Opinion: Violence & harassment against women respects no barriers
Free Press Opinion Columnist
The last event on my calendar in 2014 was a rape-sentencing hearing scheduled just three days before Christmas and three days after the birthday of one of the defendant’s victims.
Although this was the first rape hearing in which I’d ever participated, court dates for friends and associates who had experienced gender violence or sexual harassment were scattered throughout my calendar in 2014. Ranging from 3 to 64 years of age, the survivors of the crimes proved that violence against women respects no barriers. It’s a part of all racial, religious, and economic backgrounds.
Contrary to assumptions about violent crimes, strangers were not involved in any of these cases. The women and girls were all raped, beaten, threatened or harassed by men in positions of trust, including spouses, boyfriends, teachers, and parental figures.
The lives of these women and girls were turned upside down through no fault of their own. Their experiences were embarrassing and terrifying. Each coped the best they could, some by fighting for justice and others by just trying to forget.
On Dec. 22, a handful of concerned Mesa County citizens attended Ronald Baker’s sentencing hearing. Accused of allegedly beating and brutally raping multiple women, Baker avoided a trial by pleading guilty to sexual assault of a toddler and attempting to sexually assault an adult.
A prison sentence was not an option, and sentencing would include probation and a few years in community corrections. Community members were worried that he would soon be free to hurt someone else. They provided compelling victim-impact statements, and one survivor stepped forward to tell her story directly to the court. Her hands shook and her voice cracked a few times as she stood at the podium, but she spoke for all survivors of violent crime. She told about how she flinches when her boyfriend offers her a high five and how she can’t really trust anyone anymore.
This survivor bravely reminded us all that “No means no” no matter what, and that “it still means no, even if I’ve had a relationship with that person.”
Baker was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years probation and five years in community corrections with the possibility of life in prison for any infractions. Thanks to the persistence of the survivors of his crimes, women and children are safe from him.
Prior to Baker’s sentencing hearing, I had last visited District Judge Thomas Deister’s courtroom for the June sentencing of Randy Majors, a Fruita teacher who made national news for requesting topless photos of several students he’d befriended.
Several of the girls Majors harassed shared their victim-impact statements to help put him in jail and to insure he would never be around children again. The names of the girls were supposed to remain confidential, but were quickly revealed through the avenues of high-school gossip. The girls were scorned and blamed for the demise of a beloved teacher.
With one in three women experiencing gender violence, it’s impossible for law enforcement and the courts to deal with it all. Certainly no one should be judged if letting it go works best for them.
There is one such story which didn’t make it onto my 2014 calendar. Just before finals this fall, an 18-year-old friend shared text messages she’d received from a professor with offers of extra credit in exchange for sexual favors.
The betrayal of a someone she had trusted as a friend was devastating. At this point, though, the only solution she sees is to let it go because she doesn’t want to end up like “my friends who reported Mr. Majors.”
Ironically, there’s been a lot of good in all of this. I saw the courts respecting victims and taking gender violence seriously. I witnessed survivors coming together and realizing they are not alone. Most importantly, I experienced the strength of women, and that gives me reason for hope.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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