Victim of a serial rapist, the young woman from Red Deer, Alta., determined to bring her attacker to trial
Holly's Fight for Justice
Holly's Fight for Justice, BY RICK MOFINA
HOLLY JILL DESIMONE will never silence the sound of the rapist's zipper opening behind her. "Count backward from ten!" he ordered, forcing her onto her hands and knees against a chair in her apartment in Red Deer, Alta. Photographs of her seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter smiled from across the room as the man assaulted her.
Holly thought of the butcher's knives in her kitchen. Surely he will kill me. This is how I will die, 29 years old, studying to be a nurse, divorced, in the middle of a custody fight for my children.
THREE hours earlier that night of December 14, 1990, the delicious aroma of Iranian baking filled the air as Holly arrived at the home of her friends Albert and Celine Rasai. Holly had helped Albert find work as a hairdresser. Now he introduced her to his brother Ali, a polite, charming newcomer to Canada. Perhaps Holly could help him, too.
Barrel-chested with a thick black moustache, Ali, 37, said he was a former bodyguard to the Shah of Iran and a martial-arts expert. As he eyed the attractive young brunette, he regaled Holly with stories of his life as a globe-trotting refugee from Iran's civil strife. He did not reveal that he was a fugitive from an attempted rape charge in Australia.
When Holly offered to introduce Ali to club managers she knew who might need a bouncer or disc jockey, a grateful Albert insisted they use his car. Christmas lights twinkled in storefronts as Holly drove off with Ali. She took him to several clubs. By then it was late. "I'll just drop myself off at home," she told Ali. "You can come in and call Albert for directions to drive back. Or I can draw a map."
"That would be fine," he said.
Once inside, Rasai's charm evaporated. "You're very pretty," he said, pointing to a photo of Holly, whose slender figure had earned her modelling jobs. Rasai bragged about his martial-arts skills, insisting he demonstrate them. Holly grew uneasy.
"I'm tired and I have to get up early," she said. Rasai ignored the hint. Moving closer, he began touching her. He could kill using only two fingers, he boasted. Weighing 100 pounds to Rasai's 170, Holly was suddenly paralyzed with fear.
He told her to get on the floor. How could I have been so stupid? thought Holly. Then Rasai raped her anally.
When it was over, Rasai left. Holly staggered to her bathroom and collapsed to the floor. Bleeding and weeping, she struggled with shame, outrage and fear. She showered, wanting to peel off her skin.
Holly phoned a friend and told her, through tears, what had happened.
"Never, ever tell anybody," came the reply. "No one will believe you."
HOLLY kept the rape secret, but the trauma was deep. She never felt clean enough. She showered up to three times daily, scrubbing herself until she was raw. Each time she passed a police building, she froze. She wanted desperately to report the crime, but she could not even say the words "I was raped."
At last Holly found the courage to go to the Red Deer RCMP. On March 1, 1991, Const. Rick Taylor tape-recorded her 90-minute statement.
The detective knew Rasai had been charged with sexually assaulting another woman in Red Deer and one in Edmonton. He had been charged, jailed, then released on bail in the Edmonton case. Rasai was arrested and jailed again in Red Deer.
Awaiting his preliminary hearing, Rasai sought bail. Unaware of the bail hearing, not one of the victims was present June 10 when Edmonton lawyer Tom Plupek presented Rasai's case before Justice Robert Cairns.
Plupek urged Rasai be allowed to join his brother, now living in Edmonton. Rasai would find work to pay for his defence and support his pregnant wife, who would be arriving from Australia. Plupek portrayed his client as a struggling refugee whose martial-arts skills had led to some trouble. He made only passing reference to a sexual assault charge in Australia against his client.
But Crown prosecutor Roxanne Prior detailed the incident. In December 1989, Rasai lured a 19-year-old to his apartment, telling her he would give her karate lessons. Once there, he told her he was a medical doctor and that to ascertain her fitness level, he would have to give her a physical. He had "examined" her and was about to rape her when a knock on the door stopped him. Before his trial for attempted rape, he fled to Canada using a fake passport. Within three months of landing in Alberta seeking refugee status, he was charged with sexually assaulting three different women. Prior warned that Rasai could well flee Canada, just as he had Australia.
Nevertheless, Justice Cairns granted Rasai $3,000 bail on the condition he live with his brother and report weekly to Edmonton police. A week later, stepping outside her Red Deer apartment, Holly froze. Nearby, a man was watching her. Rasai? But he's in jail in Edmonton!
Holly went to the RCMP. They told her Rasai had been granted bail. "No one told me!" she replied. Incensed, Holly went to lawyer Don Manning, who discovered that the restriction that Rasai not contact his alleged victims had not been made a condition of his bail. Pressing the oversight with the Crown, Manning got the condition applied. Yet Holly remained jittery. Was reporting the rape worth it? she wondered.
ON AUGUST 9 the hearing against Ali Rasai began. Sitting alone in a small witness room, Holly nervously waited. And waited. At last Const. Rick Taylor entered. "Court's adjourned," he said. "Rasai didn't show up."
Within hours the court issued a nationwide arrest warrant for Rasai. Back home, Holly wanted to scream. A fugitive rapist enters Canada with a fake passport, assaults three women, gets bail -- and skips court! But there was more. Days later Edmonton police revealed they were never told Rasai was to report to them.
