Expert for prosecution testifies in Rockford man's trial in rape case

Corina Curry

A Galena-based expert testified Monday that the young women claiming they were raped by a 22-year-old Rockford man exhibited symptoms of rape trauma syndrome.

The three women failed to report the incident right away, kept in contact with their man and reportedly acted like it didn’t happen out of fear and confusion, Cathy McDermott, of the Riverview Center of Galena, said.

Dan Cain, attorney for 22-year-old Ryan Gaertner, however, questioned the symptoms as inconsistent and open to interpretation.

“It can be a prompt complaint or delayed,” he said. “The victim can say they cried for days. ... They can say they didn’t cry at all.”

“People respond very differently sometimes,” McDermott, a witness for Winnebago County State’s Attorney Geannette Wittendorf, testified. “If they’re repressing, they could be smiling, acting like nothing is going on.”

Still, the three young women in the Ryan Gaertner case, all of whom testified last week, exhibited symptoms of rape trauma syndrome in their statements to police and in diary excerpts, McDermott said.

Gaertner faces charges of criminal sexual assault stemming from allegations that first surfaced in 2003. Two of the women accusing him say Gaertner forced them to have sex with him in 2002 while they were 15-year-old students at Rockford Christian High School. The other woman, who was 19 at the time, knew the defendant through Temple Baptist Church.

“The symptoms they exhibit are typical of other people that I have had experience with and in the literature,” McDermott said. “The shock, the disbelief, the intense fear, not telling right away and not knowing what to do.”

She also testified that the women’s lack of sexual experience could play a role in their reactions.

“Their inexperience lends itself to less awareness and not seeing signs that something is becoming more dangerous, knowing what happened and how to react,” she said. “If it’s someone they’ve known, the star of the football team, there’s a feeling (that) ‘No one will believe me anyway.”

The state’s case against Gaertner continues Tuesday in room 467 of the Winnebago County Courthouse.

Staff writer Corina Curry can be reached at 815-987-1395 or