What should you be thinking about if you or someone you know was sexually assaulted at a summer camp, school club, or in a church youth group?
First, nothing that happened is your fault.
If something like this happened in your family or circle of friends, you should first get help from a counselor, therapist, or support group, before talking to a lawyer. In Idaho and Wyoming, there are resources that can help you deal with this.
- Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence
- Idaho Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance
- Family Safety Network (Driggs)
- Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
- Community Safety Network (Jackson)
- SAFE Project (Laramie)
- Victim Services (Casper) and Victim Services (Jackson)
Since you’re already on a lawyer’s website, it’s safe to assume that you are considering legal action. You’re probably looking for 1) justice or 2) making sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
That’s where an attorney can help. A lawyer isn’t a time machine who can take back what happened, but legal help can get you justice and make sure that it doesn’t happen to another person.
Common patterns in these cases
Everyone is different. Every situation is different. But usually, there are some common patterns with sex abusers and teenage victims. Typically, the abuser is in a position of authority at the camp or church, whether that’s a counselor, spiritual leader or staff member. The abuser is often popular and well-liked. Usually, the abuser isolates the target from the group, making them feel special or different. As trust builds, the abuser takes advantage of the target. Assaults can happen repeatedly over years, or just one time. Finally, the abuser typically threatens the target to keep quiet about the abuse by pulling the levers of guilt, shame, and fear. Remember: nothing that happens is the target’s fault.
How to Work with a Lawyer
To work with a lawyer, you should expect to do some combination of the following things.
Get help. See the resources above. Your lawyer is going to make sure you’re getting the mental, emotional and medical help that you need.
Get a medical exam. If it happened recently (within a few days), your lawyer will want you to get a medical exam at a hospital. If that’s your situation, then go to a hospital or clinic immediately. You can do a blind report through the ER. If you’re still deciding what if any legal action to take, that’s fine. You can still have an anonymous or confidential exam done. You don’t need to tell the hospital your name at that point. Bring a friend for moral support. Or bring a victim’s advocate. You may be able to do this at a Planned Parenthood, if there is one near you.
Make a law enforcement report. This part makes some people uncomfortable. You may worry that if you file a police report that you will lose control over what happens next. Law enforcement’s job is to investigate and prosecute crime. They will act on what they learn from you. They will want to interview you, to take photos, to obtain medical records and maybe interview the abuser and any witnesses.
Consider a victim’s advocate. This is an “intermediate” step. In many communities, there is a victim’s advocate program. Typically, a victim’s advocate program has folks with special training in helping people with sexual assault. You can talk with an advocate, and they won’t go to law enforcement unless you give them permission. If you do decide to go to law enforcement, the advocate will know the detectives and can help you find the right one to work with. The advocate may be able to go with you and give you moral support. They are there to help you, and they will follow what you tell them. If you’re under 18, they may have special rules about what they’re required to report. If you’re worried about that, ask them upfront.
Save text messages and photos. Even Snaps. If you or any of your friends have photos or messages on your phones—whether it’s Facebook Messenger, iMessage, gChat, WhatsApp, email or something else—you need to save that information. Especially take screenshots of text messages. Go through your entire text history and take screenshots. Put those in a folder and save them. Same for everything else. Everything may be useful later. The abuser is going to lie about all aspects of your relationship. Sometimes even an innocent text message can be used to disprove a lie.
Don’t sell or get rid of any phones or computers. If there are messages on a friend’s phone about you, take pictures of those, too. Ideally, don’t let your friend get rid of that phone. Even if the messages on your friend’s phone seem to deny what happened, or asking the friend to tell you to back off, you need to get those messages.
Depending on your phone, there can be limits to how many messages are stored in a conversation. So, if you continue to get new messages, then the old ones will be deleted. You want to save those. If you have an iPhone, go change that in the settings.
Attitudes around this are changing.
People are afraid of what will happen if they come forward. But most of the time, people are overwhelmed (in a good way) by the support and trust they get from family and community. Hopefully, you’ll be able to count on your community and family to support you. Most of the time that’s what happens.
Anything you say to a lawyer is confidential and you’re in control.
In fact, you have rights with your lawyer. You can talk to a lawyer once, just to see how he or she sounds, and decide later whether to go forward with legal action.
Call me. My cell is (307) 203-6979, and my law firm number is (307) 200-9720. I get a ton of calls and can’t always pick up. But I hope I pick up when you call. Text me if that’s a better first step. You can talk to me even if you decide later not to proceed. That’s fine. No judgment.
I’ve helped someone who was sexually assaulted get justice and I made sure that it never happened to anyone else. It is the best thing I’ve done as a lawyer and as a human. If I can help you, I want to.