As time passed, Holly's anger grew. If authorities were seeking Rasai, why hadn't they made his photograph public? She contacted the other Red Deer victim, and together they made their own "Wanted" flyer and alerted the media. Although their identities could not be revealed because of a court order, the two young women, reporters in tow, posted their flyer at airports, bus depots, car-rental outlets and corner stores across Edmonton and Red Deer.
Holly badgered local politicians for support. She got excuses -- the file was a federal matter, or an immigration matter, or it was before the courts. Still, her persistence moved Alberta's then Attorney General Ken Rostad to demand an accounting of the bungling in the Rasai case. Shortly after, Rostad ordered changes to bail reporting. Victims of major crimes would now be alerted when their accused attackers sought bail.
Holly's rape was exacting a toll. She had to undergo an AIDS test, which proved negative. She could not focus on her studies or part-time jobs. Every time she entered her apartment she opened closet doors, looking for Rasai. He was lurking out there somewhere.
God, where is he?
RASAI had slipped the law again. Using the alias Ali Basati, he landed in Oslo early in 1992, with his wife and new son, seeking political asylum. Rasai felt safe in Norway.
Meanwhile, on a visit to Calgary, Holly called the Calgary Herald. The Red Deer and Edmonton press had lost interest in her crusade. Would the Herald help? The newspaper assigned a reporter -- me -- to the story.
Holly looked frail in her full-length black coat. Snow fell as we drove back to the newspaper to copy her dog-eared folder of court papers.
Once started, I couldn't put the file down. By the summer of 1992 my story was ready to go. "The story would be stronger if she could be identified," said my managing editor. "Ask her about lifting the ban."
My jaw dropped. As a matter of law and journalistic practice, rape victims are not identified.
"I've been thinking about going public for a long time," Holly said when I called her. "I'll do it."
The court agreed to lift the ban, and days later, on August 2, 1992, the Herald published Holly's story. Her picture appeared in newspapers across Canada. Victims' groups called her courageous. A spate of press interviews followed the Herald story, but eventually public momentum stalled. Holly would have to keep fighting. "Why can't they find Rasai?" she asked again and again. "Nobody's looking. Nobody cares."
BY MARCH 1993 it had been a full year since Rasai sought political asylum in Norway. Officials processing the "Ali Basati" file were now asking questions, and Rasai grew nervous. On March 15, detectives arrived to search his apartment, and Rasai's wife admitted his true identity.
Rasai, however, had already fled, reportedly taking some $22,000 from his bank account. Norwegian police confirmed Rasai's fingerprints through Interpol, the international police agency, and alerts were issued for him throughout Scandinavia.
Months later Holly was stunned to learn Rasai had been in Norway and escaped the police. Again, no official had informed her. "He just keeps walking through the system."
Nevertheless, Holly kept badgering the news media, and in September she appeared on "America's Most Wanted," a television show seen by an estimated 14 million people. Police followed up some 50 viewer tips, but none led to Rasai.
On December 8 a man identified by his papers as Fuat Yildiz tried to enter Istanbul with a woman and child. Immigration officials concluded the papers were fake. Yildiz was deported to Hong Kong. In March 1994 he again tried to enter Turkey. This time he was deported to Germany before Turkish police confirmed he was Rasai, wanted by Interpol.
Having no extradition agreement with Canada, Turkey did not rush to alert the RCMP. It was May before the Mounties were told. By that time Rasai, using aliases, had fled Germany, leaving no trail.
Holly took this latest news hard. Rasai was making a mockery of the justice system. She called Edmonton Liberal MP David Kilgour, who pressed authorities for information. He was told that Rasai's file had now been flagged ARREST ON SIGHT.
But Holly had almost given up. She had no more energy to fight. It had been almost four years since the rape. Rasai, it seemed, had won.
ON SEPTEMBER 3, 1994, a flight from Hong Kong touched down in Amsterdam. Among the passengers at passport control was a clean-shaven, slightly overweight man named Fuat Yildiz. "In transit to visit a friend in Germany," he said. The Dutch passport officer entered the name Yildiz into his computer.
The file began flashing. It listed Ali Rasai's crimes and stated he was dangerous. The officer restrained Rasai. When police arrived, Rasai instantly requested political asylum.
When police told Holly of Rasai's arrest, she began shaking. Tears filled her eyes. "I never thought this day would come," she told me.
It took a year before Rasai lost his fight against extradition to Canada. In September 1996 -- nearly six years after the rape -- he finally faced Holly in an Edmonton court. On September 11 a six-woman, six-man jury convicted Rasai of sexually assaulting Holly and two other women. He was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in prison and last June lost his appeal against the sentence.
Those who know Rasai's case attribute his arrest to Holly's fight not to let the file be forgotten. "Holly actually forced institutions to do their jobs," says Scott Newark, executive director of the Canadian Police Association.
Holly's case and others like it also helped change Canada's Immigration Act. Would-be immigrants like Rasai can now be turned away if officials believe they committed a crime outside Canada punishable here by a jail term of ten years or more.
Holly has since started a new life in a new city. Reflecting on her crusade, she says: "Either you're going to live with the pain and deal with it, or you're going to die from it. If I had not fought to see Rasai caught, I would have died inside." Holly's Fight for Justice~
HOLLY JILL DESIMONE
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