Friday, May 08, 2009

Murder Case Highlights Why Minimizing Early Sexual Assaults Is Dangerous

Again I decided to put up another post before publishing the next part of my recap of the Stop it Before it Starts training (part 1, part 2, part 3 already posted) because this topic relates directly to the role minimization plays in blocking effective prevention.

From KVAL:

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — A judge heard testimony Monday from two women sexually assaulted 20 years apart by Joel Patrick Courtney, who is now charged with kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder in the 2004 disappearance of Brigham Young University student Brooke Wilberger. [...]

During Monday's hearing, a 27-year-old former University of New Mexico student said Courtney approached her on a sidewalk near her Albuquerque home in November 2004 and forced her at knifepoint into his car, the Eugene Register-Guard reported. [...]

In the other case, a 43-year-old Portland woman told the judge that Courtney, then a high school acquaintance, attacked her in her car as she drove him home from a gathering with mutual friends in December 1984.

She said he began touching her against her wishes, she pulled over because he was interfering with her driving, and he hit her after she resisted him. The woman said Courtney pulled her out of her car and pulled her pants down.

This second woman's testimony highlights the faulty assumptions many people make about sexual violence committed by high school or younger students against someone they know.

Many people talk about acquaintance rape and stranger rape using the premise that they are never committed by the same people and are therefore unrelated. This case is the latest example which disproves that premise. Courtney's violent intent wasn't minimized by the fact that the girl he attacked successfully deflected his attempted rape.

Since this girl agreed to drive him home there were likely people who refused to correctly blame him for his assault on her and who instead blamed the girl for sending the wrong message and who dismissed his violence as nothing more than a misunderstanding or innocent frustration over being led to believe that sex was forthcoming.

They might have even said, "boys will be boys," to explain Courtney's actions. From there it wouldn't take much to assume that charging him was an injustice which minimized "real" violence against girls and women. This transforms crime victims into agents of injustice which helps rapists hold their victims in disdain.

For these people the core problem would be girls who misconstrue innocent (acceptable) male advances as sexual assaults and the adults who support this allegedly anti-male attitude by agreeing that this was a sexual assault.

The truth is that if his 1984 attack was just "boys being boys" then his Nov. 2004 kidnapping and sexual assault was just "men being men." The only significant changes between the 2 sexual assaults was his methodology and his choice of victim. Both of these victims of Courtney escaped before his intended assault was completed under his control.

The prosecution believes that Brooke Willberger wasn't so fortunate. Her body has never been found.

Grabbing girl: acceptable. Grabbing girl with knife at her throat: unacceptable. Once people accept this dangerous premise then if otherwise identical rapes follow they would be viewed as completely different actions. The first becomes regretted sex and a false accusation if reported, the second is real rape.

Too often grabbing a girl sexually without her consent is dismissed as nothing more than inappropriate touching and is frequently described as normal boy behavior. But again this usage conflates common with acceptable. Bullying is common, but is not -- or should not -- be acceptable behavior. Adding sexual to bullying should not make that bullying more acceptable, but unfortunately many times that's exactly what it does.

When adults minimize this type of abusive sexual behavior they are supporting that behavior and other behaviors rooted in the same mindset which these people would never dare minimize.

In Lawrence, Kansas one junior high school has a higher number of reported sexual assaults than any other school in town and this is because the administrators take an active role in protecting students who are victims and in trying to intervene with youthful offenders so that they learn that their behavior is illegal as well as being wrong.

If a junior high student's first reported offense can become the last sexual offense ever -- reported or otherwise -- by deferring that offender's legal prosecution due to effective interventions and this coordinated effort makes the school a non-hostile environment I support this strategy.

The key is effectiveness. When people minimize, excuse or deny the harm that can be done by students of this age that works directly against this effectiveness.

The comments to this article are very telling. Pierce Harlan from False Rape Society reveals his disdain for the "subjective" trauma or even terror felt by girls grabbed and chased by boys. Mom of three rightfully calls him heartless.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:30 AM   0 comments links to this post


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