'Trial by Media' Explores The True Story That Inspired Jodie Foster's 'The Accused'

In perhaps the most uncomfortable episode to watch of Trial By Media, the Netflix series explores the Big Dan's rape case of 1983 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. This case served as the basis for the 1988 movie The Accused starring Jodie Foster (who won the Academy Award for her portrayal of the victim, Cheryl Ann Araujo).

On March 6, 1983, Araujo stepped out to Big Dan's to get cigarettes. When she tried to leave the bar, she was locked in and assaulted by four men on a pool table as other patrons watched. Araujo claimed that some of them even cheered, but none of them helped or called the police. After fighting her way out of the bar, the 21-year-old woman finally escaped, and was picked up by college students on the side of the road who took her to the hospital.

Six men were eventually charged for the gang rape of Araujo (four were charged for assault, the other two with being accessories to the assault). It was broadcast on CNN, and the first nationally televised rape trial.

NB10-Moynihan-Jodi-foster-main-tease
Actress Jodie Foster receives the Cecil B. Demille Award on stage during the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Jan. 13, 2013. She won an Academy Award for her performance in "The Accused." Paul Drinkwater NBC Universal/Getty

Although Araujo wanted anonymity and asked to have her face hidden during the trial, it backfired during her testimony when her name and address was revealed. The result was the victim essentially being put on trial herself.

At first, Araujo received public sympathy from viewers. However, she eventually received backlash and was victim shamed when the brutal cross examination ensued. Many started to believe "she was asking for it."

The case gained national and international publicity, and sparked a debate of whether or not it was appropriate to show the gavel-to-gavel coverage. People became voyeurs during an incredibly personal case, and treated tuning in to watch like a soap opera. William Young, the judge on the case, regrets letting the media broadcast the trial.

In 1984, the Senate held a hearing that examined the effects of allowing Araujo's trial to be broadcast on television. "Rare is the woman who can endure both the trauma of rape," former Bristol County, Massachusetts district attorney Ronald Pina said at the time, "and the trauma of a highly publicized trial."

At the end of the trial, John Cordeiro, Daniel Silva, Victor Raposo and Joseph Vieira were found guilty for aggravated rape and were sentenced to six to 12 years in prison. The other two, Jose Medeiros and Virgilio Medeiros (no relation), were acquitted. Members of the public vilified Araujo, and thousands of people gathered and marched to protest the conviction. A petition was also signed by thousands to request leniency for the four convicted men.

After the trial, Araujo moved to Miami to start a new life. She died in a car accident in December 1986, and at the time her death got little to no media coverage. According to The Washington Post, it was later revealed that Araujo struggled with alcohol abuse after the trial ended, and she was severely intoxicated at the time of the accident.

The four men who were sent to prison were eventually released three years after her death in October 1989.

The legacy of Araujo's strength during the grueling trial was immortalized in the 1988 film The Accused. The movie was loosely based on Araujo's case and included a graphic sexual assault scene at a bar on top of a pinball machine. In the scene, three men attacked Foster's character Sarah Tobias. The film follow's Sarah's case in court, and ultimately she and her attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) win the case.

Tom Topor, the film's screenwriter, told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 that he pitched a script based on Araujo's case. "My original draft had the pool table, but the producers were terrified of being sued, so it was changed to a pinball machine," he said. Topor added that he interviewed rape victims, rapists, prosecutors, defense attorneys and nurses while writing the screenplay.

The film is still considered an accurate depiction of what a rape survivor goes through, including the seemingly relentless victim blaming.

When Foster received the Oscar for her performance, she stated, "cruelty might be very human and it might be very cultural, but it's not acceptable, which is what this movie's about."

Trial by Media is available to stream on Netflix.

'Trial by Media' Explores The True Story That Inspired Jodie Foster's 'The Accused' | Culture