COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, likely did some harm with his appearance on Fox News when he questioned the story of a 10-year-old girl from the Ohio getting pregnant as a result of rape because it could silence others from reporting these crimes, victims’ advocates say.
Only about 30% of survivors report rape and sexual abuse to law enforcement, in part out of fear of not being believed, said Stefan Turkheimer, director of state legislative affairs for RAINN, the national network on rape, abuse and incest.
“So when a state’s chief law enforcement officer says to a 10-year-old child, ‘I don’t believe you about what happened,’ that sends a message not only to children in the primary, or even middle schoolers, but to everyone in the state that when they show up, they might not be believed,” he said. “This 10-year-old boy made a Incredibly brave thing. And she deserves to be believed. Because any 10-year-old girl who is pregnant is pregnant as a result of rape.
Yost appeared on Fox News’ “Jesse Watters Primetime”on Monday, July 11, claiming to have heard “not a whisper, nowhere” that there was a criminal investigation into the rape of a 10-year-old girl in Ohio.
The Indianapolis Star was the first to report the girl’s story, as she had traveled to Indianapolis to have an abortion by a local OB-GYN. The story said that performing an abortion would have been illegal in Ohio, likely because a fetal heartbeat was detected. This is when abortion becomes illegal in Ohio, a law that Yost defended in court.
For days, the doctor and the newspaper were attacked because the allegations were not immediately substantiated. But three days after Yost appeared on television, authorities charged Gershon Fuentes, 27, who admitted to police he raped the girl twice, court records show. Fuentes faces life in prison.
Victim advocates, however, were less interested in wading into the debate over abortion or Fuentes’ status as an undocumented immigrant than they were in talking about how child and adult victims should be addressed for successful criminal investigations.
Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer has reached out to one of Yost’s spokespersons for comment on his actions harming children’s advocacy and investigations.
In an earlier Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer interview, he defended his comments on Fox News, saying he acknowledged on the show that the girl’s rape may have been real.
Rape investigations are sensitive, especially those involving child victims.
Interviewers are usually careful not to force a child to repeat the story multiple times. When children relive the details, they can be retraumatized. Forensic interviews are usually conducted by a person trained in these cases. Sometimes professionals interview the child behind a two-way mirror, with law enforcement or other people looking the other way. When the police have additional questions or need clarity, they can write a note that a lawyer can pass on to the forensic investigator.
“We advocate for trauma-informed training for law enforcement across the country, including in Ohio,” Turkheimer said. “The purpose of this training, in part, is not to re-traumatize survivors, especially a 10-year-old survivor. It does incredible damage and when someone is not believed it hurts their ability of healing, and it affects his ability to find justice in the criminal justice system.
Yost did the opposite through his Fox News interview, he said.
Jennifer Johnson, director of the Canopy Child Advocacy Center, a Cleveland organization where forensic investigations are conducted in a way that puts the needs of the child first and aims for healing and justice, said it is possible that Yost didn’t believe a crime had happened, simply because he didn’t know about it.
“Sometimes it’s hard to talk when you don’t necessarily know the details of everything that’s going on,” she said. “I think anyone in a position to respond and work with victims has a great responsibility to speak on behalf of victims. I can understand why people make these mistakes. But due diligence can be done to look into these cases and determine whether or not these things happened.
Ohio Attorney General’s Office awarded tens of millions of dollars in federal money to help advocates who help women and children who have been victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. He distributed millions from the Rape Crisis Program Trust Fund of Ohio to advocates who work to help victims heal.
“I know the attorney general’s office does a lot of good work and supports a lot of our programs,” Johnson said. “…I see how it can happen. But I think there has to be a united front to talk about it.
The Attorney General also has a Crime Victims Section providing workshops, training and other forms of education to communities, law enforcement agencies and victim advocates. The Victims of Crime Section also provides compensation to victims, reimburses hospitals for the cost of rape exams, trains law enforcement working with victims of elder abuse, among other services.
“Given her responsibility to do this, it was such an irresponsible approach to handling the tragedy involving this young girl,” said Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and director of its Social Justice Law Center. . “It certainly calls into question his suitability and certainly the fidelity with which he will do the job.”
Yost is re-elected in November. But he shouldn’t politicize any particular case, Hardaway said.
“He’s the chief state attorney for Ohio,” she said. “He understands how surveys work. It’s totally irresponsible and actually inaccurate for him to make a claim in the media, to the general public, because he hadn’t personally heard of this rape case. That somehow it was implausible that he existed. Attorney General Yost knows there are many crimes in this state that do not come to his attention. And it only served his own political interest to mislead the public that there was something wrong or something to be discredited by this story. It is pure politics and not the business of law enforcement to protect victims in the state of Ohio.
Criminals must be held accountable for their crimes, and without the cooperation of victims, justice cannot be served, she said.
Tracy Nájera, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio, said young children are sexually abused and raped every day.
Yost can easily verify this. He has access to the latest crime statistics in the United States and Ohio, she said.
“We see this senior official here in the state, who should be defending the victims, questioning the veracity of, first of all, a doctor and also doubting that this really happened to a child,” he said. she stated. “Just so he knows, he has the crime stats in front of him.”
Najera noted that in the latest annual abortion report from the Ohio Department of Health, which compiles data on all abortions performed in the state, of 20,605 abortions performed in 2020, 521 were performed on minors under the age of 18.
Many of these young people became pregnant after being raped, she said.
“It’s not something that happens once in a while,” she said. “This is happening.”