Sexual assault perpetrators always have a past. Family members have an inkling that something isn’t right, or have made excuses for why the “questionable incident” happened. And if not family members, close friends that hear statements that are not appropriate when compared to rational thought. There are schools, colleges, and employers that receive reports of “an incident” and their solution is to encourage the perpetrator to relocate, satisfied that he/she has essentially become someone else’s problem.
A recent case of a young woman’s disappearance highlights this lack of accountability for future crimes
Hannah Graham, is a student at the University of Virginia, and her last known whereabouts were recorded by area surveillance cameras which show her in the company of Jesse Matthew. He is the person who has been charged with the abduction according to the Huffington Post article (on September 24, 2014). Officials believe Matthew was the last person seen with the teen before she vanished.
In a Huffington Post article that describes Jesse Matthew’s past with assault charges and explosive rage, a family friend, Rod Brown, says Matthew [sic] was a “cool individual” around other guys, but a bit too “touchy-feely” with the ladies.
“He doesn’t mean to be creepy; he’s just a little off, just a little awkward, if he gets around women, I’ve never seen it NOT be awkward” according to Brown as written in the Huffington Post article.
Jesse Matthew has two other sexual assault allegations since 2002. According to a CNN article, a woman reported she was raped on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg on October 17, 2002. Matthew was a student at the evangelical Christian college for three years and played on the football team.
However, no charges were filed because the woman didn’t want to go forward with the case, and investigators determined there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest Matthew. Matthew told authorities that the woman consented. There were no witnesses.
Another allegation is cited in the same CNN article that a “criminal incident information” report was released by Christopher Newport University citing sexual assault allegations against Jesse Matthew in September 2003. He quit the school’s football team after the allegations and then left the school.
Hannah isn’t the only young woman to go missing in the last decade in the area. DNA evidence has linked suspect Matthew to the death of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student, who disappeared in 2009. Her remains were found on a farm months later. She was 20 years old at the time of her death.
In 2010, Harrington’s case was connected to a kidnapping and sexual assault of another woman in Fairfax, Virginia in 2005. That woman survived her ordeal and provided information to have a police sketch made of the perpetrator.
Three other women and one man have also disappeared (or have been murdered) in the area and investigators are looking at those cases for a possible connection to Jesse Matthew.
I believe there are more assaults associated with him – assaults that left his victims too afraid or too embarrassed to say anything to authorities. Or they knew nothing would be done to protect them.
Survivors of assault know there are other victims. They have experienced the less-than-reassuring investigations where there “were no other witnesses” or “it’s a case of ‘he said, she said’. Are you sure you want to pursue this when the chances are you won’t be able to win this?”
We’ve all heard the excuses for not taking up the assault victim’s fight. She was drinking, she was wearing … For example, the USA Today article written by Rick Hampson (which had me screaming mad) makes an innuendo of the victim’s clothing which can potentially mar people’s opinions about her sharing responsibility in causing the attack.
The inadvertent references of a victim’s clothing, demeanor, activities or even association with certain people may inhibit the search or interest in a case and are inexcusable by seasoned reporters, investigators or security officials.
In the 2002 report, the Liberty University says the victim did not want to pursue the case. Why would a young woman who had the fortitude to report a case, decide she did not want to pursue it?
‘There were no other witnesses’.
Really?! You mean that he didn’t assault her in the middle of the street in front of other people?!
Jesse Matthews assaulted other young women. And people knew about it. And yet, he was again in a place that afforded him many young victims to choose from.
He led the absolutely TYPICAL perpetrator’s life – avoiding prosecution, moving frequently between employers or schools – and sometimes physical locations – and are always in a position to select another victim.
Why? Because other people failed to act. Because perpetrators are “innocent until proven guilty”. Because instead of acting on behalf of a victim, they were more concerned with the reputation of their school. They were less than motivated to perform a lengthy investigation – especially since nothing would come of it with no other witnesses.
Victim’s always know a small detail that links their perpetrator to the assault. Always. Sometimes it takes time to talk about the incident before the detail is revealed, but they always know something. Investigators that are willing to validate a victim’s claim, willing to listen and support her in trusting the authorities will eventually ferret the small details out.
Would a detail of the assault prove it wasn’t consensual? No. But it will go a long way to help victim’s heal and strengthen the case which could perhaps dissuade the employment or involvement in another location that affords the perpetrator the same opportunities.
Do victim’s not deserve the same kind of reverence for the truth as the accused? Innocent until proven guilty. How about we come up with a new mantra of “victim’s are telling the truth, until otherwise proven not to be”?
Instead of telling victims that they are lying, how about taking that stance with perpetrators?
Wait, you can’t do that, right? The accused have rights!
So do victims, we just haven’t made their rights a priority. Nor have we made potential victim’s safety a priority. Jesse Matthews worked at UVA as a medical tech AFTER being accused of sexual assault at TWO other schools.
How is that possible? Because no one acted on behalf of the victims.
On the other side of this, is the shameful accusations of assault that aren’t true which could have lasting impact on an innocent person. There’s no easy answer when there are people willing to make false statements. We have sexual predator mandatory registration (Megan’s Law) which is not free from flaws – people who have to register for the rest of their life because of murky circumstances. Or they were wrongly convicted.
These are unfortunate circumstances and part of the “better for all than for one” mentality.
Had victims I know been aggressively protected and believed, would they have done something different? Had they not been portrayed as “asking for it”, “causing it”, “been leading them on”, or portrayed as liars, would it have changed their stance in reporting and pursuing charges? I think it may have.
I believe with all of my being that the way victims are treated are the reasons perpetrators go unpunished and are allowed in places of our society they should never be, like Jesse Matthews at UVA.
Don’t agree? Think about accused Catholic Priests and Boy Scout Leaders just to name a couple of organizations from recent scandals.
Edit: On October 18, 2014 Hannah Graham’s remains were found. Graham’s remains were found about five miles from the location where Harrington’s remains were discovered. Jesse Mathews later pleaded guilty in both Morgan Harrington and Hannah Graham’s murder. Read more about the case on Wikipedia here.