It was 9 a.m. on a sunny May morning and Irene Gardner lay drowsy in her bed, wearing the white and blue muumuu she always slept in.

The doorbell rang. She rose automatically and plodded down the hall. As she opened the door, she recalls, she wasn't thinking about anything in particular. Certainly she wasn't angry or afraid. Before her stood a white-haired man she knew from work.She was as surprised as he was to hear herself screaming in horror and in hate, "Go away, go away, get the hell away from me!" She slammed the door and leaned against it. Her body folded, sank.

In her tidy frame house, in her quiet Ogden neighborhood, Gardner crouched on the floor and sobbed. At first she didn't know where the pain was coming from. She just gave in to hysteria.

She'd wondered before if she were going crazy. Now, she figured, she was. She identified the feeling first: She was afraid. Gardner lay curled and helpless before her fear. She was afraid because she felt her life meant nothing and someone could take it, probably would take it, slowly and cruelly.

Then her mind started showing her pictures from the past. "I had flashbacks for a couple of hours." Her fear was taking form. Still crying, Gardner began groping her way to the truth.

The knowledge had always been there waiting, she says. It came back in scenes, familiar slivers of her life that were too small to mean anything at first. That morning she relived not only the feeling of terror - but a dark room, a man's face and voice and, finally, his significance to her life.

-Irene Gardner had been raped. That crime twisted her life. For three years she tried to forget the whole thing, then eventually came to understand what happened to her and why she still has trouble trusting people, working with men, sleeping for an entire night.

She now understands the dynamics of the crime. But understanding rape hasn't taken Irene Gardner far enough - it hasn't given her back the life she had before. Nor has understanding taken us, as a society, far enough - according to rape survivors. Irene Gardner is typical in many ways of what's going right for rape victims and what more needs to be done.

-We are only starting to realize how deeply women are affected by rape. Every rape violates more than just a body, says Mary Ann Parker, rape program coordinator, YWCA of Northern Utah. "Every rape is an assault on the soul."

Until an unexpected visitor - who looked a little like her attacker - came to her door, Irene Gardner hadn't allowed herself to focus on the crime. She says, "That was my protection. I blocked it from my thoughts so I could live."

While her mind never acknowledged the violation, her body couldn't stop grieving over it.

"I got ulcers," she says. "I had headaches. I gained 40 pounds. I stopped going out dancing with friends after work." Eventually she stopped going anywhere she didn't have to. Because she had medical problems and because work was suddenly so difficult, she quit her job and went on welfare. Most days she didn't bother to shower or dress.

"Others could see a drastic change in me, but, not knowing about the rape, no one knew why," she says. "I myself never made the connection between what had happened and the way I was feeling.

"I had all the classic symptoms of depression. I thought my hormones were out of whack and I'd feel better after I got a hysterectomy." But after the operation, Gardner was no better.

Her sleep was filled with nightmares. She dreamed of earthquakes and floods, of being overpowered. She would wake with her feet twitching frantically - as if she were trying to run away.

When the man at the door made her see what she'd been trying to ignore, Gardner's depression deepened. "I knew what was wrong and I knew now I had to do something to get myself well. But everything seemed insurmountable and horrible. That's when I tried to commit suicide." In the hospital, afterward, Irene Gardner finally started to recover from being raped.

-"The rapist, the victim, the public - everyone has the same attitude. If you were raped you must have been doing something wrong," Gardner says.

"We think of rape as a sex act instead of an act of violence against someone vulnerable, which distorts our view of the crime," says Christine Watters, director of the Salt Lake Rape Crisis Center. "It's as if we try to see rape clearly, but we are looking at it through a dirty window."

What more needs to be done for rape victims? Watters says, "Our society has to take responsibility for understanding the pathology of a rapist.

"He picks the most vulnerable person. If she's a stranger she's chosen because she's alone or helpless in some other way. If he does know her, she's conned because she's trusting, or poor, or doesn't speak English, or is old, or young, or newly divorced, or afraid for her children, or mentally ill, or handicapped, or traveling in a strange city. . . . Everyone's vulnerable at some point. You can't be a brick wall for your whole life."

Gardner's crime was one of poor judgment.

She was raped because she needed a ride. Forty-two, divorced and the mother of two nearly grown children, Gardner worked for a transportation company. When she asked one of the drivers for a lift to California, a free trip to visit relatives, she only did what many other employees did.

