What Is the Movie "The Accused" Based On?

by Toby Welch

"The Accused" came out in 1988 to much controversy. It was among the first mainstream movies to deal directly with rape and many people were uncomfortable with the violence and graphic scenes in the film. The movie starred Canadian actresses Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis. It was directed by Jonathan Kaplan.

Basis of "The Accused"

"The Accused" is based on the experiences of Cheryl Ann Araujo. On March 6, 1983, the then 21-year-old was gang raped on a pool table at Big Dan's Bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The fact that the tavern's patrons watched the rape but did not intervene is one of the reasons the case made national headlines. The incident is known as "Big Dan's Rape Case" to this day.

The Rape of Cheryl Ann Araujo

On March 6, 1983, Cheryl Ann Araujo and her daughter's father threw a party to celebrate the girl's birthday. After the party, Araujo went out to get a pack of cigarettes. The place she normally bought them was closed so she went into the neighborhood bar. Once inside she had a drink and chatted with another woman. When two strange men asked her to leave with them, she tried to leave. Four men grabbed her and threw her viciously onto the pool table. They stripped her clothes off and took turns raping her. Despite her screams for help, no one stepped in.

The Rape Trial

Six men were charged in the rape of Araujo. A year after the rape, the trials began. Despite a history of not publishing the names of rape victims, every media outlet named Araujo. The entire trial was broadcast on live TV. The defense lawyers attacked Araujo's character, adamant she willingly participated in group sex. The defendants were Portuguese immigrants and Portuguese groups vilified the prosecution, claiming the men were singled out due to their ethnicity. They ignored the fact that Araujo was of Portuguese heritage. Ultimately four of the six men were found guilty of aggravated rape and received prison terms between six and 12 years.

Araujo's Life After the Rape and Trial

After the trial, Araujo, her two daughters and their father moved to Miami. The New Bedford community was hostile toward Araujo and the family wanted to live in a place where their history wasn't known. Araujo attended secretarial school. On Dec. 14, 1986, almost four years after the rape, Araujo was driving to a Christmas event when she struck a utility pole. Her girls were unharmed but Araujo died in the crash. The most any of Araujo's rapists served was six and a half years in prison.


  • "The Herald News"; Symposium to Focus on Big Dan's Case; Jay Pateakos; May 2009

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