She shared details with detectives that she didnât have the heart to tell her husband.
How, in her recollection, she arrived at the homeless manâs shanty on a lightless road in rural San Martin, near a South Valley waste sorting facility.
How she ducked into the shelter fashioned from tarps and shopping carts to deliver several bags of groceries and Chinese takeout, just as she said she would in a text to her newlywed spouse earlier that evening. How, before she could leave the cramped quarters, she says the manâwith âa crazy look in his eyesââsomehow boxed her inside, told her she was âprettyâ and âsexyâ and that he wanted to âf---kâ her.
How he allegedly made good on his threat, yanking down her leggings as he unfastened his own pants and pushed her back onto an upholstered chair. How he spread her legs, raised them up toward her head and kissed her lips. How she jerked her face away, squeezed her eyes shut and prayed silently for divine help.
She never told him to stop. She admits saying nothing before, during or after the two-to-three-minute assault out of fear for her life and because she didnât know what else to do. She just wanted him to âget it over with.â
The sun had long set on Jan. 2 when the womanâweâll call her RenĂ©âsays she crawled out of the makeshift hovel and drove the half-mile home in a stupor before dissolving in tears, guttural cries and pounding fists on the front door. The manâs semen viscid on her thighs, she remembers feeling, but shock blunted the reality of what happened.
He raped her, she recalls telling her husband as he pulled her into the foyer of their single-story ranch home. Sharwian Bobian, the 43-year-old transient they fed and clothed for the past few months, restrained and assaulted her, she sobbed. Horrified, RenĂ©âs spouse rang 9-1-1 despite her insisting on being left to shower and rest, that at least she survived, that sheâd be fine.
Santa Clara County sheriffâs deputies interviewed RenĂ© before taking her to the South County Substation, where they brought Bobian out on the steps and shone a spotlight on him so she could affirm his identity. Officers assured that the alleged attacker wouldnât see, let alone recognize her, through the bright white glare.
RenĂ© spent the next several hours at San Joseâs Valley Medical Center, a 30-minute drive north, where a detective stood by and a nurse inspected her body like a crime scene. She recounted in painstaking detail what felt like the worst moment of her life as a stranger in scrubs collected sperm, pubic hairs and other biological evidence.
At the sheriffâs substation, Bobian submitted to an exam of his own as detectives took photographs of his shelter and logged the seat cushion, a towel and his jacket as evidence. Officers tried to explain why they detained him, but had trouble getting through. They couldnât even obtain a statement from Bobian, who kept repeating the same phrase, something to the effect of: âYou donât understand, theyâre bending the skeleton bone back in my neck and taking my plasma and blood.â
The clock struck 3am before RenĂ© and her husband arrived home. She showered and settled in for a fitful sleep. At about 10am, she says, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Clarissa Hamilton called to inform RenĂ© that her office wouldnât press charges.
âShe said the system is broken, and itâs not fair and that my case is so heartbreaking, but they didnât have a case,â RenĂ© recalls of the conversation. âShe said heâs mentally ill, that no jury would convict him and that theyâre not going to prosecute.â
The office of District Attorney Jeff Rosen explained its rationale in a memo to investigators, citing a legal doctrine called the âMayberry defense.â That is, Bobian could claim he had interpreted the womanâs lack of verbal protest as consent, oblivious to the potential criminality of the act.
Without charges, sheriffâs officials had no choice but to release him.
Records show Bobian left Valley Medical Center on Jan. 4, just a day into an 72-hour involuntary psychiatric hold and two days after the alleged rape. Morgan Hill Times editor Michael Moore interviewed Bobian that afternoon at his Llagas Avenue hut, whereâagain rambling incoherently about blood draws and microchipsâthe man shared a medical form in which a nurse described him as âpsychoticâ and a danger to others.
Prosecutors eventually changed course. A month to the day since releasing the suspect in a case deemed too difficult to prosecute, the DA filed a felony rape charge as police began a days-long manhunt. By then, and as of this evening, nobody knew where to find him.
