Editorial: Dangerous Trails in El Dorado County Need Leaders Immediate Attention
“Friend of mine was raped last night at the bike trail (east side) I guess there were (two) guys present... I Can't get her to talk about it or report it. What should I do?... These piece of sh** "men" are still out there”
This was the message posted to the El Dorado County Watch page about 15 hours after the attack. This brought hundreds of comments of support and suggestions for help.
Soon this young lady had come the see the comments over her friends back. Later another post was made.
“Update on my friend that got raped last night... Got her to talk about what happen... Was around 10 pm last night walking on the trail 2 guys in the there 20's medium built one with short hair and one with longer hair. Followed her for awhile then one grabbed her and held her down while the other one had his way with her... Sick ass holes”
This brought a new explosion of hundreds of new comments of support, understanding, and several people revealing that they too were victims of similar crimes to offer support and to let her know that she was not alone in what she was experiencing. Although many well-intending commenters wanted to talk about actions that may have made her safer or put her at risk, but the moderators and community members were quick to pull those comments and then to private message the comments about why it was pulled. The PM explainied that now is time to give unconditional support and to save the more detached analysis until she had more time to begin dealing with her shattered confidence.
Several hundred comments of concern and support and her friend came on to say, “She is doing better.”
Comments like this:
“very glad to hear she is doing better. It sounds like your friend trusts you since she felt safe enough to talk to you about it. You are doing the right things. Encourage her to talk...even to you...even if it's only you....talking about it starts that process of being a survivor instead of a victim. Keep up the good work. You sound like a great and caring friend! Blessings and peace to you!”
Those who posted were comparable to the spontaneous movements Take Back the Night and Slut Walk —two organized campaigns that have aimed to create safe environments for rape victims to share their stories, debunk the notion of victim blaming and restore safety to campuses and neighborhoods. The popularity of such projects proves that large groups of victims speaking out can bolster other survivors’ confidence. But unlike past movements, this one took place on social media, which can be simultaneously both anonymous and extremely public.
I remember someone was posting that she should not have been alone on the trail at that time of night. That was really hard for even me to read, and I’m pretty far along in my healing process. Despite such comments, which were quickly removed by a small team of dedicated moderators, some commenters who had never shared before decided to participate on this day. That was huge. For a lot of people, they’re taking back whatever had been taken from them. They’re claiming it and giving the story a different kind of power.
I was one of the first-time sharers that found safety in numbers. I hadn’t shared my story before except with my wife. When I think about it, it kind of made me feel like a little less than a man—just the fact that it happened. But seeing others share their story and the ease of commenting allowed me to post. I don’t think I intended to go that deep. I almost deleted it because I didn’t know if I wanted this out there. But as people began to respond I changed my mind. I wanted to put it out there to say, ‘It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It doesn’t even matter your strength or sex. It could happen to anybody.’
The conversation was a healing process for many of those who participated. The majority of responses were of love and support from strangers. The experience made many want to become involved in advocacy for better security, lighting, and warning/curfew signage for the trail. Someone noted that most area parks have nightime curfews for safety reasons, but the trail does not.
All of this was happening against a backdrop of a prior reports of rape on the same section of trail. Additionally, a developmentally challenged man was the apparent victim of a dangerous new game called ‘knock out’ where the thug hits the unsuspecting victim in the back of the head to knock them out with one blow.
This crime was reported, but rape is a different kind of crime. Julie Sena Hoffman of the Center wrote in that there have been 18 sexual assault related arrests since January 1, 2014. Six of those are for the sexual assault of a child under 14! Even many of the Watch members who have an enhanced understanding of local crime, were shocked by those numbers.
Rape Still Mostly Unreported
Despite progress made by women's groups to encourage women to report rape, it continues to go unreported. Both of the rapes reported on the Watch page went unreported to the police by the victim.
