WINCHESTER — Incriminating phone recordings and emails gave authorities probable cause to charge a 76-year-old Temple, Texas, man over rape accusations dating back to 1975, police said Friday.
Prompted by relatives, the now 53-year-old daughter of Venkata Yeleti contacted police on Sept. 14, according to police spokeswoman Lt. Amanda Behan. The woman, who now lives in Manhattan, Kan., said the rapes occurred from 1975-77 while she and her father were living in Winchester.
Behan said police lacked forensic evidence given the passage of time, but the woman provided investigator Sgt. Adam Orndorff with recordings of calls between her and her father. Behan said the father admits to raping his daughter in the calls, which were recorded eight to 10 years ago. The woman also provided police with incriminating emails, according to Behan.
For prosecutors to pursue a rape case involving accusations from 43 years ago is extremely rare. Marc Abrams, who has been Winchester commonwealth’s attorney since 2015 and has worked as a prosecutor for the office since 1988, said it’s the longest he can recall. There is no statute of limitations on rape in Virginia. Abrams said Yelati, who was arrested this week by the Temple Police Department, could be arraigned in Winchester next week if he waives an extradition hearing.
Rape prosecutions are limited because many victims don’t contact police. Just 35 percent of the approximately 300,000 annual rapes nationally are reported, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Leslie Hardesty, sexual assault program coordinator for the Laurel Center in Winchester, which assists survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, said she wasn’t involved in the Yeleti case. But, she said, there are many reasons why victims don’t speak up or wait years before coming forward.
Hardesty, who has worked two stints at the center and has been its sexual assault coordinator since 2011, has counseled hundreds of domestic violence and sexual assault victims, some of whom were victimized as children. She said child victims are often afraid to come forward fearing they won’t be believed, will be punished, or that a prosecution will break up their family. In about 34 percent of cases, the rapist is a relative, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“They feel guilt and shame and feel to blame and if they disclose their abuse it can destroy the family unit and that’s a pretty scary thought for a child,” Hardesty said. “They feel they won’t have a family anymore and be made to move somewhere else.”
Hardesty said some children don’t even understand they’ve been molested or block out memories of the assaults to cope with the trauma. Hardesty said she’s hopeful that the Yeleti case will encourage more victims to come forward even if they don’t want their victimizers prosecuted.
“Any time a survivor has the courage to talk about what’s happened to them it encourages other survivors to know they’re not alone, that there’s help out there,” she said. “Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of stigma around sexual violence in general. So the more comfortable we as a society become talking about it, the more help survivors can have access too.”