Over the past few weeks the Jackson Hole News&Guide has published an article, editorial and Guest Shot about justice for the victim of a sexual assault.
Based on what I read, I was disturbed and saddened by this report of a sexual assault on a female member of our community. I wondered how this injustice could happen in my town of Jackson. Is assault common in Jackson? Are my wife and daughter safe? After the initial assault, our justice system failed to achieve a satisfactory closure or conclusion for the victim, which added to the painful impact of the event.
I went looking for some answers. Why did our justice system fail this woman? In the future, how do we prevent these assaults, protect our community and successfully bring criminals committing assault to justice?
I did find some answers, but in the end, this sexual assault victim did not find the desired satisfaction or closure within our local justice system.
Unfortunately there were unfulfilled promises, weak advocacy, miscommunications, weak Wyoming sexual battery statutes and limitations of constitutional law.
I did discover a great deal of genuine empathy for the pain endured by the victim but empathy does little to erase the mental trauma surrounding the event. Hopefully, as a result of this case, and future actions, the victim can find solace and hope that prevention and justice will prevail.
The Teton County prosecutor, Erin Weisman, Deputy Prosecutor Clark Allen and Jackson Chief of Police Todd Smith were all forthcoming, empathetic and generous with their time. They are all caring civil servants. All of them have made great efforts to support sexual assault victims and are taking steps to improve the resolution of future cases.
However, they all conceded that there were problems in this case with communications, Wyoming law, coordination of the case and unfulfilled promises from another attorney. This case was handled by the Municipal Court and Office of the Town Attorney, not the County Prosecutors Office. I was not aware that the Town Council recently decided to hire two contract attorneys to handle criminal cases in the Municipal Court. Will this be as effective as a full-time Town of Jackson criminal attorney?
These issues do not change the results or provide better justice for this victim, but recognition of the issues, advocacy, training and community education may improve prevention, protection, victim support and justice. Now we need to focus on the future of our community and protecting our citizens.
Did you know that the Jackson Police Department has regular officer in-service training on domestic violence and sexual assault? They have three officers assigned to Victim Services to act as advocates for victims and guide them through the difficulties of emotional and physical trauma. One of their officers is available to students and adults to teach self-defense. Chief Smith is meeting this week with three Wyoming legislators to improve the Wyoming sexual battery law.
The county attorney is meeting other county prosecutors in Cheyenne in the next few weeks and plans to address improvement to the Wyoming sexual battery law. She is willing to help educate the community and law enforcement on the law, prevention and protection against sexual assault.
Community Safety Network — 733-SAFE — provides help and support to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. They are available 24/7. Victim Services within the Jackson Police Department provides advocacy for crime victims.
It is my hope that all of these groups will come together to support a forum in mid-October targeting protection and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. There is much more that can be done to protect, educate and train women and men in our community.
How do we improve Wyoming sexual battery law and educate our citizens on constitutional law? Bear spray is prevalent in Jackson, but where can a woman buy a small container of pepper spray? What self-defense tactics work for women? It’s not the well-placed kick many think! Do we have “safer” streets that are well-lit when our workforce walks home at night. What are some other safety tactics? There are many support groups, but do we know them?
Let’s move forward and ensure that police, prosecutors and advocacy groups are coordinating with each other and our citizens to ensure that they are knowledgeable, trained, protected and able to find justice if an assault does occur.