The crime portion is reported. The ladies can choose to make an official report that it happened to 'them' if they feel they can cope with it, but thats their business and their choice. But the mere fact that this crime was committed has been reported.
According to the American Medical Association, sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime. The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that they fear reprisal from the assailant. A 2007 British government report says "Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police." Although reporting has increased over the past decade, only 30% of attempted rapes and completed rapes are reported to the police according to the National Institute of Justice.
Factoring unreported rapes together with the odds of an arrest being made and the chances of getting a felony conviction, only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.
In other words: 15 of 16 rapists walk free!
The effects and aftermath of rape can include both physical trauma and psychological trauma. However, physical force is not necessarily used in rape, and physical injuries are not always a consequence. For rape victims, the more common consequences of sexual violence are those related to reproductive health, mental health, and social well being.
Although the process of a “rape kit” and a health related physical is an unfortunate extension of the assault and and humiliation, it is critical to preserve evidence and to ensure that any health issues are addressed in a timely manner.
The Psychological impacts are no less traumatic and far more long lasting.
Self-blame is among the most common of both short- and long-term effects and functions as an avoidance coping skill that inhibits the healing process and can often be remedied by a cognitive therapy technique known as cognitive restructuring. Victims who experience behavioral self-blame feel that they should have done something differently, and therefore feel at fault. Victims who experience characterological self-blame feel there is something inherently wrong with them which has caused them to deserve to be assaulted.
Most victims cannot be reassured enough that what happened to them is "not their fault." This helps them fight through shame and feel safe, secure, and grieve in a healthy way. In most cases, a length of time, and often therapy, are necessary to allow the victim and people close to the victim to process and heal.
A leading researcher on the psychological causes and effects of shame, June Tangney, lists five ways shame can be destructive: lack of motivation to seek care; lack of empathy; cutting themselves off from other people; anger; aggression. The experience of being raped can lead to suicidal behavior as early as adolescence.
Many comments were made on the Facebook Watch website that offended many others, and were removed by the moderators. Most of these were well intended, but showed the misunderstanding of the crime and motivations behind violent sexual assault. The best way to confront a rape myth when you hear one is honestly. And to do that, you have to know the facts.
Myth: Rape and sexual assault are about sexual attraction and gratification.
Fact: Rape and sexual assault are all about control and domination.
Myth: A healthy person can resist being raped or sexually assaulted.
Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of every 6 adult women has been a victim of rape, and approximately 92,700 men are raped in the U.S. each year. Healthy and strong people are raped every day. Rape victims are doctors, lawyers, nurses, military personnel, cooks, accountants, students—anyone and everyone could be vulnerable to rape or sexual assault.
Myth: When it comes to sex, men can be provoked to “a point of no return.”
Fact: Men are physically able to stop at any point during sexual activity. Rape is not an act of impulsive, uncontrollable passion; it is a premeditated act of violence. Research shows that 50% of rapes are planned.
Myth: When a woman dresses provocatively, she’s asking for trouble.
Fact: Rapists look for easy, vulnerable targets. Thinking that women provoke attacks against them by the way they dress transfers blame from the perpetrator to the victim. Research shows that this particular myth helps others feel better because they think that rape couldn’t happen to them.
Myth: Anyone who is drunk or high and being a flirt gets what they deserve.
Fact: Being drunk or high is risky behavior that could have many dangerous consequences. Rape is just one of them. People who are “loaded” are also less likely to use protection and more likely to have sex or be coerced into having sex with someone they don’t know. The bottom line: regardless of a person’s behavior, no one deserves to be raped. Furthermore, people who commit crimes while “under the influence” are still responsible for their actions.
Myth: If a person doesn’t fight back, she or he wasn’t really raped.
Fact: Rape can be life threatening, particularly when a rapist uses a weapon or force to accomplish penetration. Submission is not the same as cooperation. Whatever a person does to survive is the appropriate action.
Myth: There are a lot of false rape reports.
Fact: The false report rate for rape is similar to other false felony reports. The FBI estimates that about 2% of reported rapes are false.
