Press "Enter" to skip to content

Out to Get DA Vroman

Monday before last the lead Mendocino Environment Center human rights activist, Linda McClure, hosted a KZYX call-in talk show with two 16-year-old females as her guests. One young woman had been raped at a party near Lake Mendocino a year ago. The other was her friend who had witnessed the unhappy episode and perhaps had been a victim of the rapist herself; it wasn't clear from the conversation. Their half hour topic of discussion? Outrage over what they alleged to be District Attorney Norm Vroman's decision to “not prosecute” the 24-year-old man the young women said was the assailant. 

In hosting the discussion, and by putting juvenile rape victims on the air, Ms. McClure blithely violated just about every ethical and professional standard known to the media and to rape survivor advocates.

Vroman's office did prosecute the case and prosecuted it very well; McClure knew absolutely nothing about it beyond what her two guests told her. Although she has said she is opposed to a recall of the new D.A., Ms. McClure has more than done her part to make it happen.

The strategy behind the “Get Vroman” campaign has been embarrassingly obvious from the beginning. Within a few weeks of libertarian Norman Vroman taking office as Mendocino County's District Attorney (after he narrowly defeated long-time Republican DA Susan Massini in the election last fall) the Santa Rosa Press Democrat started manufacturing hit pieces against the forthright D.A. thinly disguised as news articles. 

The PD has repeatedly reminded us that Vroman went to jail for not paying taxes. These stories inevitably fail to explain Vroman’s libertarian-inspired argument which challenges the government’s authority to collect taxes. The paper has insisted that Vroman was soft on marijuana growers even before he’d been in office long enough for anybody to draw any conclusions on his prosecution policies, and the paper gleefully reported that Vroman had required that a couple of Ukiah cops be escorted and observed as they visited the DA’s files, neglecting to fully explain that the cops had used one file to stir up political animosity for  Vroman. Therefore, the PD would like us to conclude, Norm Vroman is soft on crime because he’s a crook himself and we’ve got to get rid of him before we are all murdered by tax-exempt dope fiends in our beds. But Vroman’s supporters in Mendocino County knew that Vroman was involved in populist causes when we elected him, thank you Press Democrat. Moreover, we also know that Vroman is in this eighth month in office and is still disposing of former DA Massini's cases. And most of us know that bad things happen to good people.

The hit pieces are contrived in such a way that in order to defend himself, Vroman would have to publicly point a public finger at the real culprit, one of the malfunctioning entities he must work with (like the Ukiah Police Department or Project Sanctuary) or former DA Massini. The Ukiah Daily Journal, never keen on Vroman, has now joined the fledgling campaign to oust him from office.  

Vroman has, so far, taken the high road in not defending himself by placing blame where it truly belongs. He has spent many hours talking with UDJ's reporter Glenda Anderson who, individual tutorials and all, is still unable to write an accurate story about the DA and his policies. The PD reporters simply relay the paper’s party line and don't “investigate” anything. 

But since the public is generally unaware of how their criminal justice system is supposed to work, the PD and the UDJ have a fertile field in which to sow their Massini/good-old-boy engineered seeds of discontent. Vroman campaigned on a promise to prosecute white collar-good-old-boy crime, so that particular gang of historically exempt law breakers is very nervous about the man in the prosecutor’s office indeed. Massini covered for her big boy pals — and they want her back.

The PD and UDJ are setting the stage for the time when Vroman actually does screw up. Every DA makes mistakes. The strategy of the Get Vroman-ites is to take Vroman out on his first  mistake because the public has been primed to think there is a big law enforcement/prosecution mess, and it's entirely Vroman's fault. But Vroman hasn't made a verifiable, take-him-to-the-wall-and-shoot-him mistake yet, and the Massini/PD/good-old-boy axis is getting impatient.

Onto this stage walks the pillars of Mendocino County's women's and human rights community, the domestic violence/rape crisis advocates from Project Sanctuary, and the MEC's Linda McClure. Dressed up in a perpetual victim garb, they want their turn to ride Vroman around the PD/UDJ circus ring. Their assertion is that Vroman is very soft on crimes against women. 

