Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 21
Start by believingA victim-turned-survivor, Santa Barbara County law enforcement, and educators speak about the importance of supporting victims of sexual assault
BY AMY ASMAN
It’s been about a week since Shane Villalpando was sentenced to one year in Santa Barbara County Jail and five years’ probation for having unlawful sex with underage teenagers. He’ll have to register as a sex offender throughout the duration of his probation. He’ll have to attend sex offender counseling and receive treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.
In July, a jury convicted Villalpando—a former St. Joseph High School student—of three felony counts of unlawful sex with a minor. The jury hung 11 to 1 on whether he raped the then-14-year-old girl while she was intoxicated.
As part of a plea deal, Villalpando agreed to an additional count of unlawful sex with a minor from a separate case involving another girl.
Jennifer Karapetian, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said she and the victims’ families chose not to retry Villalpando because “it was such a traumatic process” for both of the girls.
“They want to close this dark, painful chapter, and begin on the bright path towards healing,” Karapetian wrote in a probation report read by a judge in court.
“The defendant stole the innocence away from Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2, but he didn’t steal their strength,” she wrote. “After finding one another, they found the strength to come forward and report their rapes to law enforcement in April 2012.
“When they reported their rapes, they knew it would be a difficult road ahead. They just didn’t realize how difficult it would be. They had to leave Saint Joseph High School due to the harassment and bullying they endured. They had to move out of the area. They had to start a new life,” she continued. “… But they survived. They started as rape victims, and ended as rape survivors.”
One of those survivors is Delaney Henderson, whose case resulted in the additional count added against Villalpando in the plea deal. Delaney’s family calls her “The Champion of the Underdog.” The recent high school graduate loves to bake cookies for friends on their birthdays or when they’re just having a bad day. She’s always willing to lend a helping hand for a good cause—even when it’s not a popular one. And for the past year and a half, that’s exactly what she’s been doing.
Delaney was one of the key witnesses in the Villalpando trial; her testimony helped establish for the jury Villalpando’s pattern of behavior. She described to police—and later testified in court—about what happened to her the first night of her summer vacation back in June 2011. She also talked to the Sun about what happened, and this is her story:
To celebrate the end of school, Delaney and a friend drove to the beach, where they met up with Villalpando and some other guys.
“They were smoking marijuana and they were making fun of me saying, ‘Oh, Delaney’s such a good girl, she doesn’t do that kind of thing.’ So I felt kind of peer pressured,” she recalled.
Delaney and two of her girlfriends eventually drove back to Delaney’s house in Orcutt. The girls hung out for a while, and then Villalpando and another boy showed up. They all sat on the couch for a while, watching movies and smoking pot. Then they decided to go in the Jacuzzi.
“[My friends] had to help me put on my bathing suit because I couldn’t do anything,” Delaney said, describing the effects of the marijuana she’d reluctantly tried. “I told them, ‘Guys, I’m not loving this feeling.’”
Everyone soaked in the tub for a bit, but Delaney was still feeling “out of it” so she decided to go upstairs to bed.
“The Jacuzzi was making it worse,” she said.
She remembers hearing from her bedroom window her girlfriends talking in the driveway. Then she heard footsteps outside of her bedroom door. She said Villalpando and the other boy entered her bedroom, closed the door, and locked it.
“At that moment, I knew—it just clicked in my mind: ‘This is not good. I don’t know what’s going on right now, and I’m super gone, and I don’t know what to do,’” Delaney said.
She testified in court that Villalpando and the other boy came to her bed, raped her, and then left the room.
After it happened, Delaney didn’t know what to do. She told her friends that she and the boys had sex, but that it was consensual.
“That night, I didn’t really talk much because I didn’t know what to say,” she said. “[Everyone] kept saying, ‘This is such a crazy night,’ so I started to believe it. … Like it didn’t happen, and it was one of those nights that we don’t talk about and we could laugh about it later.”
Fearing that Delaney might be pregnant, her friends took her to a clinic the next morning to get the Plan B pill.
“I just thought, ‘Great, I could be pregnant and not even know who the father is. This is the worst situation ever,’” she said.
