Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Spring 2011
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 22B

Philosophy of Law

Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber


Jodie Foster in THE ACCUSED


Now consider the following:

Tavern Rape: On March 8, 1983, a 21 year old woman was raped by four men in a tavern in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Indictments were subsequently brought against six men, four of the men who were involved in the alleged rape and two additional men who allegedly witnessed the assault. Some of you may think you recall this case. But it occurred quite some time ago in Big Dan's Tavern in New Bedford, Massachusetts; nineteen years ago, to be exact, in March 1983.

If you think you remember the case, it may be because you remember the film which was based on that case. The movie starred Kelly McGillis and Jodie Foster and was called THE ACCUSED. For her performance in the movie Foster won anAcademy Award for Best Actress in 1989.

In the film, may remember, the bystanders were more actively involved, egging the attackers on and as a result the case against any of the bystanders was somewhat easier to prosecute.

In the actual New Bedford case two of the onlookers were charged as accessories to rape and were acquitted. There was no "duty to rescue" law in the State of Massachusetts at that time. Sentencing of the defendants in the New Bedford rape case took place on March 26, 1984. Massachusetts Superior Court Justice William Young sentenced three of the defendants to maximum prison terms of 9 to 12 years. The fourth defendant convicted of aggravated rape received a six to eight year prison term. Two other men indicted in the case were acquitted upon evidence that they had not actually participated in the rape, although they had watched and encouraged the perpetrators. N.Y. Times, March, 27, 1984, p. 6.

See the New York Times Articles on the Incident, Trial and Aftermath

The following stories, among many others, also ran: "The Tavern Rape: Cheers and No Help," NEWSWEEK, Mar. 21, 1983, at 101:25. The New Bedford Standard Times noted that when police returned to the bar later that night, two of the victim's alleged assailants were still there, and the bar had been open for business the entire time. Such reports fueled the national outrage over the incident.

Approximately 2,500 people took part in a candlelight procession in New Bedford one week after the attack. One protestor was quoted as saying: "They should take every one of those guys who were there cheering and fine them $ 1,000 apiece" (Section A16, col. 2). These sentiments were echoed by magazine and newspaper editors throughout the country, see, e.g., "Violence and the Social Fabric," AMERICA, Apr. 2, 1983, at 148:251-52 ("It is the kind of atrocity that strikes sharply at the national consciousness and stirs feelings of revulsion and outrage miles from the scene of the assault, among people with no possible connection to the victim ").


At the first trial, it was established that there had been more than ten men who had stood by, watched the assault, and done nothing. Two had been positively identified. None of the witnesses had encouraged the assault by their cheers and applause but none of them had taken steps to discourage the attackers either or to stop the rape or to call for help. A waitress who worked at the bar testified that there was a public telephone in the front room of the bar and a local police officer testified that phone calls to 911 from this area of town produced a response within five minutes. The attack lasted more than one hour, at which point the young woman managed to break free of her attackers and run out onto the street where she hailed a passing motor vehicle and was taken to a local hospital. What is your opinion on this case? Did the Judge do the right thing when he acquitted the bystanders? Whichever way you are inclined to rule, do you think the Massachusetts legislature took steps in the right direction when it passed a "duty to report" law in the following year (1984)?


Jodie Foster


New Bedford Tavern Stories and The Accused


Jodie Foster





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