A Woman's Place ... Perpetrators of sexual assault must be held accountable

Editor's note: Today we introduce a new column by Janet Shook of Joseph, a freelance writer who has lived in Wallowa County for the past three years. Shook grew up in Corvallis, Ore., and Logan, Utah, where she graduated from high school in 1998. She later moved to Portland where she went to work for AmeriCorps before moving sight unseen to Wallowa County. She is currently employed by Safe Harbors as a sexual assault victim's advocate. Recently, she became a distance education student at Eastern Oregon University. Freelance writing is one of her favorite hobbies, as is Middle Eastern dance, which she practices locally with a troupe. In her column, Shook addresses primarily women's issues, although she also delves into current events and other topics.

I had a hard time finding a Chieftain the other day, not 10 hours after they hit the streets.

I saw a mail delivered copy on a friend's desk and was intrigued by the subtitle an article, "Landon Moore sexually abused 15 year old girl."

So I went out to pick up a copy.

I found it peculiar that the paper would be sold out so quickly until the attendant at the Chevron station told me that one person had gone around that morning and bought all the Chieftains. She was right; by mid-afternoon every Chieftain dispenser and store copy had been bought up. As the Chevron attendant put it, "Bad article or something they didn't want people to see."

Could it have been the very same article that I was out to find?

I can think of very little else that would be more humiliating than to have it publicly stated in your own small town that you were a sex offender. Except of course, being the victim of a sexual offense - I cannot think of anything more humiliating than that.

Something big was driving that individual to round up 1,000 Chieftains. Perhaps it was a friend or family member, to whom I would say, "Accountability is a necessary step in the recovery of a sexual offender."

Lack of compassion and empathy for a victim is part of a perpetrator profile. Perhaps the humiliation of public recognition as a sex offender will help Landon understand something of what the young girl felt when she realized he had taken advantage of her.

A situation such as this, with what we can extract from the article, may have involved two consenting individuals. However, sexual actions are always sexual abuse when there is a power imbalance betwen the individuals. The imbalance in power between a 15-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man should be apparent, and I am grateful that the law recognizes this. When you start thinking of power imbalances and vulnerability as the key to sexual assault, things like sexual abuse of children, the elderly and of the disabled make a lot more sense. Their level of vulnerability and credibility is much lower than that of an able-bodied adult. For that matter we could just include white, employed, male, drug/alcohol free, and upper class into the realm of more credible, but unfortunately not into the category of those who don't offend. The twist people put on sexual abuse scenarios is to blame the victim, as if poverty, youth, gender, drug use, and other factors made one responsible for another's crimes against them.

In reality, sexual ofenders look for the more vulnerable victims. Imagine the position of a man who is sexually assaulted and the humiliation he would experience when trying to tell someone about it. We all create that feeling when we use victim blaming, and we have all used victim blaming at some point to make ourselves feel safer, as if the victim asked to be assaulted.

Every one of us has been in precarious situations. In fact, we are in precarious situaations every day. At what point do we decide, "I am here in the bathroom at the bar ... I am going on a date ... I am going to be come an alter boy ... I am a little girl ... I must want to be raped."

As humiliating as the newspaper article may be for Landon and the family, it is important that people know there are consequences for sexual assaults. We may never know how frequently these crimes happen, although the FBI estimates one in three girls and one in five boys will be assaulted before they are 18. Very few people are able to do what that little girl and her family did. I hope that the young girl is getting support throughout and beyond this experience.

Sexual assault is a symptom of an overly sexualized, objectified, violent, patriarchal culture. Beyond that, it is a personal choice to use and humiliate someone else for sexual domination or sadistic gratification. Let's hold each other accountable for actions like this and watch out for each other. Teaching Internet safety is a good thing, but why not teach men to respect women, or teach people to respect each other in general. Trite? Well give me an example of how it is done and I will show you a way in which it is undone. Help each other learn to gain power internally from achievement and self respect versus taking it away from others through violence.

As for Landon Moore and his family - you cannot blame me, the newspaper, the courts, the young girl, her mother, or the Internet. The consequences are the result of nothing but Landon's own choice to break the law and code of decent human conduct.

May we all keep our sexual relations to ones with coherent, consenting, adults.

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