Intentionally humiliated by men forcing alcohol down her throat against her will before a man by the name of David Ross managed to drag her away and rape her. She was underage and publically a teetotaler. Douglas had trusted MGM for honest work as an extra for a film and instead she had been tossed into a pit of snakes.
In the chaos of the aftermath, Douglas had been brought to a hospital for a medical exam, that had been arranged by MGM, that claimed that no intercourse could be proven. No follow up police report was ever filled out, which allowed Ross to slip back into his life comfortably and left Douglas with no support.
Most women would have vanished quietly. Some might have sought out money from the guilty party in exchange for their silence, but instead of remaining passive, she led a charge for justice.
Her career was wrecked with this crusade. Publically proclaiming her rape at the hands of Ross, Douglas suffered the humiliation of being forced into the same room with the man and also from the attempts of a smear campaign against her. Detectives, hired by MGM, failed to pinpoint any loose behaviour from her character, as she was an underage girl who publicly identified as a teetotaler. They found limited ammunition to use against her.
Despite their limits, the case did wither and collapse in court before it was dismissed. Douglas swiftly followed up with a lawsuit that was aimed at the men who arranged the party and for women to be hired under false premises. This was eventually dismissed as well, but Douglas was not a woman to roll over and accept defeat.
By connecting her assault to a violation of her civil rights, she managed to make her case a federal one. This was the first time any woman took rape to a federal level, which paved the way for future assaulted women. Douglas was fighting for visibility and justice, and she is the reason why the #metoo movement has managed to flourish in the past year. Without her first voice, the hashtag would have been caught in limbo.
This was the unfortunate final end, though, to her public campaign for her rights. With a dismissal at the federal level, she was left stagnant and without options. Her career had suffered from collateral damage because of this public crusade, but it had also become meaningless to her. Douglas accepted the stigma that was to drown her social standing and run her out of the Hollywood movie industry.
Why had Douglas failed constantly in her legal battles? It was an uphill battle against MGM, who refuted evidence and tried to undermine her by buying false witnesses. They refused to attend court and leave her standing alone, underrepresented and faltering beneath the pressure from the outside world. Their arrangements with the hospital after her rape saw that the medical exam was botched, and they failed to contact the police. Douglas was fighting against a powerhouse from the very beginning of her journey, and the odds were very much not in her favour. MGM had been intent on dismantling any evidence.
It wasn’t just the men at MGM that failed Douglas, but also journalism. Her public demand for justice made headlines nationwide, thrusting her into the spotlight. However, the word “rape” was censored in print, and other words would be used in its place, such as “ravished”. Very few headlines would feature the word “assault”. Her identity was completely exposed in these articles, as even her home address was included in the text. No one was protecting Douglas.
MGM was responsible for many great hits that make up such a huge part of pop culture. Fantastic movie classics, however, cannot compare to their efforts to demolish Douglas. She suffered from not only from the rape, but the aftermath as the film studio attempted to figuratively murder her. By promoting unsavoury lies about Douglas’s character, and purposely preventing the case from gaining any traction by refusing to cooperate, they are entirely responsible for this woman’s overnight vanishing act.
“We had her killed,” the studio’s general manager allegedly said decades later, in regards to whatever happened to Douglas. She lived, stubbornly, for decades in isolation after the desperate bribing of witnesses, dismantling of any support she could have found, and the failure of the justice system.
When headlines swivel to Harvey Weinstein and other men of his kind, attention should be focused on the long line of transgressions that have brought us to this era. MGM taught us that not only do men have the ability to put women in dangerous situations, but certainly in this case they believed that they had the right to ridicule them in the aftermath. This is the generation that allows the use of lace panties as proof in a courtroom to deny rape, but it is also the generation that is finally letting victims reach out and support one another. We can thank Douglas for our ability to come forward and join hands.