The girls waited for three hours to see someone. Finally, Delaney got into an exam room and told the clinic employee that she’d had sex with two male partners the night before.
“She was looking at me like, ‘You whore. I can’t believe you did that,’” Delaney recalled. “I didn’t even know her, and she judged me.”
She called her encounter with the clinic worker a warning sign of what was to come.
That was the last person she talked to about what happened to her for several months. Delaney said she felt too ashamed and scared to tell her parents.
“My first defense was to deny everything because I was so afraid,” she said.
When she got back to school in the fall, rumors quickly started to swirl that Delaney, Villalpando, and the other boy had a threesome over the summer.
(The district attorney’s office confirmed to the Sun that the other boy was later sentenced in juvenile court, though the specific charges and his plea couldn’t be revealed since he’s a minor.)
“I’d be sitting at lunch and I’d hear people whispering, and I’d see them looking at me and I’d think they were talking about it,” she said. “I kind of got obsessive about it. Every single day I wondered, ‘Who knows now?’”
The strain of the incident and the way she was treated at school started affecting her personality.
Kym, Delaney’s mom, said her bright, bubbly daughter became withdrawn. She started having panic attacks and begged her mom to let her stay home from school. Kym and her husband, Chris, had no idea what was going on. They eventually learned about their daughter’s secret through a parent of a friend Delaney had confided in.
As soon as he found out about what had happened, Chris drove straight to the sheriff’s substation on West Foster Road to report it. This proved to be difficult because Delaney didn’t want to talk to law enforcement.
“She told me, ‘I can’t. I’ll lie. He’ll kill me.’ She was so afraid of Shane,’” Kym recalled.
Instead, Delaney and her parents turned to administrators at St. Joseph High School for help. They say former dean of students John Walker, former principal Joseph Myers, and two other employees banded together to protect Delaney from harassment from Villalpando and other students.
As Myers and Walker later testified in court, they didn’t report a rape to law enforcement because they thought the incident had already been reported. Because of their positions at the school, both of the men were mandated reporters and were required by law to immediately report suspected child abuse to authorities. Both of the men ended up resigning from their positions last year; they were later convicted of a misdemeanor and ordered to pay several hundred dollars in fines.
Delaney finally reported a rape after she found out about another girl who’d dealt with Villalpando. (She was identified as Jane Doe in various police reports and court documents, and throughout the trial; that’s how the Sun will refer to her here). Fourteen-year-old Jane Doe’s parents found a diary entry in which she said she lost her virginity to Villalpando, who was 18 at the time. Jane Doe told her parents it was consensual, but they still asked St. Joseph administrators to protect their daughter from Villalpando. Nearly a month went by until Jane Doe finally broke down and reportedly told her parents the sex wasn’t consensual.
When news of Jane Doe’s relationship with Villalpando spread through the school, Delaney reached out to the young freshman to share what happened to her. They talked, and their conversation about what had happened to both of them confirmed to Delaney that something needed to be done.
“I decided right then and there that we needed to report it,” she said. “I was just sick to know that it happened again, and I wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t happen to someone else.”
The girls went to the sheriff’s substation together to report rapes, Delaney said. After that, the harassment jumped into overdrive.
Delaney told the Sun that she started getting shoved in the hallway and confronted in class about what happened to her. Another student threw garbage at her at a football game. People threatened to key her car. Both of the girls received threatening messages on Facebook.
“I had people calling me a bitch and a piece of shit,” Delaney said, adding that some of the students even made T-shirts that read “#freeshane.”
“It’s like [Jane Doe and I] were fighting a battle and we didn’t have any soldiers and Shane had the world. It felt like he had the world,” she said.
Kym and Chris did they best they could to protect their daughter, but, like Delaney, they were shocked by the way they were treated by many people in the St. Joseph community—people they thought were their friends.
“Our whole goal, after we found out about the rape, was to build her up so she knew she had support,” Kym said. “We believed naively that people would support her. I remember telling her it can’t get any worse, and then it did.”
Things got so bad that Delaney tried to commit suicide.
“Her whole life was destroyed,” Kym said.
After her health stabilized, Delaney, then 17, moved by herself to another town to get away from all of her troubles in Orcutt. Jane Doe and her family also moved out of the area.
