It was the right thing to do,” said Desiree Washington of why she brought rape charges against Mike Tyson. “I didn’t do it for fame.” She did it to inspire rape victims everywhere to come forward. With her unwavering accusations, the shy former beauty queen courageously toppled the ex-heavyweight champion, doing in an Indianapolis courtroom what few could do in the ring. It was a clear victory but a costly one. For when Tyson was sent to prison for six years, Washington, already bruised by the scrutiny the celebrity trial had provoked, found herself trapped as well—in a solitary life marked by embarrassment, suffering and fear.
The 19-year-old sophomore at Rhode Island’s Providence College today spends most of her time alone in her room at school. She is plagued by nightmares—which have worsened since her parents split up last June. Though she still dreams of someday going to law school, these days, says her attorney, Deval Patrick, “her plans are to get through tomorrow.” Patrick has filed a civil suit on Washington’s behalf, seeking unspecified damages for emotional and physical distress—including that caused by two venereal diseases (one now cured) that she claims Tyson gave her.
Tyson, meanwhile, maintains his innocence from a medium-security prison in Plainfield, Ind., and has filed an appeal. But Patrick is not worried. “In a cooler moment,” he says, “we’ll remember just who the victim is. It’s not Mike Tyson.” And when that moment comes, Desiree Washington just might be able to gather strength from her own heroic actions.