers amended the law to give people who were sexually abused as children the chance to pursue charges until they turn 30. Previously such survivors had 10 years, but only if they reported their rape within the first year.
Last year, Republican state representative Dan Griffey of Allyn, in the 35th Legislative District, proposed removing the statute of limitations altogether, both for child and adult cases.
“No expiration date for the monsters that commit these types of crimes is really well set for Washington state,” Griffey says. For him, the case was personal. But it had bipartisan support with 12 other sponsors, including Democratic state representative Tina Orwall of Des Moines, in the 33rd district. Testifying in a House Appropriations Committee meeting on the serial nature of rape, Orwall explained that studies show 30 to 40 percent of those who commit such crimes are repeat offenders. Some survivors may not have the courage to come forward until they realize they’re not alone, and that could take years, even decades.
But lawmakers long ago settled on three years as the standard limit to file charges over any kind of felony; the more time passes, the more memories fade and evidence degrades, making it harder to convict an assailant. Indeed, prosecutors are concerned that extending the statute of limitations would even discourage survivors from reporting crimes right away. Some criminal justice observers also wonder how fair it is to prosecute someone too many years after the alleged crime occurred.
The law has changed for certain offenses; murder no longer has a statute of limitations. But unlike homicide cases that have a corpse as clear physical evidence, there’s room for doubt in rape allegations that a crime even occurred. Democratic state senator Manka Dhingra, a former King County senior deputy prosecutor who’s extensively worked on domestic violence cases, told me that better staffing at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, tasked with DNA testing for crimes, is a higher priority for her than extending the statute of limitations. The state has an estimated backlog of 6,000 untested rape kits.
Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, acknowledges that changing the statute may not lead to more rape reports, or make it easier for sexual assault survivors to come forward. But it’s still an important statement, she says. “What it will say is, ‘We want to hear from you.’ ”
During the appropriations committee meeting last year, state representative Griffey revealed his reason for sponsoring the bill. One lawmaker cried as Griffey’s wife, Dinah, told the committee she was sexually abused by her stepfather when she was eight years old. She’s still haunted by the memory of a neighbor, a little girl she discovered wearing Dinah’s old clothes after Dinah moved away from her stepfather’s home. When she later found a photo of the girl in her stepfather’s dresser, she said, her voice shaking, she realized that his assaults had never stopped.
And yet efforts to prosecute him years later failed. She didn’t want to talk about her childhood trauma at a public hearing, she said. But she promised to keep coming to the capitol until the state eliminated the statute.
“As survivors and loved ones of survivors, we live with this every day. It doesn’t just go away because there’s an expiration date for the abuser’s crime,” she said. “Please be clear: If a sex crime is committed in our state, the criminal should never be safe from prosecution. Ever.”
On January 24, 2017, after a year and a half of delays, a clean-shaven Jamison Rogayan sat in a suit in front of the women who said he had forcibly penetrated them. He stood trial for four counts of second-degree rape, one count of indecent liberties, and one count of unlawful imprisonment. The Whatcom County prosecuting attorney’s office was seeking life in prison.
There had been an opportunity to prosecute him years earlier, when Rebecca (not her real name) told Bellingham police in 2011 that Rogayan refused to let her leave his apartment, forced her on the bed and penetrated her vagina and anus with his fingers. Later, when she saw how badly he’d bruised her, she decided to report the assault; police took photos of her injuries.
But the department never forwarded the case to prosecutors. For months after the rape, Rebecca says, she called police to check on it, but they never followed up with her. Eventually she gave up.
When prosecutors learned of the allegations against Rogayan in 2015, however, they revived Rebecca’s rape report to file the first charges against him. Though more than three years had passed since she told police about the attack, the statute of limitations gives survivors 10 years to pursue charges if they report a rape within a year of the incident.
Rebecca wanted justice, even if delayed, and to protect other women from a predator. But the trial was degrading, difficult, and exhausting, she says. She struggled with depression and avoided going out; she was tired of feeling like a face of the case. She had sacrificed part of herself in the process. Even being in Bellingham reminded her of what Rogayan did to her.
Another woman, Kathleen, endured speculation that she was responsible for what happened. (Kathleen and another woman in this story, Erica, have requested that Seattle Met only use their first names.) She had felt ill when she woke up in April 2015 to Rogayan raping her, she says, and she lacked the strength to fight back as he penetrated her.