Myth: Most people report rape or sexual assault to the police.
Fact: The truth is that rape and sexual assault are two of the most underreported crimes in our society. Estimates show that between 50–90% of rapes go unreported. Factoring unreported rapes together with the odds of an arrest being made and the chances of getting a felony conviction, only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. In other words: 15 of 16 rapists walk free.
For more information about Rape Myths & Facts, go to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. http://www.rainn.org/
The Next Step:
What is the next step for the City of Placerville and the county of El Dorado? The knowledge that a large illegal homeless camp has been cleared of vagrants and is still being cleaned up, that three assaults have been reported, and that all of the noted incidents have been reported near an elementary school called Schnell School, has many local people looking for answers to protecting the public.
The homeless camp in Placerville has lead many people to note the increases in crimes caused by homeless as documented by Placerville Police Chief Scott Heller. Although some are pointing to the homeless, there is no direct evidence that these three crimes are related to the homeless. But the connection does seem real to many in the community.
The homeless in Placerville is a well known topic and those expressing concern about homeless caused crimes are often branded as callous and heartless as the legal camp showed a population that did not have a high crime rate. But facts support a distinction made between homeless that are trying to get to a better place in their life and the homeless that chose to be homeless due to their own criminal and antisocial predilections. Many of the homeless are targeted and victimized by other homeless that prey on them as easy targets that are very unlikely to report the crimes.
Unfortunate for the homeless that are looking for better, is that the criminal element is hiding among them are not only committing crimes, but driving a wedge between those seeking help and those that want a safe community. Just recently a homeless sex offender, illegally out of registration, was arrested with illegally modified weapons. He was a stones throw from the Boys and Girls Club, and he was living among the chronically homeless. The biggest problem for homeless advocates is that this criminal subset causes fear and resentment in the community at large.
The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department annual report shows that the number of reported sexual assaults in the county increased by 86 percent from 2012 to 2013 and 80 percent of these reported sexual assaults were perpetrated on children younger than the age of 18.
In the last few years trail activist have been successful in extensive expansion by converting much of the old rail line running from Folsom to Camino into improved trails. The section of trail near Schnell School road is part of that trail system expansion. It is the goal of trail activist to connect the trial from West to East county gateways to connect a nationwide trails system including the trails system paralleling the American River in Sacramento County.
A notable difference between Sacramento county’s trail and the El Dorado county trail is lighting, warning signage, and regular patrols by law enforcement.
All of those security items cost money which is much more plentiful in our much larger neighbor to the west.
This is not the first time the conversation of security on the trail and the cost of such security has been held in El Dorado County but it was held before in a more speculative manner during a struggle between rail and trial advocates that are struggling to share the resource of our rail-to-trail conversion. Rail advocates that resisted removal of the tracts have long argued that the conversion would greatly increase the user numbers of the recreational corridor. They talked of the need for police patrols and new maintenance like trash removal as a cost to be born by the county and used that argument as a disincentive to county policy makers to remove existing rail tracks unless such funds were budgeted.
Now that prediction has turned into a reality as crime has risen significantly on the rail-to-trail converted section from Wal Mart in the west and the Grocery Outlet in the east. What has not changed is monies budgeted for law enforcement patrols, warning signage, or lighting on these high crime sections. As this rise in violent crime becomes more public we should see budget for these concerns adjusted to meet the needs of the public on these new trails. If the policy makers don’t make those budget adjustments for safety, the public will most certainly step up to demand that those concerns are addressed.
Less clear is if this rise in serious crime along the converted sections of trail will have a chilling effect on future proposals to remove rails for enhanced trails. But without much doubt, the cost of security will be included in any future proposals.
The immediate reaction among the nearly 6,000 El Dorado County Watch members was sympathy for the young lady, anger and outrage toward the perpetrators, but that is evolving to an action plan. Turns out the Watchers do a whole lot more than just watch. Like all neighborhood watch type programs, the Facebook Watch page for EDC is similarly connected to law enforcement. But just like the traditional neighborhood watches differ from the online version, so does that connection.
