On the night of Feb. 26, 1999, the University of Florida Delta Chi fraternity held a party at which a hired exotic dancer drank enough and became friendly enough to become part of the festivities herself. The next morning, she ran from the frat house half-naked, declaring she had been raped. Shortly after that, she was arrested for false reporting of a crime, as the frat boys’ home video had shown, in the police detectives’ minds, that the sex that occurred had been consensual.
The preceding paragraph contains just about all the information about the case that is beyond dispute. The explicit documentary “Raw Deal: A Question of Consent” demonstrates that, even when something has been caught on tape, there can still be a lot of questions open for debate.
Lisa Gier King and Disa Holly were strippers hired at the last minute for the party. Due to the omnipresence of video cameras in today’s society, it should come as no surprise that most of the proceedings were taped; in fact, two different frat brothers, Tony Marzulla and Leo Yuque, had cameras rolling for most of the night.
After a lot of drinking and dancing, Disa Holly was driven home by Marzulla, with King going along for the ride and then returning to the house, where her car and clothes were. She stayed at the house, though, spending time in the hot tub with Marzulla and others and continuing to drink.
She curled up on the couch under a blanket to sleep off the booze, only to be awakened by Michael Yarhaus, a good friend of Marzulla’s about whom King had frequently expressed uneasiness throughout the night. For the next few hours, Yarhaus and King were involved in something King would later call rape.
Police detective Alice Hendon — a woman, note — was the one to declare, upon watching the tapes, that King had been a willing participant. The outrage from women’s groups was considerable, and soon all of Gainesville and environs was abuzz with controversy.
Adding to the scintillating gossip was a Florida law mandating that all court evidence be available to the public. That meant the videotapes could be viewed by anyone who wanted to watch them. Soon copies were being made (and even sold by local entrepreneurs), as apparently EVERYONE wanted to watch the tape and see for themselves whether rape occurred.
Documentarian Billy Corben deftly interweaves interview footage with Marzulla, King and others with clips from the notorious tapes. Yarhaus refused to be interviewed, which may inspire skepticism as to his innocence. However, the National Organization for Women — the group that most loudly protested the decision not to prosecute Yarhaus — also wouldn’t go on camera unless their demands of 40 percent of the documentary’s profits, $5,000 up front, and approval of the title and final cut were met. (The producers “politely declined,” we are told in a title card.)
It is amazing to hear Marzulla and King tell such different stories, even though they’ve both seen the video. King says Yarhaus had her arms pinned down with his knees; the video shows that not to be case. She also says that one point while Yarhaus was on top of her, Yuque dogpiled on Yarhaus. Marzulla says that never happened; a clip from the video shows it happened exactly as King said it did.
Even more staggering is the fact that, despite being shown ample portions of the sex video in all its graphic detail, it is still difficult to tell whether it was consensual or not. King is often shown to be struggling and kicking, but she’s frequently talking in a smutty/flirtatious manner at the same time. She makes counter-offers — to perform other acts without intercourse — which her advocates say were her way of bargaining out of doing the ultimate deed, while her detractors say were just more examples of her being trashy.
So many questions are raised, most of which are impossible to answer. If she didn’t want to be there, why didn’t she leave? The door wasn’t locked. Marzulla insists if he’d ever thought what was going on was coerced, he wouldn’t have let Yarhaus get away with it. One is inclined to believe him on that point, as he had watched out for King several times earlier in the evening. Why didn’t King make a point of indicating she was raped, since she knew the cameras were rolling? Furthermore, why would Yarhaus have allowed video to be shot if he was committing a crime?
The answer to most of these questions, actually, is: alcohol. It’s possible King was raped, and she just lacked the judgment to make her opposition more apparent. It’s possible Yarhaus knew he was raping her and didn’t think clearly enough to get rid of the video evidence. If everyone had had clear heads, the questions would be easier to answer. (Of course, if no one had been drinking, the whole incident wouldn’t have happened at all.)
“Raw Deal” is an unforgettable, highly objective film; it’s hard to know what Corben himself thinks of the case, and that’s good. The film is not done any great service by a musical score that sounds too much like something from “Hard Copy,” but otherwise is a strong, effective discussion of the issues at hand, and a powerful reminder that there are at least two sides to every story.
A- (; )