She initially didn’t report the rape to police because her best friend said she was disappointed in her when she confided what happened. But now her allegation against Rogayan was the most recent. Though she wasn’t emotionally ready for a trial, she wanted to take action, show solidarity, and seek some semblance of justice in court when so many survivors couldn’t.
Rogayan’s defense lawyer focused on one detail: that she said she had woken up and then “let it happen.” She couldn’t remember the events leading up to that. The judge struck down her case midtrial.
“That was devastating,” Kathleen told me, breaking down in tears. “One of my biggest fears came true.”
Prosecutors had hard evidence in the case of a third survivor, Erica, who corresponded with Rogayan on Facebook about the night he assaulted her. But Rogayan’s legal team also turned to Facebook for evidence.
His lawyer subpoenaed conversations between the women in the secret group, arguing they colluded with one another to corroborate their stories. A judge eventually rejected the argument, but the threat discouraged them from communicating in the forum that had served as a space to find solace as the criminal case unfolded. The women felt violated again in an environment meant to feel safe.
The trial’s triggers were manifold—seeing Rogayan again, fielding constant questions from community members curious about the trial, weathering the invasive interrogation of defense lawyers trying to damage their credibility. In the end, five women testified against Rogayan in court, including Rebecca, Kathleen, Erica, and Lisa Greene, who thought she blew the case. She burst out crying after her testimony. But prosecutors later learned jurors thought her case was the strongest. Greene was blunt and shot back at the defense attorney. “The way she answered the questions you just knew she was telling the truth,” says Whatcom County deputy prosecuting attorney Eric Richey. “The jury believed her.”
But Greene had her own theories for why she was favored: She was white, well educated, and came from a good socioeconomic background. She barely drank the night Rogayan raped her, so she wasn’t vulnerable to questions about the role of alcohol and drugs in the assault—and Greene’s story indicated that Rogayan may have drugged her and other women.
Even that didn’t make a difference, though. The trial ended in a hung jury and left the women feeling picked apart. Without a guarantee that Rogayan would be convicted, Greene was too drained to take the stand in a retrial. The experience had been too emotional; she regretted having testified. But without Greene, prosecutors believed a second jury could let Rogayan go free.
Rogayan was a predator, Richey says; the prosecutor wanted a life sentence. But the state instead offered him a deal. Rogayan pled guilty to two counts of third-degree rape and one count of unlawful imprisonment and was ordered to serve two years and five months in prison.
Because he had already served most of that time awaiting trial, the state reduced the sentence for good conduct in custody. That meant Rogayan was released from prison on September 11, 2017, just three months after his sentencing. (Rogayan and his attorney, Alex Ransom, declined to comment for this story.)
In court, Rogayan fought back sobs as he addressed the judge after his conviction, saying he had now given himself to God and realized he had been “living a dark life.”
“I should not have been inviting women home from the bar,” he said. “I’m sorry I put everyone through this and I pray that we all can find healing.”
Rebecca, who reported Rogayan to police back in 2011, couldn’t listen. She walked out of the courtroom sure she would vomit. She wanted a retrial; the plea deal felt like a slap on the wrist. Even before his arrest, Rogayan had a reputation for assaulting women in Bellingham, says Ian Everyhope, a friend of one of the accusers. Everyhope knew she had been with Rogayan when he texted her asking if she had been “Jamesoned.”
Rebecca told her attorneys she didn’t believe such a short incarceration could hold Rogayan accountable. Richey, the prosecutor, wasn’t celebrating the case’s outcome either. “I’ve had many successes as a prosecutor,” he says. “This is not one of them.”
Rebecca is now resigned to the trial’s frustrating end, but she hasn’t given up hope that her experience can make a difference for more women than Rogayan’s victims by buoying efforts to eliminate the statute of limitations.
“If it can be used to help change policy, then, you know, I think that’s the best thing that could’ve come out of it,” she says.
In the meantime, a protection order bars Rogayan from being within 500 feet of Rebecca and six other women until 2022. He’s left Bellingham. After his release, he moved to Poulsbo, where he now lives with his mother.
Amid a national reckoning with sexual harassment and abuse of women, as more Americans reconsider what counts as consent and perpetrators are punished, rape culture may be changing. Last year marked the downfall of several powerful men over sexual assault and harassment allegations, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, U.S. senator Al Franken, and Today show host Matt Lauer among them.
