Written by Mary James
A former University of Idaho student was released from prison Monday, October 3, 2016 after serving a short three-and-a-half years in prison for felony rape. He was found guilty March 22, 2013 for raping a woman outside a campus fraternity. He was sentenced to a minimum of five years and a maximum of 15 years. He is now a free man, out in the world and placed on probation for 10 years.
Rape exists in small towns in Idaho. We have to acknowledge that there is a problem with how the justice system handles rape cases. It’s time to raise awareness about this sensitive topic because 1 in 5 women in the United States will be raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetime.
I had the opportunity to speak to a survivor, I’ll call her Alice, about her perpetrator being released.
Mary: How did the investigation process work for you? What advice do you have for victims going through this system right now?
Alice: I went to the police a couple days after the assault to make a report, after that I went to the hospital to get a rape kit done and an advocate met me at the hospital to offer services. This may sound great, but that process meant telling my story 3 different times in the same night. It was exhausting. I had two officers assigned to investigate my case; one of them became my support throughout the entire process. The university made contact with me stating there would have to be an investigation through them first. After months of postponement, it finally happened and my representatives made me extremely confident we would win. We lost, he was found to be completely innocent. The expectation of the investigation was expulsion and he wasn’t even given community service. After the shock wore off, I was told the state trial would no longer be happening due to the university’s verdict. My advice for victims going through the system now is be prepared for any outcome. The process is long, invasive, and will make you question everything about yourself and the assault. Even knowing this, I would make the same choice that I did.
M: There are different outcomes after being sexually assaulted (like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts). How have you overcome this and coped with the trauma? What have you done to continue persevering in your life and what advice would you give other survivors to help heal. What support have you turned to in helping you heal?
A: The worst outcome I have experienced since the assault is bad dreams. Immediately after the assault they happened very frequently, but six years later I still sometimes get them. The best coping mechanism for me is talking about it. Following the assault, I relied on my family, other survivors, my sorority, and my closest guy friends. When he came back to U of I and assaulted someone in 2012, I decided it was time to share with my entire sorority my story. As a survivor I decided I had a responsibility to start the conversation about sexual assault. I continued to have this conversation every year and every time another woman came to me for help and guidance. Talking about my assault has helped me move on with my life, I am not what happened to me but I can actively try and do my best from preventing it from happening to others.
Rape culture is an environment in which sexual violence against women is normalized. Rape culture is excused in the media and in popular culture. It is the language artists use to portray women. Rape culture is the objectification of women’s bodies; it is glamorization of sexual violence. In this society people falsely accuse the victims as it being their fault. People don’t understand it’s not the victims fault but the perpetrators. Rape culture plays a huge role in this motive. Victims often blame themselves for what happened.
M: Did you experience victim blaming and if so at what point in time did you realize that it wasn’t your fault?
A: I definitely experienced victim blaming and that is what prevented me from reporting the assault right away. The self-blame isn’t something that goes away easily, especially when Vierstra was found innocent in my trial. During the 2012 trial, I remember asking my friend, “Do you really believe it happened to me?” The blame was still present an entire year later. I don’t have blame anymore, and haven’t for a long time. The only way I was able to rid myself of it was by being around a loving support system.
M: Can you express what you first felt when you found out the news of him being released and how do you feel now, a few days later after the news has had time to set in? Is it the same feeling?
A: When I found out that he was released I became physically sick. For the first hour I was numbed by shock that I didn’t even cry. The following day I couldn’t work because I would randomly start crying all day. Almost a week after finding out the verdict, I finally have an appetite back. Each day I experience a new wave of emotions as I try to process the court’s decision. Today I am mad and extremely disappointed.
M: What are your thoughts about his prison sentence being suspended?
A: When he was given his sentence, the judge came to the decision of 5-15 because he deemed him only a threat to a certain population of society. I am concerned with his early release, because at 23 years old I think he is still a large threat to the same population.
M: He insists he’s changed. What do you think about this statement he made?
A: I don’t think that he has changed. He has never admitted guilt for the sexual assault he was found guilty of and he was appealing the charges the entire time he was incarcerated.
M: He states, “I wish I would have been a better man; I wish I would have had more respect for her back then.” What do you think about his statement?
A: I think the nature of his history of assaults stems from something deeper than a lack of respect. My question remains what type of man did he see himself as while he was assaulting women?
M: In this whole process how were you failed? What steps do you think should be taken to prevent this from happening again to other women in the future?
A: I was failed by people who have a preconceived notion of what rape is and who rapists are. There is no handbook called “What is rape?” and every case is different. But the bottom line is a jury and judge found him to be guilty and I don’t understand how someone can find that false.
Moving forward I think we need to continue education about rape. Educators, survivors, bystanders, and even rapists need to keep this conversation alive. I chose to speak out to do my part in continuing the conversation.
M: Is there anything else you would like to state/express to other victims and or the public?
Alice: I just want other survivors to know that it gets better. Being sexually assaulted completely destroyed me and my view of the world. Part of me will always be changed because of my assault, but I still have my future. Your future is what you chose to make it, your assailant will never be able to touch that.
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