Tag Archives: sexual assault

Norm McAllister plays the world’s smallest violin…again.

Just in case anyone still cares, you should know that, according to the Messenger, perennial victim of unfair antipathy toward serial sexual assaulters, Norm McAllister wants to have his conviction on one count of “prohibited acts” overturned.That’s right: following one aborted trial concerning accuser #1, a teenager at the time of the alleged assaults; the untimely death of accuser #2, and the defense’s successful end-run against all but one of the lesser charges concerning accuser #3, Mr. McAllister wants another bite at the apple of complete exoneration.

Nevermind the fact that he has twice put the state through the costs of preparation and jury selection to hear the case concerning accuser #3. You may recall that Mr. McAllister abruptly entered a plea of guilt after the first day of the first trial, because the audio evidence was judged so damning by his defense team. The next morning he demanded that he be allowed to revoke his plea and stand trial all over again, claiming his defense team had bullied him into the plea.  (whimper, whimper...)

If you read the comments on stories about these trials, made almost entirely by men…and men who were not in attendance at the trials, I might add…you will understand why Mr. McAllister has felt emboldened to play the victim, over-and-over again. With few exceptions, these gentlemen, enlightened by nothing more than brief second-hand summaries of recordings and testimonies, all conclude that McAllister did nothing wrong; often adding a superfluous observation to the effect that “women often lie about these things.” The passion of these remarks makes one wonder about the gentlemen’s own personal histories on consent!

Statistically, nothing could be further than the truth. Not only is sexual assault drastically underreported; on the occasions when it is reported, the deeply personal nature of the crime means that it is rarely brought successfully to trial. The percentage of false accusations is around 5% or less. Few men are ever held accountable for their sexual assaults.

And what is the possible sentence that Mr. McAllister is facing for his “unfair”conviction? All of $100. or a year in jail. Tsk, tsk…how unjust.

Worlds-smallest-violin

 

Norm McAllister in the dock once again.

Ex-senator Norm McAllister is back in court, and this time it looks like the trial will play out to a jury decision. Accused of exploiting a vulnerable woman (one of three who filed related complaints) in a sex-for-rent scheme, McAllister faces one count of rape and two more for procurement.

The third alleged victim passed away before having had a chance to testify against McAllister; so this is the last opportunity for the Franklin County prosecutors to hold McAllister accountable for the violations his accusers say he has committed against them.

It took two and a half days to seat a jury, and opening arguments were presented yesterday afternoon. Having already sat through days of false starts at the courthouse in the McAllister matters, I chose to skip the first three days of the current iteration; but today I was there for the duration.

As was the case in McAllister’s first trial, just witnessing the victim’s distress on the stand was harrowing. The first trial ended, without a decision, when the prosecution withdrew charges after the victim fibbed on an incidental embarrassing fact that should have had absolutely no impact on what appeared to be a very strong case for serial sexual assault. She sat, with obvious reluctance, through hours of painful and humiliating questioning, while her ‘alleged’ abuser remained silent, stolidly safe in his seat, facing forward and avoiding the gaze of the gallery.

It was gut-wrenching to witness her distress at having to relive the incidents before the prying eyes of the jury, press and public; but relive it, she did.

This time, we heard graphic details of gross and humiliating acts of sexual degradation allegedly performed on the victim’s person while she wept and pleaded with her assailant to stop. At one particularly painful and degrading point in her ordeal, the perpetrator shushed her loud objections, then said “Good girl.” as if she was one of his livestock.

Her explanation for tolerating the sexual exploitation for so long centered on the fact that she was homeless when she accepted work and a place to live at the McAllister farm and was trying to satisfy the state in order to regain custody of her children. She already had a sad history of earlier abuse at the hands of her on-again/off-again husband that had contributed to the loss of custody.

Her testimony was compelling; nevertheless, the Defense asked Judge Martin Malley to dismiss all the charges on a technicality; something the judge refused to do, observing that evidence had been presented on all three charges that could support conviction, should the jury reach that conclusion.

The prosecution rested its case at the end of the day. Tomorrow morning, the trial continues, even though Mr. McAllister himself does not appear to be willing to testify.

It is anticipated that testimony will conclude by midday tomorrow, after which the jury will be allowed to deliberate at its leisure.

McAllister to stand trial (again) for sexual assault

Good news for those of us who felt Mr. McAllister’s plea deal cheated his constituents of the opportunity to hear all the details of the case, including Mr. McAllister’s defense, in open court.

He had a good thing in that plea deal, which spared him exposure to a life sentence; but now that he has chosen to withdraw from the deal, all bets are off.

It appears from news reports that McAllister’s second thoughts on the plea deal were largely due to a concern to preserve his farm from vulnerability in an upcoming civil case, filed by one of his victims. He claims that he was unaware, at the time of accepting the plea deal, that it would represent a tacit admission of guilt and could jeopardize his defense in that pending civil suit.

