Culture change direly needed to combat sexual assault, abuse
Outrage following the light sentencing of former police officer Gene Baska is justified. In fact, it's warranted. He violated three teenage girls, undoubtedly leading to years of mental anguish as the result of his advances. Two-hundred and seventy days in the county jail seems like a slap on the wrist.
Baska, a 64-year-old retired Vernonia police officer, pleaded no contest to two counts of first-degree attempted sexual abuse and one count of luring a minor.
Baska's story is frustratingly familiar. We routinely find sexual abuse and sexual assault cases among the St. Helens and Scappoose police log entries. The story of an aging male relative assaulting a minor boy or girl is not uncommon, and it was a relative of Baska's who first alerted law enforcement to his crimes — though her claims were dismissed following an initial investigation.
And still, despite Baska's no contest plea to the charges — the result of a deal he struck with the District Attorney's Office undoubtedly to receive a lesser sentence — or the clear documented evidence he committed the crimes for which he was charged, many rallied to his defense. Some flat out refused to believe the charges.
The case, while involving attempted sexual abuse of minors, punctuates the ongoing problem of sexual assault, harassment and rape plaguing our nation — and world, for that matter. As much as there is a need to declare a public health emergency surrounding opioid use — a declaration from President Trump occurred last week, though no new money is being dedicated to combat the problem — clearly there is also a need to identify the public health emergency around sexual abuse and assault, against minors and adults.
Evidence of how pervasive sexual harassment and assault has become can be found daily in news headlines, with recent revelations about film producer Harvey Weinstein seguing into others. There are now sexual harassment allegations against former President George H. W. Bush, news anchor Bill O'Reilly, actors Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey, as well as several stories of harassment occurring at the Oregon and Washington state legislatures — notably claims of inappropriate touching by Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Roseburg Republican — as well as many, many more. Too many to list here.
A common theme among these accounts, from Baska to Bush, are men in a position of authority who then use that authority and influence to force themselves sexually upon others.
It's a pervasive problem.
A 2016 Women's Foundation of Oregon report notes that 1 million Oregon women, more than half
of the state's female population, experienced some form of sexual or domestic violence. It's one of the highest rates in the nation, the report asserts.
Nationally, nearly 1 in 5 women report being raped at some point in their lives, according to a 2010 report to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, reports the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN.
Too often, the consequences for such crimes do little to deter future occurrences.
This week, Spotlight reporter Courtney Vaughn points to a case in the 1990s when a child therapist at Columbia Community Mental Health, Dean Gordon Alby, is alleged to have used his influence to sexually abuse children in need of counseling. Alby has been named in three separate civil lawsuits for his alleged offenses. Revealing is that prior to working in Columbia County, Alby worked as a counselor at Tualatin Valley Mental Health, where he was also accused of sexually abusing children. According to a lawsuit, Alby was hired by CCMH after being fired from Tualatin Valley Mental Health for his offenses.
Is there a solution? Yes, but it will take a massive culture change, one that shifts the power dynamic from our generally male-dominated societies toward greater gender parity in all facets of society.
We are a long way from that occurring. An overwhelming majority of power positions, whether the president of the United States, a Fortune 500 CEO, or film producer, are held by men. The culture is one of male dominance.
Absent that change — of which we are all responsible for initiating, in our daily words and actions — the best we can hope for is that women and others victimized by sexual harassment and assault, a number that is vastly underreported, come forward with those experiences so that perpetrators can be held accountable. Such a movement is now underway at the Oregon
Capitol, where 130 women signed
a letter casting light on harass-
ment and sexism there. It's a s
mall step, but one in the right direction.
Only by removing the long-held stigma associated with being a sexual assault or abuse victim, adult or child, can we then begin to strike at the heart of the problem.