Despite everything that’s happened, Delaney said she doesn’t regret making the report.
“This isn’t something that kids make up. If someone says they were raped, 99 percent of the time, they were raped,” she said.
Even though people called her a liar and a whore, Delaney stayed true to her convictions.
“I’d say, ‘Hell yeah, it happened,’” she told the Sun. “I never backed down.”
It takes a team
Both Delaney and Jane Doe No. 1 received support—leading up to and during the trial—from family and a few close friends. They also worked closely with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office, and the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center. They forged trusting relationships with these people that continue to this day.
Cases of sexual assault and abuse require a small army to investigate and prosecute, not to mention a range of counseling and supportive services for victims. In Santa Barbara County, this army includes the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, rape crisis centers, social workers, and medical professionals. These professionals gather criminal evidence, interview victims, and care for victims in multiple ways.
The county’s Public Health Department also oversees a Sexual Assault Reponse Team (SART), which administers forensic medical exams and provides victims with medication and other resources.
According to its annual report, SART served 225 children and adults in Santa Barbara County in fiscal year 2012-2013. The vast majority of these people were women and girls, but there was also a significant number of boys younger than 12. Out of the 225 people served, 208 were victims of sexual abuse. Approximately 41 percent of the cases involved alcohol, as reported by the victims.
SART Coordinator Dianna Dominguez told the Sun these statistics only represent the number of people who report being assaulted or abused and agree to have a forensic exam and/or interview.
“It’s estimated that only 20 percent of victims will ever come forward to law enforcement and report what happened to them,” Dominguez said.
There are numerous reasons for this; one of the biggest is the stigma surrounding sexual assault and abuse.
Ann McCarthy, associate director of North County Rape Crisis, and Terri Zuniga with the Victim Witness program said stigma and society’s tendency to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator make reporting an incident incredibly difficult for victims.
They both pointed to the Villalpando case as an example of this troubling phenomenon.
“How could it be, in 2013, that Shane, the offender, was kind of picked up by the community and celebrated as a martyr, and the victims were ostracized and revictimized?” Zuniga said.
McCarthy answered that question with this statement: “Because it’s easier to say, ‘I can’t believe he did that’ than ‘I can’t believe she was raped.’ It makes us feel safer.
“As a whole, society beats it into people that the victim was the one who did something wrong,” she said. “We haven’t done a good job of supporting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. We could do much, much better. We need to do better.”
They said such cases become even more controversial when the parties involved are either minors or teenagers, like the Steubenville, Ohio, case in which two high school football players raped a 16-year-old girl after an alcohol-fueled party in 2012.
That’s why it’s important that people are properly educated about sexual assault and abuse, McCarthy and Zuniga said.
When most people think of rape, they think of some woman getting attacked in a dark alley, dragged into the bushes, and raped,” McCarthy said.
The truth is most victims know their attackers, whether he’s a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance.
Matt Fenske, the sheriff’s detective who investigated Delaney’s and Jane Doe’s cases, said he comes up against this fallacy often in his work.
“People don’t see the rapist as an opportunist who took advantage of the situation,” Fenske said. “Usually drugs and alcohol are involved because it lowers inhibitions and your internal sense of fear.”
He said there’s a perception, especially in cases like Villalpando’s, that “boys will be boys” and that the victims—usually girls—did something to encourage their advances.
“That’s an excuse. That’s like saying drug addicts will be drug addicts, that’s just what they do, or that’s just what robbers do,” Fenske said. “It’s the same as saying, ‘Well, she came over to the party, so she must have wanted it,’ or, ‘She took the drink so she must have wanted it.’”
People like Fenske, McCarthy, and Zuniga are working hard to correct these misconceptions through education and prevention.
Their collective hope is that the ordeal at St. Joseph will teach the community how to better protect themselves against such crimes and to support the people who fall victim to them.
They all commended Delaney and Jane Doe for their bravery.
“To step forward and meet your attacker face to face, to get on the stand and describe to 12 strangers how someone violated you in the most intimate of ways—that is truly courageous,” Fenske said.
Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at firstname.lastname@example.org.