The need to prepare a second time for trial and to screen a second jury is a burden on the county; the county for which he served as an unyielding fiscal and social conservative voice for a number of years. Not so concerned with the people’s purse now, are we Mr. McAllister?

This of course does not address the repeated pretrial stress on the victim; still awaiting her day in court.

A trial date has not yet been announced; but once again, I sincerely hope that the women of Franklin County turn out to support the victim.

Norm McAllister faces another accuser in January

The New Year is quickly closing in on us. While we are all preoccupied with what national horrors January 20 will usher in, Franklin County women may want to take note that the second trial of accused sexual predator and former state senator Norm McAllister is scheduled for the week of January 9, 2017. The pretrial conference and jury selection are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday of that week, and the actual trial begins on Wednesday, January 11 at 8:30 AM at the Franklin County Courthouse on Lake St. in St. Albans.

I plan to be there in symbolic support of the three alleged victims, even though only one of those victims’ complaints will be heard that week. I hope many more local women will join me there.

The first trial, which took place last fall, turned out to be no more than an exercise in humiliation for the young woman complainant. In the courtroom, men significantly outnumbered women, and the front rows of the gallery were lined with male members of the press and the defendant’s allies. It’s funny how that happens.

So the victim was confronted foremost with a throng of curious but indifferent male faces as she attempted to summon memories of the most intimate and embarrassing details of the attacks.  The accused, on the other hand, sat facing front and was never required to answer a single question.

I described the experience in great detail on GMD in the hope that more women would feel compelled to fill those front seats at the next trial to give the victim a little moral support.

The third victim has since passed away in circumstances that have not been shared. She was the mother-in-law of the victim who will be testifying in January.

Like so many victims of unspeakable assaults and sex trafficking, these are women who were already challenged by poverty and a total lack of alternatives. Victims such as these do not tend to have confident and articulate friends who are likely to show up in a courtroom to demonstrate their support.  An unpleasant courtroom experience is therefore made even more lonely and punishing for them.

It is no wonder that the young woman who testified at the last trial crumbled under pressure from a relentless attorney skilled at targeting her weaknesses. We owe these women our gratitude for their courage and sacrifice in bringing these crimes to trial. It may seems a thankless job, but for every woman who does step forward to charge her attacker, there are dozens who simply bottle up the nightmare inside them, so that their tormenter remains free to attack again.

Was justice served in the first McAllister trial? I don’t think so, and many others agree; but that is faint comfort for the young woman who was returned to the blunt world from which she had emerged, far worse for the wear and without the benefit of closure.

So, if you, like me, feel that sexual assault against one woman is a crime against all women; and sexual assault committed by a man of stature and responsibility against a weak and vulnerable woman is particularly repugnant; perhaps you will think about showing up and wearing a teal-colored ribbon to show your support for victims of sexual violence.

Norm McAllister assaults the system…and gets away with it…again.

So, accused rapist/sex trafficker Norm McAllister will remain on the Republican primary ballot for senator even though his petition has been found to be deficient.  I hear fellow Republican candidate Carolyn Branagan’s cry of indignation and I share it!

Mr McAllister must be some sort of human detector for weaknesses in Vermont’s judiciary and legislative systems.

So far, he has succeeded in exploiting no less than five significant failures, and he hasn’t even come to trial yet to face accusations made by two more women.

1) The lack of meaningful protections for the vulnerable in the private workplace.

2) An apparent culture of “don’t ask; don’t tell” in the statehouse, where the extreme youth
of Mr. McAllister’s omnipresent ‘intern’ should have raised concerns and led to timely interventions.

3) The lack of a meaningful ethics policy governing legislators.

4) The lack of adequate provision in court for the PTSD disability common to victims of sexual abuse.

5) The lack of effective vetting practices to validate candidate petitions.

I’m sure there are more, but these spring most quickly to mind. Do not look for a grasp of reality anytime soon from this man because both Franklin County and the state of Vermont have yet to demonstrate any ability to bring his arrogance and his appetites to heel.

Update: Is this what scuttled the McAllister trial?

As I have already said elsewhere, I sat in disbelief last Wednesday as the Prosecution dropped the charges of multiple sexual assaults against suspended senator Norm McAllister.  This, after putting the fragile victim through something like five hours of clearly painful and humiliating public testimony while the accused, seated with his back to the curious crowd, was spared the need for any account of himself.

I was further dismayed to see so little concern over the decision expressed by conventional media. Emphasis seemed to rest on the Defense’s unchallenged assertion that McAllister had been “vindicated.” Attorneys for the two sides shook hands amicably and left the courtroom without really explaining what had happened.

The victim was simply abandoned to the tender mercies of public speculation.

It was therefore more than a little heartening to finally hear a piece on VPR this afternoon that showed more empathy for the victim than was exhibited in the immediate aftermath of the aborted trial.

