Innocence lost

Pair of sex assaults involving juveniles shock, infuriate many

DA’S DISTURBING AFFAIR<br> Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey called the Oct. 5 incident, in which a minor was sexually assaulted, “friggin’ sick.”

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey called the Oct. 5 incident, in which a minor was sexually assaulted, “friggin’ sick.”

Photo by Tom Angel

The morality and the legality: Although witnessing a crime and not reporting it is often considered morally wrong, it is not necessarily a crime in and of itself. Some communities have laws requiring witnesses to come forward, but many prosecutors believe these laws scare potential witnesses away, making cases harder to prosecute.

One was 15 years old and attending a high-school football game. Another, a 16-year-old, was dancing drunk on a pool table. The first girl was knocked down and sexually battered in front of a group of junior-high kids. The second was violated with a pool cue.

The two cases have little to do with each other. But what happened to these two young women has parents, educators and investigators scratching their heads and searching their souls for answers as to how the alleged perpetrators—young sons of average American families—could do something so foul.

The incident involving the 16-year-old occurred at a party thrown Oct. 5 by a Pleasant Valley High School student whose parents had gone out of town for the weekend. The girl, who according to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey brought her own vodka to the party on Sir William Court in Chico, was reportedly very drunk and acting in a sexually promiscuous way that evening. Prior to her assault, she had engaged in consensual oral sex with at least two men at the party.

As Ramsey explains it, the inebriated girl began to perform a striptease on the family pool table, and a crowd of boys gathered to watch. When at some point she lost consciousness and fell in a heap on the table, at least four of the boys allegedly molested her while the rest watched.

“This is so far over the line,” Butte County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Andy Duch said. “It’s just a shocking case of mob mentality, alcohol and youth. They treated her less than you would treat an animal, like she was some kind of object.”

The victim apparently remembers little of what happened that night. Ramsey says she did not sustain any lasting physical injuries from the assault and did not report the incident to police. Investigators were apparently tipped off by rumors circulating around PV High.

Though Ramsey termed the assault “idiotic and vicious,” he also said he wanted to avoid demonizing the defendants.

“They’re monsters, but maybe not the kind of monsters one might think at first blush,” he said.

Of the six arrested in the case, five were taken out of class and arrested last week by sheriff’s deputies. Three juveniles, all 17, are charged with felony penetration with a foreign object. Two 18-year-olds, Paul Nassie and Joshua Moore, were initially to be charged with misdemeanors in connection with having had consensual sexual encounters with the victim, a minor, before she was assaulted. But Ramsey said Tuesday they may not meet the criteria for that charge and would probably not be prosecuted. They have not been implicated in the assault.

All those involved were students or graduates at PV High.

Photo by Tom Angel

Derek Rickmers, 20, a former PV High student who was one of the approximately 120 attendees at the party, was arrested at his residence and charged with two felony counts of penetration with a foreign object.

Investigators said they were shocked at how the suspects “dehumanized” their victim.

In talking to high-school-age girls for background on the story, some said that sexual promiscuity has become so rampant among teenagers that they were not shocked by the behavior of either the suspects or the victim.

“A lot of stuff goes on that doesn’t get reported,” one recent Chico High grad said. “Girls really feel pressure to have sex to be liked,” and boys feel they can bolster their reputations through sex, she added.

PV Principal Mike Rupp said he hoped the incident, which he said was the result of a “societal problem,” wouldn’t harm the school’s reputation. Administrators have thought about actions the school can take to educate kids about proper behavior, but so far no changes in curriculum have been suggested.

The second assault, on a teenaged girl from Durham and allegedly perpetrated by a 13-year-old boy from Durham Intermediate School, took place Oct. 25 at a Durham High athletic field.

According to sheriff’s spokeswoman Cheryl Broom, only one boy was criminally involved in the homecoming night incident on a baseball field. But four youths were questioned when it was reported that they were present when one of them allegedly pushed the 15-year-old to the ground and attempted to sexually assault her. At least one of the boys, and possibly three of them, apparently realized what was happening and helped stop the assault.

The alleged assailant, who at 6 feet and 218 pounds is considered very large for his age, is being held in Juvenile Hall on sexual-battery charges.

While crimes like these are certainly shocking and tragic, they are probably not a new phenomenon. Pam Bodnar, a counselor at Hank Marsh Junior High and former board member of the Rape Crisis Center, said it seemed to her that increased publicity of events like these helps create a public impression that sex crimes involving minors are happening more now than in the past.

“Perhaps we’re just getting better at finding out,” Bodnar said. “I hate to even venture a guess whether it’s more prevalent now, [but] when I think back, I don’t think it’s any different.”

Bodnar said increased press coverage could be either good or bad, depending on how the information is presented. She also cautioned against making judgments against alleged perpetrators before the facts are known.

“From a prevention standpoint, I don’t think true information is detrimental," she said. "I don’t think the truth is going to harm anyone. But you have to remember, these [accused] children are also someone’s little boys."