A friend recently relayed a terrible story involving her daughter and a professional photographer. The final outcome was a disgraceful injustice.
Her daughter, whom I will refer to as Jan, was a model in a photo shoot in July. The photographer was employed by Google Maps to take images of people in the Harpers Ferry region for advertising purposes. The mother researched the scenario and verified it was legitimate before allowing her daughter to take part. She also accompanied Jan, who was 16 years old, on the photo shoot.
The pair met the photographer on location. As many shots were required, my friend used her car to drive to various locations. Because parking is a challenge in the historic town, she sometimes had to stay with the vehicle in a non-parking zone and watch the photo shoot from a distance.
The shots seemed to be going fine until the photographer posed Jan out of view on a canal bridge. The mother parked the car and decided to take some pictures of her own in the scenic location. She walked onto the bridge and saw what looked like the photographer touching her daughter’s crotch. She also noticed Jan’s paralyzed expression.
She called to Jan and questioned her about what had just occurred. Her daughter confirmed he had touched her inappropriately — then and also twice earlier during the photo shoot, when his hand brushed against her breasts. She said the photographer had pretended it wasn’t intentional, so she questioned herself about whether she was in danger. She told her mother she wasn’t sure what to do when each instance happened.
The mother put Jan in the car and immediately confronted the photographer, who confessed his behavior was inappropriate and apologized. She demanded the card containing her daughter’s photographs and left, angry.
The following morning, she made a formal complaint, realizing how many others could be victimized by this man and hoping there would be repercussions for his lecherous behavior.
A federal officer in Harpers Ferry took the complaint. Strategically, the photographer had preempted her visit, telling the local authorities what happened from his perspective and stating he’d made a mistake, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. He warned them the mother was upset and might return to make more of it — which she did. The federal officer still determined what occurred to be criminal behavior as opposed to inappropriate conduct and the case was sent to the district attorney in Berkeley County.
My friend and her daughter waited for news only to learn in mid-September the case was dropped due to “lack of evidence.” How is that possible when the daughter provided her statement, the mother was an eyewitness, and the perpetrator confessed? They were both clearly upset by this development, or rather, lack of development.
My friend contacted the district attorney to get the details. She learned their office had tried to prosecute the individual but there isn’t a statute that specifically addresses what he did. It didn’t meet the definition of assault and there’s nothing for lesser offenses. The DA’s office also learned the photographer had two prior complaints: one for peeping and one for touching a girl’s leg, kissing her cheek and zipping her dress.
It seems this predator knows the legalities so well he knows just how far he can push them to his advantage and face no charges or penalties, leaving him free to molest other women. It’s maddening and unacceptable.
Lawmakers, close this gap and create a statute to address this type of transgression.
As for parents, talk to your kids about what to do if someone touches them inappropriately. Be clear. Be graphic. Be dogmatic. Train them.
For us females, it’s amazing how unclear we are. When Jan questioned herself, “Did he just touch my breast?” that should have been her clue to scream, run and get herself out of there. But women don’t because we feel uncertainty or fear. We worry about hurting someone else’s feelings or what people will think of us. We’re prone to giving others the benefit of the doubt. We tend to be empathetic, emotional and unsure of ourselves. It makes me a little sick thinking about it.
Are we sometimes wrong about what we think is happening? Yes. Are we wrong to remove ourselves immediately whether we’re seeing it correctly or not? Never.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, every 109 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault. The majority of child victims are under 18 and most are between 12 and 17. The news is also full of adult gropers who get off scot-free. Since we can’t always protect children, let’s prepare them. We can do better. And lawmakers, fix this loophole.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, October 9, 2016.
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