From VPR, we learned that the Prosecution had made the decision to drop the case after the Defense pointed to something that the victim “lied” about in her testimony. We are told that the victim felt question asked was “too personal” and, in any case,  irrelevant to the case; but the prosecutor, nevertheless, decided to withdraw the charges when the victim admitted that she hadn’t answered truthfully..

I think I might know what this is all about and it really was a very poor reason to abandon the case. If I am mistaken, I would really like someone to set me straight.

Toward the close of the cross-examination, she was clearly reaching the end of her emotional tether.  Perhaps realizing she was that close to breaking, the Defense began to pressure her about physical evidence of the crime on her body, and in rapid succession she said, “no,no, no” to every intimate question that was asked.  Her body language indicated to me that they had hit a wall of resistance to any further indignity.  She’d had enough.

The other possibility that occurs to me is that the Defense succeeded in persuading the Prosecution that they could dispute a detail of the first attack as she described it, by referencing her Facebook page.

In her testimony, the victim said that her ponytail had been dyed purple at the time of the first attack. At the break, I overheard the Defense, first discussing among themselves; then,with the Prosecution, that this was “impossible” because photos on her Facebook page showed her with a purple ponytail a year later but not in any of the photos on her Facebook page that date to the time of the first attack.

Having had a teenager, I know, as probably most people do, that these colors can be applied rather spontaneously and disappear or are rinsed away rather easily. She could very well have had a purple ponytail at the time of the first attack too, but not been photographed with it.

It is, in any case, the kind of detail that could easily become confused in the memory of a girl suffering the mental anguish of rape and trying to suppress that memory in order to keep it secret.

If this is what caused the Prosecution to drop the charges, it is a pretty poor reason.

Either way, the inconsistencies in her testimony could have easily been explained by the Prosecution as consistent with PTSD from sexual abuse.

McAllister Day 1: The Victim on Trial

Today I attended the first day of the long-awaited trial of Franklin County senatorial candidate, Norm McAllister (R) for alleged assaults committed against a then-teenage victim.  

The morning began inauspiciously with a replaced juror, and news that the victim might not appear if the proceedings would be videotaped. She was understandably reluctant to describe the graphic nature of the assaults before the camera’s eye.

For some reason, the attorney for the Free Press advocated most strongly for not sparing the victim from the cameras. In the end, cameras were excluded for the duration of her testimony and she was called to the stand.

The doors opened and a little girl who looked like she might be a high school freshman stepped into the courtroom, accompanied by a victims’ rights advocate. Her taffy colored hair was gathered into a traditional ponytail and she was dressed neatly in jeans and a shirt. She later said that at the time of the alleged assaults she weighed just 85-lbs., and stood four-foot-eleven inches.

Thanks to a deal negotiated by the defense, she cannot be referred to during the trial as “the victim,” since Norm McAllister is disputing whether any crime has been committed. (Try that argument if you are a young black male!) Fortunately, we at GMD are not so constrained, and she will remain “The Victim” in these pages because she did not want the press to identify her, and seemed anguished to learn that her name had already, earlier, been leaked to the media.

After today’s proceedings, I think I better understand why it is so difficult to get sexual assault victims to challenge their tormenters in a court of law. It would be a hideous and demeaning experience even for the most confident and articulate adult.

For an economically disadvantaged and unsophisticated girl, with barely a high school education, her encounter with the “justice” system following sexual trauma is likely to be about enough to finish her off.

At this point, The Victim has been deposed several times over the course of many months, with varying degrees of readinesss, and by people with conflicting agendas. Unsurprisingly for me, her memory is faulty and full of contradictions from one account to the next.

A well educated and mature adult, untroubled by the trauma of sexual assault may find it difficult to understand how her story could be so inconsistent; but consider what that twenty-one year old girl has to contend with. Complicating the recall process was her instinct to hide her ‘shame’ from everyone, but most especially from her boyfriend.

Apart from the direct trauma of the assault, there are societal taboos in play that trigger unjustified feelings of shame and guilt from which the mind may weave a tissue of altered narratives that only serve to complicate recovery of the real memories.

The longer the incidents of trauma persist and the later the attempt at recall, the more likely it is that those memories will be riddled with flaws and fluctuations. All kinds of odd dysfunction occur in individuals suffering abuse. Think of Stockholm Syndrome and the tendency of pedophiles to have been abused themselves as children.

There is likely some underlying pathology to The Victims jumbled memories, as well as the contribution made by her youth at the beginning of the alleged abusive relationship (sixteen or seventeen), and the role of ignorant societal judgements on the violated.

But to dismiss the overarching complaint as a mere fabrication, as I suspect they may be fixing to do in the McAllister case, would be the worst kind of injustice.

Her obvious revulsion at having to discuss the crimes in public could not be concealed. She might have kept the secret of her violation indefinitely if police, investigating other allegations of McAllister’s sexual exploitation, hadn’t come knocking at her door.

Now I am sure she regrets having let them in.