But the great defenders of abused women don’t have the first clue about how to examine a case, or “the system’s,” handling of a case of violence against a woman, to either illustrate or prove their assertion of DA incompetence or worse; this gang of rhetorical snipers goes so far as to suggest that Vroman is indifferent to crimes committed against women. After all he’s a man, and aren’t men at least implicitly on the side of the rapist, the wife beater, the woman murderer? Essentially non-verbal, unable to write a coherenet sentence beyond a vague statement about their own feelings, this week the self-alleged righter of wrongs invited in outside help from Sonoma County in the form of the media-oriented and misanthropic Purple Beret, Tanya Brannan, and the genuine women’s advocate and experienced rape counselor, Marie de Santis (of the Sonoma Women's Justice Center) to do their work. Tanya and Marie are investigating and organizing Mendo women around the recent murder of Jackie Anderson by her ex-husband, a hideous event now being exploited to get Vroman as if he somehow sponsored Mrs. Anderson’s execution. The purple strike force is searching for the crack in law enforcement which allowed this particular domestic murder to deteriorate to the point of death for Mrs. Anderson. 

A determination as to exactly what happened cannot be made yet, per Marie de Santis. But Brannen, working in tandem with McClure and the tiny MEC Earth First! crowd, is already publicly laying the blame at Vroman's door.

Up until Jackie Anderson's murder, the Mendocino County feminists' case against Vroman had been extraordinarily sloppy and ill-contrived. Their particular Catch-22 for Vroman (and any man who tries to politically defend him) these last few months, has been the familiar double bind: If Vroman stays silent, then the women must be right. In many cases, Vroman is legally bound to stay silent. If Vroman or any other man tries to engage in political discourse on Vroman’s perceived deficiencies, then they are misogynists (woman haters).

Vroman cannot legitimately be held accountable by feminists for the tragedies and miscarriages of justice set in motion long before he achieved the DA’s office. Vroman is still in the transition period from the former DA's regime and its long established relationships with law enforcement. It's too early in his administration for Vroman to have fully implemented systemic change. Nor have the Mendocino feminists sat down with Vroman to help him examine the former system and set up a better one, though they do have a golden opportunity. Their “activism” on behalf of women consists solely of bad mouthing Vroman in the press. 

Though it is outside the feminist tradition to publicly expose other feminist women's transgressions, I think the harm being done by McClure, et al, to individual women and the women’s cause as a whole to be so egregious that a close examination of these Mendocino feminists' motives and advocacy skills is necessary. 

It's definitely time for retreats, encounter groups and outside training if they are going to continue to be allowed to act as spokeswomen and advocates for the women's movement in the areas of rape advocacy and domestic violence in Mendocino county. To rely solely on the credibility and hard work by women like Marie de Santis is lazy. 

Clear thinking feminists involved in the issue of rape victimization throughout this country have worked very hard to establish and then elevate the standard whereby rape survivors are not re-victimized by having their personal lives put on trial. Indeed, we have succeeded to the point that most media throughout the country do not report the rape survivor's name in “breaking” news stories. 

We have also significantly, though not completely, advanced the courts' and public understanding that a woman's behavior and activity, sexual and otherwise, up until the moment of being assaulted is irrelevant to her fundamental right to not  be sexually assaulted even if this assault occurs during a date, heavy petting session, in jail or even in her work as a prostitute. 

The liberating message is simple: No child, woman or man, neither causes nor deserves to be sexually assaulted (from harassment to rape) under any circumstances.

One of the reasons we have worked to establish the standard, where we do not open the door and invite others in to examine a survivor's personal life, is to avoid re-victimizing the survivor. In a call-in talk show, such as the one put together by Linda McClure, where a variety of attitudes and opinions are invited in, the survivor can be and is too often judged, criticized and attacked by ignorant or malicious individuals as being the cause of their own victimization. A rape revisited in this manner can be like being raped all over again. 

Many years ago the National Center of Victims of Crime (NCVC), along with the country's leading victims' rights and feminists groups developed “Talk Show Guidelines” in response to concern that crime victims, particularly those who had been sexually assaulted, were being re-victimized during their appearances on television and radio talk shows. 

These Guidelines have been for the most part adopted and adhered to for interviews by most of the TV, radio and print media in this country, including Playboy, Hustler and Penthouse. The only “media” that have not adopted the standards are the most depraved child and women pornography publishers and apparently, KZYX.

