Just recently I met with a sexual assault victim and, while we were discussing the general next steps for her case, she asked the difficult question that nearly all victims of sexual assault ask us as prosecutors: “Do you think we will win at trial?” While I am sure my answer doesn’t instill confidence, it is honest. I don’t know. We never know, as prosecutors, what the outcome of a trial will be, but in this world today, sexual assault cases are some of the toughest to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
Why is this? Well, jurors may have some preconceptions or biases towards sexual assault before they ever enter the courtroom. That isn’t to cast aspersions on people who are potential jurors because we all have different preconceptions or biases that we bring to the table. That’s just life. One such preconception we see as prosecutors is that when people think of sexual assault, people often think of stranger sexual assault. A person jumping out of a white van and kidnapping their victim. But statistics show that rarely occurs, and we find this to be the case in Delaware County as well. Nationally, eight out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.
Another reason sexual assaults are harder to convict at trial is that sexual assaults are rarely committed in places like the public square or out in broad daylight. Practically speaking, that means there are almost never witnesses to the crime, other than the victim and the perpetrator, and there isn’t often a lot of physical evidence either, like DNA or surveillance video.
Finally, I think we all just like to live in our bubble. I’m not casting shade on those bubbles, I’m just being upfront. In our perfect worlds rape doesn’t exist. Sexual assault can’t happen to our daughters or our nieces or our nephews. Johnny next door would never do anything wrong. The gymnastics coach would never rape a gymnast. Grandpa would never sexually abuse a grandchild. And because we have these bubbles, sometimes the preventative messaging or awareness doesn’t break through, causing people not to believe. And, let’s be honest, it can be easier and way more pleasant to stay in our bubbles.
But, we can and should change that. Change starts with believing and not doubting. When we believe sexual assault victims, and understand that this terrible crime does occur in our community, then we ourselves can be the messengers, spreading a word of awareness and prevention. I’d like to highlight one person in our community who recently passed, but was a cornerstone leader in bringing awareness to sexual assaults, John Radabaugh.
John was a detective sergeant with the Delaware Police Department for many years. John was a warrior for all victims, but especially sexual assault victims. Those who worked with John would often describe him as relentless in his pursuit of the facts to achieve justice for victims. While working for the Delaware Police Department, John chaired the Delaware County Sexual Assault Response Team and served on other community boards like Helpline. John was a gifted teacher and leader. He was often called upon to train professionals and law enforcement about sexual assault and other numerous victim-centered topics. John received many awards and accolades for his dedication to victims, including special recognition by then Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
John was instrumental in bringing Walk-A-Mile (in her shoes), a national event, to Delaware. Walk-A-Mile is an annual event where men, across the country, put on women’s shoes and walk a literal mile. It’s an uncomfortable, yet serious, way to raise awareness about sexual violence against women. John was one of the original team members who organized and promoted the annual walk. He was also known to wear the most outrageous shoes as part of the walk. I am told he would always put on the most obnoxious red, extremely high-heeled shoes to get the crowd going and start the walk. And that was the point — for everyone participating to get uncomfortable because talking about sexual assault is uncomfortable, but we have to do it.
The focus of WAM is women, who are sexually assaulted more frequently, and who are more likely to be sexually assaulted by men.
WAM started in 2009 in Delaware as a tiny walk at Ohio Wesleyan University. Since then, and in large part because of the efforts of John, the WAM movement has expanded in Delaware and became a part of the First Friday celebration. This year’s walk is actually tonight! However, this is the first year we will be doing our walk without its ally, John. I encourage you to step out of your bubble! Come out to Delaware tonight for WAM and First Friday. Channel your inner John-spirit, and grab the loudest, most outrageous, and colorful pair of women’s shoes you can find to help raise awareness like John did for so many years. See you there!
Melissa A. Schiffel is Delaware County prosecutor.