Many of the Watch members are law enforcement, legal, and social work professions and/or close family members to them. The watch page is watched by law enforcement like many other tools they use to gather evidence of crimes and identify hot spots that need patrol. When a major incident comes up on the Watch, phone calls to the law enforcement contacts are made fast.
Already members have left cyberspace and brought their mission to the streets. Recently they organized a cleanup effort of one abandoned illegal homeless encampment. Now they are discussing the next step, bringing the Watch group into closer cooperation with the primary local resource for those seeking help to escape violent relationships and those that have been victims of violent sexual crime. That organization is called 'The Center' and also the Center for violence free relationships.
The Center’s keystone event to raising public awareness is an annual event called, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and is near the end of April. April is also a month dedicated to raising awareness of these types of crimes.
Now the Watch group is planning to support the event with a high profile coordinated effort. Already a fund has been set-up by the Center for donations made from members of the Watch group and the Watch group has begain promoting the Center to members of the group.
- This online Watch group is on Facebook at; https://www.facebook.com/groups/ElDoradoCOWatch
- The primary resourse in education and response is the Center at: http://thecenternow.org/
- Always the first call should be 911. Although this is a general line for all crimes, the call will be quickly routed to professionals that understand what is happening to the victims and are trained not only to solve crimes, but to care for the victims’ shattered mental state.
For those that may not feel able to deal with the addition stress of an official report and exam, they will have to rely on the support of friends and family that are seldom ever equipped to do it and often give bad responses in spite of their strong desire to help.
Here is a very short primer to help if you find yourself in this situation:
REORGANIZATION REACTIONS - Many of the symptoms and treatments for sexual assaults are more commonly know as PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Rape survivors represent the largest non-combat group of individuals with PTSD [Campbell and Wasco, 2005]
In trying to understand the impact this trauma has on one’s life, the survivor undergoes a period of “reorganization” that is a struggle make sense of what happened, find safety, and cope with new concerns that are caused by the event.
Some of them include:
Intrusion Symptoms – these symptoms intrude on the life of the survivor, no matter what the survivor tries to do…
• Intrusive thoughts and images
• Recurring dreams/nightmares
• Flashbacks (traumatic memories of the event that feel like the attack is happening again)
• Intense distress to similar events
• Anxiety attacks, or moments of panic so intense it feels like you cannot breathe
• Crying spells and tearfulness
• Feelings of shame or embarrassment
These are normal reactions. If you see these, it is a sign that the person is dealing with the horrific event to some degree. If they become withdrawn and emotionless, seek professional help immediately. If this condition exist for an extended period of time, seek professional help. The human mind is complicated and expecting someone to cope with major trauma like it is a cold that will go away is not therapeutic or helpful. Sometimes we must ask a professional for help. There is no shame it that.
The only shame ever, is the shame that perpetrators of such crimes rightfully deserve.
Making our trails safe is really a matter of public policy.
There is always a struggle for money as there is never enough to meet all the possible needs of a society. So budget priorities are assigned and the highest priorities get the most and fastest funding. Without any doubt, law enforcement wants to stop crime and catch criminals, but they have to perform within their budgets. In addition to budget constraints, law enforcement can only enforce the laws, so if new laws or ordinances are in order, it must start with policy makers.If you want our policy leaders to make safe trails a priority, call or write them here:
El Dorado County Board of Supervisors: https://www.edcgov.us/BOS/
Ron Mikulaco (530) 621-5650
Ray Nutting (530) 621-5651
Brian K. Veerkamp 530) 621-5652
Ron Briggs (530) 621-6513
Norma Santiago (530) 621-6577
Also, there is an election in June and you may want to talk to candidates about their positions on this as a funding priority.
Written by Cris Alarcon