The San Martin rape case rocked the tight-knit farming community, where many people shared RenĂ©âs sense of violation and questioned why the DA allowed the suspect to walk free less than a day after officers booked him in jail on suspicion of false imprisonment and rape. Sheriffâs officialsâconvinced they had gathered enough proof for a relatively smooth prosecutionâbalked at the DAâs initial failure to file.
As did RenĂ©. The 47-year-old South County native says she felt left adrift after her whole life was upended. She celebrated her first wedding anniversary in November, the same month her husband began helping Bobian. And now, on doctorâs orders, the couple must refrain from all physical intimacyâeven kissingâfor the next several months as they determine whether RenĂ© contracted HIV from the assault. They would have known right away had the Valley Med phlebotomist assigned to the task drew enough blood from Bobian while he was detained.
Once outgoing and fearless, RenĂ© says sheâs been wracked by insomnia, depression and fear of the dark and the outdoors. Her trust has been shaken, too, not least because RenĂ© says she feels misled by prosecutors who repeatedly told her that Bobian had no prior offenses. Yet they must have known about his rap sheet spanning state lines and Santa Clara, Santa Barbara and San Mateo counties in California, which includes aggravated assault and evading police convictions in Savannah, Georgia, in addition to other mostly petty crimes symptomatic of homelessness and mental illness.
Once Reneâs story made headlines early last month, and especially after she granted a shadowed on-camera interview to a local TV station, concerned citizens lit up social media and county phone lines wondering why authorities dropped the ball.
Though RenĂ© maintains she was told the morning of Jan. 3 not to expect prosecution, DA spokesman Sean Webby says the case never closed; it was just under scrupulous, time-intensive review. âWe've been investigating it the entire time,â he said in a Feb. 1 phone call with Times editor Moore.
What happened to RenĂ© happens to the vast majority of people who report rape. Theyâre offered condolences, told to seek counseling and advised to suspend hope of finding justice in a court of law.
Nationwide on average, just 13 of every 1,000 reported rapes get referred to prosecutors, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, and about seven of those result in felony convictions. Last year, law enforcement agencies in Santa Clara County submitted a combined 994 sexual assault cases to the DA, which filed charges in about half of them. Of those, just 34 went to jury trial and 25 resulted in convictions.
Police throughout the U.S. have long faced scrutiny for botching rape cases, for casting blame on victims, leaving untested rape kits to languish and dismissing claims as a matter of one personâs word against another. In all too many jurisdictions, investigative failures undermine sexual assault cases long before theyâre passed off to prosecutors.
One glaring mistake by medical staff in RenĂ©âs case was failing to adequately collect Bobianâs blood sample, which would have put to rest the question of whether he transferred an incurable immunodeficiency virus. Making matters worse still is what she sees as a delayed, indecisive and defendant-centered response from the DA.
âI canât understand how this could happen in an age of womenâs rights and equality,â she says. âIâm still trying to process the rape, and all those feelings that go with it, and now I feel like I have to go into fight mode.â
RenĂ© says sheâll occasionally wonder how she could have responded to Bobian in a way that would convince people that what he did was a crime. She tries not to dwell on it.
California law deems rape an act accomplished against a victimâs will âby means of force, violence, duress, menace or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury.â Lack of consent being the defining element. Though the expectation of victim resistance has been largely eliminated through legislative reforms, itâs still effectively enforced through case law. Courts routinely expect prosecutors to prove not simply the absence of consent from a victim, but some kind of noticeable refusal. Even though laws in most U.S. states, including California, consider sexual submission out of fear as a form of assault, courts generally continue to hew to a statutorily archaic resistance standard.
RenĂ©, who says she froze during the assault because she feared for her life, promptly shared her account with detectives, IDâd the suspect, went through a grueling physical exam and steeled herself for the possibility of reliving the trauma before a judge and jury.
When prosecutors told RenĂ© that might not be enough, her husbandâwho asked to go by Jaye to protect his anonymity, tooâsays he was aghast and demanded a meeting so they could explain their logic in person.
