Mainers explain why they didn’t report sexual assaults right away

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Jennifer Day was sexually assaulted as a young teenager at a friend’s sleepover 35 years ago.

To this day, she has not reported the assault to police.

So when President Trump questioned in a tweet Friday why Christine Blasey Ford didn’t immediately report the alleged attack by a drunken, teenage Brett M. Kavanaugh at a 1980s house party, Day took to Facebook to explain, matching each of the president’s points with her own experiences. Dozens of people commented on Day’s post, and while the overwhelming majority were positive and supportive, the few negative ones stung.

“That is what keeps people from coming forward – that angry doubting reaction overpowers what you recognize as support,” Day, 48 – a mother of two, a real estate agent and an Augusta city councilor who is running for the House District 86 seat as a Democrat – said in an interview Sunday.

Most survivors of sexual assault never report it. A 2015 study by the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine concluded there are about 13,000 to 14,000 victims of sexual assault a year in Maine. In 2015, only 372 rapes or attempted rapes were reported to police, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety. 

A 2015 poll by The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 11 percent of female college students who experienced a sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault reported it to police or school officials. 

The Portland Press Herald does not identify sexual assault victims without their consent.

Over the weekend, Day and two other Maine women talked on the record about why it’s so difficult and traumatizing to report a sexual assault even as Ford’s lawyers and Republican U.S. senators hashed out the terms of her appearance this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, has denied the accusations by Ford, a research psychologist in California, and said he wants to testify before the committee to clear his name.

The three Maine women said that ever since Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh surfaced this month – and her identity was revealed last week – they have been reliving their own experiences. 

Two of the three reported the rapes to police, but it took them months to do so. Day said that she told a friend about the assault immediately, but it took her years to report it to an adult, a trusted family member who advised her not to go to the police. Day said at this point she will never press charges against the man who assaulted her because of the potential damage it could do to his other victims. 

Day said that like Ford, she vividly recalls some details of the assault but has forgotten others. 

“From the color and lighting of the room, the slope of the roof line behind the poster I focused on, the stench of my perpetrator’s breath and the nauseating smell of stale cigarette smoke on his hands, I remember with clarity where I was the moment my world went from feeling it was safe to knowing it was not,” she wrote Friday in her Facebook post.

But other details are impossible to recall, such as the time and the date, she said.

“I really tried to think about that. I could probably put it in a three-month block, because of the season and because of the age that I was, but there is not a chance I could pinpoint a day,” she said in the interview.

Katie MacDonald, 28, of Hallowell, who works at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault in Augusta, said that despite an undergraduate degree in women’s studies, a college course in sexual violence and experience working at a family planning clinic, it took her hours to react when she was raped, and months before she reported it to the police. 

As a first-year public health graduate student at Boston University, MacDonald was raped by a man she had been dating for about a month the week before finals in early December. She was 23.  

“I was standing in the street at 2 a.m. questioning whether what happened to me was true,” she said.

MacDonald said she managed to get home and called a friend, then a sexual violence hotline, and finally went to a hospital for a sexual assault forensic exam. She initially declined to report the rape to police.

“I was terrified of my parents finding out. I was in a Boston hospital in the middle of the night and thinking if my parents find out they are going to have a heart attack. This will break my parents’ hearts,” she said.

She said it took until February, two months after the attack, to go to police after reading four academic books on rape and rape survivors and receiving a lot of support from friends and family. 

“Because statistically we know rapists rape again. It is not a one-time thing. How do I make this not happen to someone else who may not have all my” resources? she said.

MacDonald described the reporting process as traumatizing.

“It is me and a room full of male detectives, all 6 feet tall and very intimidating, and I have to tell them all this intimate information about me and my body,” she said.

The incident was investigated but charges were never brought because it came down to a “he said, she said” situation, MacDonald said. Her only consolation is that the police told her they would keep all the information accumulated during the investigation on file in case the man was ever accused of rape again. She dropped out of school after the attack and moved back to Maine. The rape continues to haunt her. 

“The last two weeks as a survivor has been overwhelming,” she said Saturday.

Meg Hatch, 40, of Whitefield was sexually assaulted in her late 20s by a man with whom she was breaking up. She said that Trump’s tweet hit her hard.

“It was, like, instantly sick to my stomach,” she said.

Not long after the assault, Hatch filed for a court protection order, but she didn’t tell police about the sexual attack until a year and a half later.

She said she felt safe doing so, because she knew the police chief and one of the officers. She had no expectation that there would be any results.

The police believed her.

“And took it seriously. He was charged with a sexual assault,” Hatch said.

She had to testify before a grand jury. He was indicted. As part of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to simple assault and was fined. His only time incarcerated was the two nights he spent in jail after his arrest.

As a result of her experience, Hatch got involved with the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault and is now coordinator of the coalition’s Maine Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers.

Day, who was assaulted at the friend’s sleepover, said she has removed the negative posts on her Facebook account. They were mostly along the lines of  “Get over it. Move on. I can’t believe you are still talking about it,” she said.

“Yet if I shatter my ankle and that injury comes back, it is acceptable to seek treatment,” Day said.

Day has run into the man who assaulted her a couple of times over the years, but he has never acknowledged what he did. She said her thoughts would be with Ford when she testifies. The Senate hearing is tentatively set for 10 a.m. Thursday.

“My heart aches for what Christine Ford is going to have to be faced with in terms of that eye-to-eye if that has to take place. I think that is why so many people don’t come forward. That process is terrifying,” Day said.

Jennifer Day of Augusta. (Ariana van den Akker/Portland Press Herald)

Katie MacDonald of Hallowell. (Ariana van den Akker/Portland Press Herald)
 

Meg Hatch of Whitefield (Ariana van den Akker/Portland Press Herald)
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