Never, under any circumstance, is it appropriate to interview rape survivors who are minors. While some teenage women may be fully able to make their own decisions regarding being interviewed, as well as manage the inherent stress, such interviews are still unacceptable.

Here's the NCVC Guideline on the subject: 

“Children who are already suffering from the trauma of victimization are often re-traumatized by exposure to the media. Children often lack the means to verbalize their emotions and therefore vulnerable to the misinterpretation by both the media and the public. Because of their inexperience with life, and thus being less able to envision and understand the ultimate consequences of their decisions, children are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by the media. Appearing on talk shows, and thereby revealing their identity to their community and the world, may forever stigmatize them as victims to their peers and the public and have continuing negative effects on the developmental years. .For talk show production staff to badger parents and/or guardians to be allowed to interview child crime victims in the interest of the ‘news’ or to ‘help other children and parents’ is inexcusable.”

A “child” is broadly defined by the NCVC Guidelines as anyone under the age of 18.

It is also the behavior and acting out of sex offenders in the public listening audience that we seek to avoid “triggering.” To be very blunt, it is quite common for a victim's non-incarcerated assailant, and other sex offenders, to enjoy  hearing victims speak about their suffering. While we advocates/activists and out-spoken survivors cannot let this deter us from our overall public education efforts, we absolutely draw the line at exposing juveniles to it. 

On those rare occasions we do see survivor children interviewed on national TV. This does not make it right even though they are disguised for the interview. In such cases, and when adults are interviewed, a mental health professional is always on hand. Crisis lines are set up for viewing audience survivors because often hearing someone discuss their victimization triggers a crisis in the victims listening in.

Where was Linda McClure's mental health professional? Where was her crisis number? While survivors must be listened to if and when they wish to talk, a live call-in radio is not the same as talking with sympathetic people around the kitchen table. Apparently, Ms. McClure did not take these survivors very seriously. Nor does she take rape and its ensuing trauma very seriously. Not only for the sake of the young women themselves, it reflects badly on survivor advocacy as whole, when “one of us” treats sexual assault so recklessly.

Men who are upset with McClure can't make a peep, as Lee Edmundson found when Beth Bosk took him to task for calling in and trying to find out what exactly the political beef was with Vroman. 

Juvenile and adult women and men rape survivors suffer from Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) a form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) in varying degrees as a result of their assault. There is no such thing as “no trauma.” Any advocate experienced in working with survivors knows that anger, both well placed and misplaced, is a part of RTS. Again, this anger is a natural and healthy part of the trauma healing process. 

In order to support the survivor in evolving through the stages of PTSD/RTS (which may go on for many years), an advocate does not extract one of the symptoms, such as anger, and distort it by sensationalizing it. This inhibits full recovery.  

The young women are not off-base or wrong for wanting to express their anger and concerns to the whole wide world. Linda McClure, however, as the alleged professional in the deal, defied all ethical standards by offering her talk show as one of, or as an aside to, their options. 

The question arises: Other than “Getting Vroman,” (who McClure later said she still supports) what was Linda McClure's purpose in putting these young women on a talk radio show?

The listening audience did not hear a discussion of the overall dynamics of rape with a first person story used to illustrate the dynamic. We did not hear an analysis of the legal components necessary to prosecute a rape case. We did not hear informed discourse on the subject of rape.

All we heard was McClure herself belaboring one aspect of the victimization, the survivors' obvious belief that their trauma would be validated, the wrong made right, if the assailant was brought to trial. 

Women, children and men are considered to have been sexually assaulted if they say they have been sexually assaulted. Period. The advocate's role is to reassure a rape survivor that prosecution is not necessary for validation (that they have indeed been terribly harmed). Prosecution is only a legal mechanism that may or may not be successful. Bringing an assault to trial is just one of a broad range of prosecution remedies. The victim's absolute psychological need for validation cannot hinge, in any way, on bringing a rapist to trial.

Many survivors choose not to name or prosecute their rapists for a variety of  rational, valid reasons besides fear of being assaulted again and believing that law enforcement can't or won't protect them. Therefore, insisting on prosecution is not part of rape survivor advocacy. If a man, woman or juvenile chooses to pursue prosecution, then they are unconditionally supported through this process by the advocate along with constant reassurance that if the rapist is found not guilty, or the case settled or dropped entirely, this has no relationship to the truth and harm of the assault. 

