A 17-year-old rape victim lashed out Thursday at Rep. Lynn Woolsey, saying the congresswoman's plea for leniency for her attacker was a misuse of power, and her subsequent apology was politically motivated.
"I will never accept her apology," Tina Phan said. "She supports rapists and that's just the bottom line."
Stuart Pearson, the 20-year-old son of one of Woolsey's staffers and a one-time campaign volunteer, pleaded guilty to raping Phan in a Terra Linda apartment in July.
Before he was sentenced, Woolsey wrote a letter on Pearson's behalf to Marin County Superior Court Judge Terrence Boren.
Boren sentenced Pearson to eight years in prison, the maximum term for rape.
But the revelation of Woolsey's Dec.2 letter prompted a flood of criticism. Woolsey responded with a second letter apologizing to Phan. The letter was published in the Marin Independent Journal newspaper.
Phan said Woolsey's plea to Boren on official congressional stationery was an inappropriate effort to sway the judge.
And she called the apology a hollow gesture just weeks before the March 2 primary election. If Woolsey was sincere, Phan said, she would have made a personal apology.
"She never even made an effort to find out who I am," Phan said. "I just want people to know what kind of morals Lynn Woolsey has."
Efforts to contact Woolsey were unsuccessful. Calls to her Washington office were referred to her district office in Santa Rosa, which referred calls back to Washington.
Woolsey's spokeswoman, Susannah Cernojevich, finally pointed to the three-paragraph letter of apology and said her boss would say no more on the subject.
Phan, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who grew up in Fairfax and San Rafael, said she was raped July 19 in a Terra Linda apartment she shared with her boyfriend.
Phan said Stewart, a longtime acquaintance, asked to sleep on her couch after a night of partying. Early in the morning, she said, Stewart attacked her as she lay alone in her bed.
During the 20-minute ordeal, Phan said Stewart pressed a towel soaked with cleaning chemicals into her face in an effort to subdue her, leaving bruises on her mouth and face.
The teenager called police immediately after Stewart left. He was arrested several weeks later after briefly leaving the state, Phan said.
Phan agreed to be identified for this story.
Stewart pleaded guilty to rape Sept. 11 after prosecutors agreed to drop other charges, including assault and sodomy.
In her letter to the court, Woolsey said Stewart had a supportive family and asked Boren to consider his "promising life ahead of him."
Phan said she isn't interested in politics and isn't even certain what members of Congress do, but she said voters should "have the facts" before the March 2 primary.
Phan said she has never met Woolsey's opponent, Mill Valley communications consultant Renn Vara, who has said it was "terribly inappropriate" for Woolsey to use her office to try to benefit her employee's son in a criminal case.
Bobbi Turner, a coordinator with United Against Sexual Assault in Santa Rosa, said Woolsey may have lost some women support over the flap.
Turner said the apology seemed stilted and Phan had a right to reject it.
Another women's advocate said the controversy was overblown.
Marie DeSantis of the Women's Justice Center said it's typical for employers to write letters supporting the character of employees or family members in criminal cases. DeSantis said Woolsey didn't interfere with the verdict, and her newspaper apology should be sufficient.
Journalists are perpetuating the matter, she said.
"Lynn apologized and that should be it," DeSantis said. "It's being stirred beyond belief."
Brian Sobel, a Republican political consultant who served with Woolsey on the Petaluma City Council from 1988-1992, said the congresswoman had no dark motive in writing the letters and is too popular to feel a backlash from voters.
But Sobel said Woolsey's failure to contact Phan directly was a mistake. He blamed the slip on advisers.
"The episode has been mishandled," Sobel said. "But I know Lynn's heart and I'm sure she is incredibly chagrined about this."
Phan wasn't so sure.
That Woolsey has yet to contact her is insulting, Phan said.
"Why is she hiding?" Phan said.