Sexual Abuse

Women embrace Oct. 18 after speaking about the experience of reporting sexual assaults during the public comment period at a Casper City Council meeting.

File, Star-Tribune

A recent high-profile sexual assault case in Casper has highlighted the need for education and a change in culture.

Too often, people who report having been raped are demonized. They are called liars. Their integrity is questioned. They seek help from the legal system as they’re supposed to do – but when the public finds out, the pain only increases.

Comments online blame these people for what they’ve gone through. They say they were asking for it, or that they’ve fabricated a story to hurt someone else. They say the alleged perpetrator would never do a thing like that, so the person reporting it must be lying. Maybe, they say, the investigation wasn’t done fairly.

“Those statements stick,” Tamara Macnaughton, who reported her sexual assault years ago, told the Star-Tribune recently. “People don’t realize the impact those comments make.”

If that’s the kind of treatment people who report sex crimes can expect, it’s easy to see why many victims never seek help at all.

But that’s counterproductive – and frightening. We need people to tell authorities about these crimes. We need the people who have committed them brought to justice.

Otherwise, what kind of a community are we?

Casper should strive to be a place where allegations like these are fully investigated, perpetrators are punished and would-be criminals are deterred.

At the same time, people accused of crimes have the right to an unbiased investigation and the wrongly accused deserve to have their names cleared. That’s how an effective system works.

But justice can’t be dealt out if assaults aren’t reported in the first place. Members of our community should feel free to report sex crimes to authorities. And damaging dialogue does nothing to encourage that.

The insults don’t hurt just the person who has told authorities about a sex crime. They have a ripple effect across our community – opening old wounds and affecting other survivors deeply.

That is what happened in this most recent case. When a prominent Casper developer was accused of sexually assaulting a woman, the ugly comments arrived quickly. News reports on the case were peppered with comments who blamed the woman or her friends.

That outlook deeply affected members of our community, many of whom are too familiar with that process.

Macnaughton says it brings up difficult memories for her and for others. She is working with people who have had similar experiences to improve local resources for sexual assault victims.

They had been making small strides and plan to continue their efforts, but the negative remarks surrounding this recent case have been traumatic and made that important work harder.

To be a safe community, we must be a compassionate one – willing to listen and withhold judgment of people who are navigating some of the most difficult experiences they will ever have. Remember the power of your words and attitude, and act accordingly.

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