In recognition of April being sexual assault awareness month, Washington County Community College hosted a panel of speakers for a Lunch and Learn workshop on the topic. Among the speakers were John Peterson, Sergeant with the Indian Township Police Department, and Jessica Lanphere, Community Educator for sexual assault under AMHC.
“Sexual assault is something we deal with way too commonly and frequently,” said Peterson, who has been with law enforcement for fourteen years. Peterson said that while it has progressively gotten better in terms of prosecuting, he has “never felt that justice has been done. The victim is serving a life sentence.”
Peterson emphasized that whenever consent is not given, sexual contact is a crime. The law used to require an assault to prosecute, but the law now recognizes that victims can be forced by compulsion, threats, drugs or alcohol, or through the use of authority. While this makes it better in terms of prosecution, Peterson expressed that offenders are rarely given strong sentences.
To illustrate his point, Peterson discussed a man in Bangor that has committed approximately half a dozen sexual assaults against one woman. When he was finally charged for a second offense, he received three days in jail and a small fine. The same day in court, a man was charged with poaching a moose, and he received six months.
“It takes everybody to change things. It takes constant pressure on law makers… People need to get involved, help each other out. If we just keep our heads down, we won’t change things.”
Lanphere works to encourage prevention of sexual assaults by educating children of various ages by coming to their schools, something she is always willing to do. For those who have experienced an assault, there is a 24/7 hotline for intervention where one of three people will answer and can talk about whatever pressing concerns the caller has, from a recent assault to a nightmare they wake up from. Additionally, Lanphere and her colleagues will accompany a victim to the hospital or to the police department or wherever they are in need of support.
For those who have experience an assault, a forensic examination can be conducted up to 7 days after the incident, although the sooner it is done, the better. Lanphere advised that it is up to the victim whether they want to label their completed kit with their name or not – if they do, the kit is free of charge and it will be submitted to law enforcement. If they choose to keep it anonymous, there is a fee, but the victim can keep the kit until they are ready to turn it in.
Lanphere briefly discussed victim’s compensation, which can cover the down payment for an apartment if a victim needs to move, or help to pay for a home security system, mental health counseling, or substance abuse counseling. The victim does not have to file charges nor does the offender have to be named, but the incident does need to be reported to law enforcement.
As part of the college’s ongoing commitment to keep its students safe, WCCC President Joe Cassidy was the first to sign a formal pledge to end sexual assault by not engaging in victim blaming or associated jokes, speaking up if he hears or sees anything appropriate, and respecting all members of his community regardless of their differences. Dozens of students and faculty members followed suit.