Island sexual assault crimes on the rise, but why?

An influx of sexual assault crimes involving minors in San Juan County has islanders wondering what is happening to their communities.

“It’s messed up in a million different ways,” said San Juan Sheriff Ron Krebs about these crimes against children.

Cases in the last six months involved the conviction of a man who pointed a gun at a 15-year-old girl who said she was refusing his advances, the arrest of a man with a warrant for rape of a child and the impending trial of a teacher who was allegedly involved with a student. In 2016 alone, a man was convicted of molesting his children on and off the island and another man was charged with sexually abusing a 20-month-old child. There is more information about these cases at the end of this story. The violent and sexual nature of these crimes has citizens in the community asking if their idyllic island community is becoming more violent or are victims feeling safer to speak up?

“Is this an epidemic or are people just now reporting it more?” asked Krebs.”That is the question, and I don’t have the answer.”

He can say that after serving for 10 years as a deputy, and now nearly two years as sheriff, the increased level of sex crimes reported to his office in the last 12 months is a new trend. As a deputy, he recalled hearing about one or two cases of sexual abuse a year. There have been at least 30 cases of sexual offenses reported to the sheriff’s office in the past two years. Due to their systems’ organization he wasn’t able to provide more data before press time.

Statistics

According to data from the National Association of Realtors, which collects statistics for relocation purposes, on average San Juan County has 2 percent fewer rapes reported than Washington state, and is 93 percent below the nation’s average. However, Washington state has 37 percent more rapes reported than the national average and jumped 21 percent in reported rapes from 1,797 in 2013 to 2,171 in 2014.

According to research from David Finkelhor and Lisa Jones there has been a decline in cases of sexual abuse nationally. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System showed a 62 percent decline in rates of sexual abuse starting in 1992 and continuing through 2010. The study used not only the FBI, child advocacy groups and universities, but also victim self report surveys, stating: “It is always possible that agency data could show declines because victimizations were not being reported.” Victim self reporting statistics showed similar numbers of a decline of 69 percent in the annual rate of sexual assaults against teens from 1993 through 2008. There is no self reporting information on victims under 12.

The Justice Department showed an average of 68 percent of assaults from 2008 to 2012 were not reported to police and only 32 cases out of 100 were reported to the police.

Although there is little data released yet on the subject from 2015 to 2016, the FBI’s Crime in the United States report for American cities showed the estimated number of violent crimes decreased by 0.2 percent in 2014 and 4.4 percent in 2013 when compared with 2012 data. Yet nationwide, rape incidents increased by 2.5 percent from 195,804 in 2013 to 200,686 in 2014.

Local crime

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services for the San Juan Islands Director Kim Bryan has also seen a trend of increased sexual assault in the islands. Although she has no hard data to support if the uptick is due to more violence or more reporting, she said the increase could be because people, especially kids, feel more comfortable reporting.

“We’ve really worked on giving more of a voice to children, helping them to feel safe in telling someone,” said Bryan. “For so many years children were told to never say no to adults, and that is changing.”

DVSAS has worked with local schools to ensure that students know they can tell an advocate or another safe adult about abuse. Bryan said bystanders are also more empowered to report crimes they suspect are happening to children. Groups like the Stand Up Men whose campaign slogan is “Speaking Up to Break the Silence Surrounding Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault” urge people to take an active stance.

“We will send a message that the hate and cruelty of the few do not speak for our islands,” organizers wrote in a press release.

Last year DVSAS and The Stand Up Men reached out and asked for 100 men to donate $100 to honor a woman in their lives. This year they are asking for a 1,000 men to join by visiting www.DVSASsanjuans.org.

Krebs, who has joined the Stand Up Men, said that since he took on the role of sheriff he has put an emphasis on training officers on domestic violence and sexual assault issues. The sheriff admits that as a deputy that he had his own issues with victim sensitivity by not understanding the bigger dynamic of psychological and financial reasons of why women stay with abusers. Krebs is now actively involved with campaigns like the Stand Up Men, which puts the emphasis on positive male images instead of focusing on the victim’s decisions.

“The new training going into law enforcement here might make people feel more comfortable reporting,” speculated Krebs on the recent crime on the islands. As far as date rape, Krebs speculates that it happens more often than is reported. The sheriff’s department and DVSAS work closely together to ensure officers have the training to deal with victims, but Bryan makes it clear that DVSAS has confidential services.

“A lot of the time sexual assault survivors don’t want to report,” she said. “We help them through the healing process.”

One common thread between recent cases is clear: all the abused children knew their attacker.

Bryan worked as a pediatric nurse for 16 years and was the director of a domestic violence shelter in Spokane, Wash., for 10 years. Since coming to the islands in 2012 the major difference Bryan has seen in this community versus Spokane is that stranger danger does not occur in San Juan County. Every child assault case that has come across her desk had an offender who was known to the victim. Krebs also knows this trend from years on the force.

“We have to educate people to be aware of signs of danger for their children. Our job is to protect our kids,” he said. “Your job as a parent is to protect your child.”

While an island can be an ideal place to raise a child, according to Bryan, a small tight-knit community that wants to keep its secrets can foster criminal activity.

“The culture of not wanting to air our dirty laundry in public and keeping that to ourselves can create the perfect environment for a child molester,” said Bryan. “There is not a lot of danger for the perpetrator.”

Some of those crimes on the islands have a ripple affect that lasts for hundreds of years.

Bryan works with many survivors who grew up here. One island survivor – along with her siblings and cousins – was molested by her grandfather. She told DVSAS that her grandson, who had been abused by other family members, was molesting a child. He is now a registered offender.

“Why did someone not stop the cycle 40 years ago?” said Bryan.

Though there is more education for survivors of assault and less victim-blaming, Bryan has seen a disturbing number of people concerned about protecting offenders convicted of assault. According to Bryan, community members have voiced concerned about how the stigma of the offense will ruin the perpetrator’s life. Bryan’s response is: “He made the choice, what are you doing to her [the victim’s] life? We’ve got to keep the conversation going. That conversation is why I think we are seeing more reporting.”

Statistics from local organizations about sexual assault on the islands could not be collected prior to this article going to press. Watch for more information in next week’s paper.

Recent crimes

• In September of 2015, 40-year-old Lopez Island man was convicted of attempted assault in the second degree with a deadly weapon after meeting a 15-year-girl in January 2013 on an Orcas cabin, which ended, according to court documents, in him pointing a gun at her after she allegedly refused his advances.

• In October of 2015 Orcas High School science teacher Dr. Gerald Grellet-Tinner, 59, was charged with two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor, which is a felony. His trial is slated for June 13.

• In January of 2016, a 22-year-old man, wanted in Thurston County for first degree rape of a child, was arrested on San Juan Island for a series of burglaries.

• In February of 2016, a 45-year-old man on San Juan Island pleaded guilty to one count of child molestation in the first degree. According to court documents, two of his daughters alleged that he forced sexual acts against them. He was sentenced to 68 months to life. In a separate case, two of his step-daughters in Anacortes were interviewed by an advocacy center and one disclosed sexual abuse.

• A 33-year-old Friday Harbor man was charged on March 29 with multiple counts of first-degree and second-degree possession of child pornography and one count of attempted voyeurism, all occurring in his previous home in Cle Elum.

• On May, a 25-year-old a man was charged with two counts of rape of a child in the first degree, and one count of assault of a child in the second degree. To read more see below.