In early April, claims against former Seattle mayor Ed Murray drew the spotlight to Washington state and focused on the statute of limitations for rape in child cases. The cap limited accuser Delvonn Heckard from filing criminal charges against the mayor who he says sexually abused him starting in the 1980s, when Heckard was 15 years old. Similar accusations were made against Murray in 2009.
When Danni Askini learned about the claims, she felt Murray had to resign. A few days after the mayor wrote an op-ed defending himself, The Stranger published a piece by Askini urging Murray to step down. The news stories she had read describing the alleged assaults of Heckard and other victims were all too familiar, and she empathized with their need to be believed.
2,200: The number of rapes reported in Washington state in 2016.
“I think most people have this vision that if a horrible crime happens to you, the first thing that people want is justice,” Askini says. “The most important thing is to be seen, and heard, and believed. In order to heal and move on, that has to be a piece of it.”
The night before her editorial was posted online, she threw up, sick in anticipation of the political risk she had taken. But the next morning, she felt a rush of relief. She hoped a chorus of calls for him to resign would follow.
Instead it took another five months (and more men accusing Murray of abuse) before the mayor abandoned the city’s executive position. After a fifth man accused him in September, Murray finally resigned. But the silence in between left Askini disillusioned by politics, so much so that she doesn’t intend to run in local elections again.
In December 2017, as the two-year anniversary of her alleged assault approached, Askini thought she had less than a month to decide whether to pursue charges against her ex-boyfriend. She had understood that she had only two years after the alleged attack, when in fact she had three. In January, she learned she may have up to 10 years because she filed a police report in June 2016, within a year of when she says her ex raped her.
Her confusion highlights how hard it can be for survivors to navigate the legal system. Sometimes victims, incapacitated and unable to give consent, don’t even realize they were raped under the law.
“Jamison, I was the blacked out girl from Friday who came to naked from the waist down with your fingers in me,” Erica wrote in a Facebook message to Rogayan on February 25, 2014. She asked him if he had sex with her or used protection.
“I need to know,” she said.
“I tried (not successfully) to look you up,” Rogayan replied. “Nothing beyond wandering hands happened. Didn’t have sex. … I was left with a fond fleeting memory of you. Hope I’m not in your bad crazy drunk memory book.”
That exchange would later be crucial evidence in the case against Rogayan, but back then, the 39-year-old was living a nightmare. She had met with friends at Cap’s, then woken up to Rogayan penetrating her with his fingers. Her then-boyfriend blamed her. She still works with her ex, a constant reminder of her rape.
A few weeks later, Erica left the country for a long-planned trip. She had spent months training for the 510-mile hike along El Camino de Santiago in Spain. But halfway through, she broke down. She was struggling to keep up with the others, mostly men, and they charged ahead, leaving her on the side of the road crying. The burden of her assault had weighed on her. Now it hobbled her.
But she trudged on, mile after mile, following the yellow scallop symbols marking the way until she reached the towering Romanesque cathedral at the end of the trail. Traditionally the trek is a Catholic pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James, whose remains are supposedly buried in the country’s northwest corner. Erica was on a different kind of journey.
With each step she came to terms with the trauma she had endured. Slowly, she started to feel resilient. And then strong. If this trip didn’t break her, she thought, nothing would. By the end of the trek, she found herself hiking and laughing alongside two boisterous Italians. When she returned home, she continued walking, a hobby she said helped her find clarity. She walked 2,000 miles that year. She began to heal.
When she testified against Rogayan in 2017, she spoke directly to the man who abused her. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t bitter. She told him the abuse of women he perpetrated doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Somewhere along the way, she said, someone made him feel wronged.
“You are a broken person and now we are both broken,” Erica said. “You will feel like a human again when and only when you acknowledge the how and why of what you did.”
She exited the courtroom and took a step onto a Bellingham sidewalk. And she kept walking.
1. Editor’s note: After reviewing court documents and correspondence between Danni Askini and her ex-boyfriend, Seattle Met decided to abide by her request that we not contact or identify him, out of respect for her fear of reprisal. The magazine has also respected requests to not identify several other sexual assault survivors in this story.
Updated 2:27pm on January 17, 2018, to reflect that Cordelia Fiterre first named Jamison Rogayan on Facebook, not Reddit.