âI wanted them to see her, not just read about her on paper,â he says. âI wanted them to look her in the eyes and tell her why they refused to help.â
Several days after the alleged assault, RenĂ©, accompanied by Jaye and an advocate from Community Solutions, gathered around a conference table at the West Wing of the County Government Center in San Jose. Hamilton, who leads the DAâs sexual assaults team, and Assistant District Attorney Terry Harman sat across from them alongside a few other female colleagues. According to RenĂ©, the prosecutors acknowledged that a crime likely occurred. Some of the women in the room even teared up, RenĂ© says.
Ultimately, the attorneys echoed their prior justifications for Bobianâs release. Basically, that one could believe both accuser and accused in this caseâthat RenĂ© probably was scared silent and Bobian probably did take that as affirmationâand that it would be tough to get 12 jurors to unanimously accept such ambiguity as felony assault.
Prosecutors sign up for the unenviable task of deciding whether a claim meets the American Bar Associationâs ethical standards for criminal charges: that thereâs probable cause of an offense and enough evidence to support a conviction.
While that doesnât necessarily mean charges should only be filed when victory in court is all but certain, itâs still a high bar. To Jaye and RenĂ©, the DAâs reluctance to charge Bobian because an attorney might claim a mistake-of-fact defense suggests more concern for conviction rates than public safety.
The couple says they left the West Wing meeting feeling disempowered. Bobian left Valley Med that same day for his tent just down the road from the coupleâs San Martin house, before going MIA.
Another week passed. The DAâs office circled back with RenĂ©. Prosecutors summoned her once more to the substation for close to four hours of questioning. RenĂ© says they asked why she went to Bobianâs tent alone, why she didnât resist, verbally object or leave when he expressed sexual thoughts and how he could âlockâ her inside a shelter with no door.
âThey also seemed suspicious about how calm I was,â she says. âBut I was in shock, and my coping mechanism is, like, âIâm fine, Iâm fine, I got this.â Literally, I ride horses and even when I get thrown off and break my bones, I suck it up. Thatâs how I am.â
A Hard Lesson
In San Martin, RenĂ© and her husband have a reputation as do-gooders. He helps the homeless and she rescues animals. A marketing director-turned-aspiring real estate agent, RenĂ© spent most of her life in the bucolic country town.
For the past eight years, sheâs lived with Jaye in a modest home flanked by a standalone garage and a nearby stable, where she keeps two horses, as many roosters and a brood of hens. A shih-tzu called Coco follows RenĂ© like a shadow but keeps a respectful distance from the wounded animals she fosters for a wildlife rehabilitation non-profit. Lately, sheâs been caring for a pair of fawns, Tola and Meena, trying to get the skittish siblings accustomed to a covered trailer sheâll use to transport them when theyâre ready to return to nature in the next week or so.
âTheyâre still a little shy,â she says on a recent afternoon, smiling as the young deer bounded out of view behind a wooden enclosure. âBut theyâll be back in the wild soon.â
On networking app NextDoor, Jaye was known as something of a liaison between neighbors and the townâs small population of unsheltered residents. People would message him online with updates about their efforts to help Bobian, about how they brought him breakfast or stopped by for a conversation. RenĂ© would chip in when she could. Other women visited Bobian, too, dropping off toiletries, clothing or plates of home-cooked food.
âWeâre not inexperienced when it comes to this kind of thing,â says Jaye, an electrician by trade and lifelong South County resident. âItâs a cause thatâs near and dear to me, which is why this was such a huge violation of trust.â
In the quiet South County burg of 7,000, it seems everyone knows what happens and who it happens to. Almost to the hour she returned from the Valley Med rape exam, RenĂ© was met by an outpouring of charity. When Bobian walked free two days later, it sent shockwaves through the town and heightened RenĂ©âs already fraught anxiety. Her physical violation stings anew, she says, with each indignity that comes in its wake.
âIt just feels so disgusting and disheartening,â she laments from her kitchen table, where a stack of investigative and clinical records sit atop a white cardboard box containing her rape kit. âThe criminal system let us down so horrifically.â
RenĂ© says the past month taught her a terrible truth about sexual violence: that more often than not, it goes unpunished.