She asked the wrong person. "The driver was a white-haired man in his 60s," she says. "I didn't know him very well. I had never so much as had a friendly cup of coffee with the guy before."

After driving all day, they stopped for the night in Elko. While she was asleep, the driver quietly broke into her room. She woke when he pinned her arms with his and forced her face down into the mattress with his head. "His knees dug into the backs of my knees," she says. "I couldn't defend myself. I couldn't struggle. I could only flex my feet up and down in fear."

That was six years ago. Three years later, after her suicide attempt, Gardner was done denying that abuse hurts. "I went to a counseling group for rape victims at the Ogden YWCA for about two years," she says. "And I'm better these days. I'm going to college. Just got off food stamps."

However, she hasn't been able to stop waking regularly at 3 a.m., the exact time of the attack, with her feet twitching and flexing.

Now she understands why. "It's a pantomime of that repugnant rape." Even understanding, she can't go back to sleep.

-Irene Gardner is typical because she was raped by someone she knew. Eighty percent of all rapes are acquaintance rapes.

She is also typical because she didn't report the crime to the police when it happened.

Estimates vary as to how many women do report. A widely cited FBI study from 1973 concluded that one out of two women who are raped report the crime to police; a 1988 study by the National Institute of Mental Health, done on college campuses, found that one-fourth of all women had been victims of rape or attempted rape and only 5 percent reported it to the police.

"I didn't report it because I wasn't threatened with a gun or a knife," says Gardner.

She'd allowed herself to get into a dangerous situation and hadn't been able to get away. She knew her attacker. That's why Gardner never even considered going to the police. "I'd been a legal secretary before. I knew how the system views the rape victim," she says. "You think, `If I talk about this I'll only bring more trouble down on myself.' "

-Gardner eventually went to a rape crisis center. This is a growing trend among rape victims - be they men, women or children.

Every year more people come to the Salt Lake Rape Crisis Center - 600 in 1981, 1,200 in 1986, 1,500 in 1987. The youngest victim they've ever helped was a 5-month-old boy; the oldest was a 94-year-old woman.

At the Northern Utah Rape YWCA, Gardner joined a support group of women of all ages in various stages of resolving their feelings.

"One woman in the group can now go two blocks from her home without vomiting," Gardner says, with a small smile. She gained strength from the other women. "We all have a lifetime of myths to overcome."

Christine Watters says studies show a woman's boyfriend or husband is the most crucial member of her support team. He is most often the person she considers when deciding whether or not to report the crime to the police. Watters says, "If he feels he's the victim, because his property was damaged, that's not too helpful. If he sees her as the crime victim, then he can help her."

Last year, Watters recalls, two rape victims came to the Salt Lake Rape Crisis Center at about the same time. One was able to count on her coworkers, her boyfriend and her parents to be understanding. They were, in fact, devastated right along with her.

The other woman's husband was angry. "He implied it was infidelity, not rape," Waters says.

"Now the first woman has regained her pre-rape equilibrium. She is stronger, even. But the other woman just kind of slid away. She never dealt with her feelings. Her life disintegrated. It's been a year and she's suffering from severe depression and hardly leaving her home."

The majority of rape victims in the state of Utah have access to a rape crisis center. In most counties, the hospital or police will automatically call a trained rape crisis volunteer to be with the victim, if she wants such support, while the doctors perform standard tests and evidence-gathering procedures, known as "Code R."

The Code R procedures (which streamline investigations and increase the likelihood of convictions, according to police), the presence of female rape crisis volunteers, the increased numbers of female police detectives - all these changes for rape victims have come about in the past 15 years.

Also in the past 15 years victim/witness programs have sprung up around the state, offering some guidance and support for women as they walk through the legal maze of criminal prosecution.

And finally, the state of Utah has a victim reparation program that has given money to about 150 adult rape victims over the past three years. A sizable minority of those, according to service specialist Judy Direnzo, were verified rape victims who had had their cases turned down by prosecutors.

-Eventually, Irene Gardner filed a civil suit against her attacker.

Though a civil suit can't send a rapist to jail, and in fact can only garner money for the victim if the man has money to give, civil suits are becoming increasingly popular for several reasons:

- The man can be forced to testify in a civil suit

- The burden of proof required for a conviction is somewhat less (rape may be proved by a "preponderance of evidence" rather than "beyond a reasonable doubt")

_And a decision in favor of the victim can be reached with a less than unanimous jury.

