Allegations of sexual assault are never easy to read about. They
are even more difficult when the alleged incident involves a minor
and a teacher in our community. Not knowing either of the people
involved or specifics of the incident, I am not qualified to
respond to this case and that is not my intent.
Allegations of sexual assault are never easy to read about. They are even more difficult when the alleged incident involves a minor and a teacher in our community. Not knowing either of the people involved or specifics of the incident, I am not qualified to respond to this case and that is not my intent.
However, there are many incidents we do know about because, for the past 24 years, Community Solutions has provided a 24-hour crisis line and support services for sexual assault survivors and their friends and family. When a group of community volunteers started the service in 1981, many people told them they were wasting their time – sexual assault wasn’t a problem in our community. Thankfully, they didn’t listen, because as uncomfortable as it makes us, it is a problem here in South County.
Each year, we serve more than 200 women, men and children who have been victims of sexual assault. Each person’s experience is different – but equally horrible. Yet there is one striking similarity – most of them called a stranger on a hot line because they were afraid to tell those closest to them; afraid they wouldn’t be believed.
In many cases, they were right.
Much has changed since the days when rape victims, rather than the alleged rapists, had to prove their innocence in a court of law. How were they dressed? What were they doing? What was their sexual history? Did they enjoy it? The presumption being, they asked for it.
Yet the remnants of those myths and stereotypes still contaminate our social consciousness and forces survivors into silence.
Often the benefit of the doubt is given to the perpetrator more easily than to the victim. The Kobe Bryant case was a highly visible example. People immediately jumped to the conclusion that, because he is a talented basketball player, rich and famous, he couldn’t be guilty of rape. People who didn’t know him personally seemed equally committed to his innocence as those who did know him. While he was being wrapped in a blanket of self-righteous innocence, his accuser was “outed” on the Internet, received death threats, went into hiding and, eventually dropped the charges. Surely, her life will never be the same. Although his life was no doubt impacted, his fame and popularity have scarcely missed a beat.
I don’t know Mr. Patterson and would never presume his guilt or innocence. But what I do know, from our 24 years of experience with our Rape Crisis Center, and confirmed by the FBI and Department of Justice, is that people are mostly assaulted by someone they know.
Usually, it is someone in a position of power and/or trust. A teacher. A pastor. A coach. A family member. A friendly neighbor. It’s hard to believe that “nice” people would do something like that. But, if they weren’t so nice, they wouldn’t be able to draw their victims close.
I don’t know what will happen with the recent case in our community. I do know that, regardless of guilt or innocence, neither family will be quite the same. I also know that, until the social outcry in support of victims equals that of alleged offenders, many sexual assault survivors will choose to suffer in silence. It is a silence that we cannot afford.
Erin O’Brien, President and CEO,