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Donna Gustafson: 'The DA's decision to not press charges translated ... as 'I don't matter.''

COURTESY PHOTO - Donna GustafsonI recently read a letter to the editor from Kevin Barton. He sang his own praises while throwing mud and claiming safety is his priority. This is not true by the very example from his actions.

There's another recent story of a woman I know who also was sexually assaulted by a man in Washington County, and she contacted the authorities the same day. She sat at her dining room table with her husband's support while she recanted the painful and humiliating details to a male officer.

She knew reporting would be a difficult path but was determined it would help her recovery and protect other women. She told law enforcement who and where he worked and assumed officers would address immediately to ensure no other women were abused. She allowed the process to continue, trusting the system would do its job to protect and give justice.

She routinely asked for updates from the case detective. She attended therapy to help her through her debilitating PTSD symptoms and continued her journey to recovery.

It was a year after the attack when she was finally told the Washington County DA's Office decided to not press charges without a word as to why. She was devastated and all the progress she had made in her recovery was decimated. The DA's decision to not press charges translated to her as "I don't matter."

It may have taken work and resources for the DA's Office to move forward and may not have been easy, but she was no less a victim than anyone else. The difficulty of a case should not determine worth. She was willing to face this man in court no matter how difficult, to have her voice heard. She did everything right and the system failed her. The Washington County DA failed her.

This victim was me.

How is this justice? Kevin Barton speaks of safety. I see a culture that favors the easy way out. A department with a leader who claims success by counting easy wins and ignoring the known and unknown failures. There's no safety when it takes months to address an assault. There is no justice when a victim is not given the chance to face her attacker because the DA doesn't feel like pressing charges.

We need to stop wasting time congratulating ourselves, not cherry-pick our cases and serve justice to the people. We need someone in the DA's Office who will focus on justice and not simply a "win." Donna Gustafson is a Forest Grove city councilor.


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