The survivor, especially the juvenile, is often too vulnerable while seeking psychological equilibrium during the post-assault trauma, which often includes the stress of choosing to go forward with prosecution and the stress of prosecution itself to have one aspect of the trauma (i.e., the prosecution or lack of successful prosecution) outwardly distorted in a media interview such as McClure's KZYX presentation.

While the public has an interest in knowing about the anger of the victim and in the prosecution of the rapist, it is the survivor's mental health and recovery that must be of paramount concern to the rape issue activist. Anything less is exploitative and a further victimization of the survivor, especially a teenaged survivor..

In the particular case before us, rape kits (medical exams) were not done. The assaults were not reported by the victims early enough. Even if exams are done, they are not always proof positive in court that an assault has occurred. The assailant, Shawn Perrot, age 24, was arrested and charged under then-DA Massini with 19 separate offenses, including 9 counts of statutory rape (non-consensual intercourse) with many different victims. The assaults occurred in two separate places on different dates. The assaults were investigated by the County Sheriff’s Department under Jim Tuso. The victims' ages ranged from 12 to 17 years old.

Under Vroman, Perrot, acting as his own defense counsel (which is his right), advanced a motion to dismiss all charges. One of his primary assertions was that he had been denied his constitutional right to question some of his victim/accusers under Massini. Judge Henry Nelson had no choice but to dismiss most of the charges against Perrot, hence most of the victims no longer had a case. Still, with the election of Vroman, assistant DA Katherine Houston was able to move forward with two of the young women and preserve a strong case against Perrot, despite the fact that the case consisted of “his word against her word.” 

In these “his word against her word” cases, the entire spectrum of details, from the survivor's personal behavior and sexual history, to the setting of the assault, to the credibility of the survivor and witnesses must be taken into account by the prosecutor. Anything that would undermine the survivors' credibility or version of events in an average juror's mind will be advanced by the defense attorney, whether feminists like it or not. Perrot was entitled to examine and cross examine the survivors and their witnesses. He was entitled to put on witnesses in his own defense.

In “his word against her word” cases, a judgment call is made by the prosecutor as to whether to go to trial or not. Often the decision is made to not go to trial in order to avoid a very ugly and painful event that will serve no purpose other than to significantly re-victimize the victim. 

The criminal justice system is not designed or intended to right all wrongs. Its “process” can be more harmful to the survivor than the available remedy. A conviction obtained in a jury trial is not the sole indication that the system is working, or that justice has been obtained. Anyone who advises a survivor differently is a charlatan. 

So Vroman, together with his assistant DA Katherine Houston, who prosecuted the Perott rape case, made a judgment call not to bring the case to trial. Instead, a settlement or “plea bargain” was reached. Perrot pleaded guilty to 4 “felony” counts of statutory rape and related misdemeanors. He will be sentenced to 6 years and 8 months in prison. In lieu of actually going to prison, Perrot must prove beyond any doubt that he is fully committed to a bona fide sex offenders treatment center in Ohio for 1.5 years. He must pay for the treatment himself and must not return to California or violate the very strict conditions appended to his five year probation. If he does not meet these terms he goes to prison for 6+ years.

Knowing the details of the case, I think this was a pro-survivor, pro-woman decision all the way on the part Vroman's office. The California prison system has no sex offender treatment program to speak of. Treatment has proven to decrease repeated assaults, prison has proven to have no effect whatsoever on decreasing rapist recidivism.The younger a sex offender can be treated the more likely he is to not offend again. Vroman thought Perrot was young enough that treatment has a good chance of being effective with him. 

Wouldn't any reasonable person choose “probably or maybe effective” over “absolutely non-effective”?

McClure and her posse of headline activists should withdraw from human and women's rights advocacy until they obtain proper training, preferably from Marie de Santis or someone like her. As it now stands they are very dangerous to the community, to women, and to any other crime victim who might look to them for support.

One Comment

  1. Lee Edmundson December 18, 2019

    Roanne Withers’ elegant insightful treatise remains a timeless piece of first-rate journalism.

    Roanne Withers and Norm Vroman: gone but not forgotten.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *