Most people who visit The Spring consider the domestic violence shelter a safe haven, providing an escape from an abusive relationship.
But one man who sought refuge at the shelter says he was victimized at the very place where he thought he was protected. He says a female resident of The Spring raped him in his room.
Authorities agreed, and on Sunday they arrested an 18-year-old woman and charged her with raping the 35-year-old man as he slept early Saturday.
Jennifer Lee Patnaude, who had been staying at The Spring for several weeks, was charged with sexual battery with slight force. She was being held Tuesday night in the Hillsborough County Jail on $25,000 bail.
Patnaude, who admits having sex with the man earlier in the month but said it was consensual, denies the allegations.
"This is ridiculous, and God is going to punish him for it," Patnaude said in an interview Tuesday from jail. "I did not do it. Nothing happened whatsoever."
The man, who remained at the shelter Tuesday with his three children, declined to talk to a reporter.
Rape accusations against a woman are rare, Tampa police Detective Jerry Herren said. In 13 years as a sex crimes detective, he said he has seen only one other case. The charges in that case were dropped after the man decided not to cooperate.
"This is something that comes along once in a great while," Herren said. "We have to convince seven people (on a jury) that this happened and it's a tough job."
Officials at The Spring were astonished by the accusations. Since it opened in October 1977, the shelter has never had a problem with crime, said Mabel Bexley, executive director. About 1,600 women and children, along with about a half dozen men, seek help from The Spring each year.
"I feel saddened for The Spring," Bexley said. "It detracts from what we are really doing here. This is a place where thousands of children a year learn peace. This diverts attention from the real work."
Authorities say the man, who came to The Spring from New York, reported the incident to a male counselor at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Herren said. The counselor called police.
The man told police he awoke in his room at the shelter about 12:30 a.m. Saturday to find Patnaude on top of him having intercourse, Herren said. The man said he pushed her off and she left.
Officials at The Spring said the man's children were in the room when the alleged attack took place. They would not reveal the children's ages or whether they talked to police.
During his interview, the man also told police he awoke from a nap one afternoon last week to find Patnaude performing oral sex on him. He told the woman to leave and did not report the incident to shelter officials at the time.
Police took the man to the Hillsborough County Crisis Center late Saturday where he was examined and counseled by a nurse. The examination showed some evidence of sexual activity, Herren said, but that alone would not conclusively determine whether he had sexual contact with Patnaude. Herren said authorities had not obtained a search warrant to recover bodily fluids from Patnaude.
After interviewing Patnaude, shelter residents and staff, authorities presented their evidence to the State Attorney's Office, and Patnaude was arrested and charged at 2 a.m. Sunday.
Police said the man is disabled and takes medication. The Spring confirmed the man takes prescribed medicine for back problems but would not identify the drug. The man walks with a cane.
Patnaude, who grew up in Tampa and went to Hillsborough High School, went to the shelter after her boyfriend was charged with beating her earlier this month, she said. Her mother has temporary custody of her 14-month-old son.
She met her accuser several weeks ago, and the two became friends, she said. The man told her his wife beat him, and he fled to Tampa. On two occasions, Patnaude and the man engaged in consensual sex, she said.
"I just got out of a bad relationship, and he seemed like a nice man," Patnaude said. "I was looking for that comfort and it just happened."
On the night she is accused of raping the man, Patnaude said she, the man and a group of other women at The Spring sat on a patio and listened to Boyz II Men. She went to bed just before 1 a.m. and never entered the man's room, which is across from hers, she said.
"I have been in his room, but not this weekend," Patnaude said. "I would never rape a man in the first place."
Shelter officials said they are going to rethink placing men and women in dormitories together. Men are now put in the same buildings with women, but have separate bathrooms.