"In my complaint I said that he sexually assaulted me and also that he was negligent," Gardner explains. "He meant to do the act but he didn't realize the psychological harm he was going to cause me."

Gardner received $3,000, an amount that just covered her attorney's fees. She says she deserved more. "This assault cost me years of pain, my job, my sociable personality, my ability to trust in my own judgment. . . ." In addition the court records were sealed to protect her assailant's privacy and the agreement required her to never identify him in any way. (She says she disguised the details of the rape when speaking to the Deseret News about it.)

"He remains untouched, untarnished and undaunted," she says. Yet she is glad she had her day in court.

"I followed through. I took it as far as I could," Gardner says. "I'm not still being a victim."

-The lawsuit was one way for Gardner to confront her rapist. Increasingly, women are seeking confrontation.

It used to be that Gardner was unable to stand next to a white-haired man in the grocery store checkout line. Facing her attacker in the courtroom, "looking him unflinchingly in the eye," helped her get over her panic. "I wasn't prepared for the hate I felt when I saw him. But it helped. Now I just kind of startle when I see someone who looks like him."

Going to court is also helpful because, as Watters says, "It's helpful for society to say, `Yes, a great injustice has been done to you.' "

Bill Daines, Weber County deputy attorney, says, "I am always amazed at the therapeutic effect court has on the victim."

There are ways other than court to confront a man with his crime, make him feel the outrage of society, and allow a woman to close the case in her own mind.

In California, the Santa Cruz Women Against Rape center teaches women who want to, who feel strong enough, how to talk to their rapist and tell him exactly how he changed their lives.

The women surprise him in a place of their choosing, a place where they feel safe. They bring other people with them.

Jan, a spokesperson for the Santa Cruz center, says, "Women have been doing this for years on their own, without the support of a rape crisis center. We've heard from women all over the country who have done this; women in Utah are doing it.

"You see, there are men who don't think they really raped her. They say, `This is what I do on all my dates.' And then there are men who say, `Don't tell anyone or I'll come back.' Or `I'll kill you.' Or `I'll tell people you loved it.'

"When a woman confronts her rapist, especially if she takes a group along, she's exposing him. Making him feel vulnerable. Saying, `This really happened,' and `I'm not afraid of your threats.' Giving herself back some control.

"The issue is control."

-Finally, Irene Gardner, like so many women who have been raped, is a survivor.

"I don't even like the word `victim,' " says Julie Branch, at Victim/Witness Counseling. "It keeps people stuck, especially the woman's family."

"Yes, definitely I am a stronger person now," says Gardner. "I'm not acquiescent. I've learned I do have rights. So I guess you could say I am a survivor."

She has come to see her reaction to the rape as very normal and human _ and not at all crazy. The denial, the depression, the flashbacks, are all part of a syndrome called "post-traumatic stress syndrome," she explains. "Exactly what many Vietnam veterans experience." It's a syndrome that was officially defined by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980.

People need to be aware that what war veterans and raped women go through is practically identical, Gardner says. "It gives us some way to relate and understand about each other."

Other avenues of understanding are opening up. Though some Colorado men were booed by other men and called "gay" as they marched for "Men Against Violence" last spring, the same month saw a national speaker for "Men Against Rape" given a warm reception at the University of Utah.

Both of these men's organizations are saying that men suffer as much as women do from society's stereotypes - including the stereotype that men should be tough and take charge when they see a woman they want.

Gardner herself has become an advocate for social change because she is not afraid to write or talk about being raped. "Being silent is the worst thing you can do for yourself and for other victims," she says.

Like movie star Kelly McGillis (who has made a video about her rape), like Michael Dukakis' campaign manager Susan Estrich (who is also a Harvard law professor and begins each term by talking to her classes about the crime she experienced firsthand, even though she is plagued by obscene phone calls after such announcements), ordinary women all over the country are losing their shame and their guilt.

Irene Gardner is one such ordinary woman. She no longer thinks the crime was her fault, or that she somehow deserved what happened to her. Irene Gardner has come to believe the sign on the wall of her local rape crisis center:

"Poor judgment is not a rapeable offense."

*****

(additional information)

Volunteers needed

The Salt lake Rape Crisis Center is looking for volunteers to staff the 24-hour telephone line, work on the hospital intervention team, speak in elementary schools and do other service projects. Training will take place on Aug. 4, 5 and 6. Call 467-RAPE.