By JENNIFER JACOBS • firstname.lastname@example.org • May 30, 2009
Orange and white ribbons have sprung up in Creston in support of two former police officers convicted of a sexual assault there, and one man has shaved his head in solidarity, townspeople said Friday.
Victims' advocates are disturbed by the gestures, saying they make Creston even more uncomfortable for the sexual assault survivor, who still lives in the community.
"I have never heard of people putting up ribbons to wait for convicted rapists to return home," Vickie Hodge, the executive director of the Rural Iowa Crisis Center, wrote on an online message board about the ribbons. "This is really an outrage. I think it speaks to a sense of entitlement that is felt by those responsible. Scary isn't it?"
In March, John Sickels and James "Jamie" Christensen were convicted for their roles in the sexual assault of a bartender in April 2008. At the time, Sickels was the assistant police chief in Creston and Christensen was the police chief. Both were sentenced on May 20 to 25 years and must serve at least 14 years.
Creston Mayor Warren Woods said Friday that city crews have removed all the ribbons someone on Wednesday illegally placed on public property, such as stop signs and light poles.
"I don't know of anyone who's in support of them," Woods said of the ribbons.
But Christensen's mother, Joyce Manley of Creston, said Friday: "The men have got a lot of support here in town. People kept quiet to begin with, and I think they're tired of staying quiet."
The colors are significant, Manley said. "The orange ribbon means they're in prison and the white ribbon means that they're innocent," she said.
Chuck Hulett, owner of Hulett & Son Auto Salvage in Creston, said he shaved his head bald to support Christensen, who is bald.
Some in town consider that a jab at the woman who was assaulted, who said in her victim's statement in court: "I cringe every time I see a bald-headed man, a male officer in uniform, or a law enforcement vehicle. I'm not the same person I was before the assault, and I might never be that person again."
The Des Moines Register does not name sexual assault victims without their permission.
Manley, Christensen's mother, said: "What we can't understand is why the bald head bothered her when it was the redhead that supposedly raped her. That's just asinine."
A jury in Sioux City found Sickels, 39, guilty of raping the woman at the Crestmoor Country Club on April 18, 2008, after the club had closed. Prosecutors alleged that Christensen, 41, stroked the woman's hair and tried to quiet her during the incident.
Hulett said he's mailing a photo of his new bald head to Christensen. Hulett said his motives had nothing to do with sending a message to the survivor. "It's for a loved one in prison. Johnny and Jamie, they're two of my best friends," he said. "We're standing in support. There's nothing to do with harassment. We could easily harass her if we wanted to, but we're not doing that."
Someone stripped a ribbon off his fence, which is private property, so he replaced it with at least eight more, Hulett said.
Supporters of the former officers, including Manley, maintain that the April 2008 case was actually a night of drinking that led to an act of consensual sex.
The victim in her court statement said that the sex was against her will and that Sickels knew it. She said she tried to get away but "they corralled me behind the bar."
The woman said she suffered psychological damage and fears encountering friends or relatives of the men in Creston. "Going places in public in my town has been very difficult if not impossible because of my fears," she wrote.
Wednesday night, a Creston man called the crisis hot line at the Rural Iowa Crisis Center to report the ribbons.
Hodge, the director of the center, said in a telephone interview that she immediately set out with a flashlight and scissors, but then chose not to cut down any of the ribbons. Instead she called the mayor and got him out of bed at 11 p.m.
City parks crews on Thursday removed the ribbons so quickly that several people in town said they never saw them.
"I haven't seen any. I don't even know what they're about," said Gus King, co-owner of the Elm's Club in Creston.
Advocates at the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault reached out to the state attorney general's office to see if the ribbons constitute harassment or stalking of the survivor, but concluded that some intimidating behaviors don't rise to the level of a criminal charge.
Bob Brammer, a spokesman for the attorney general, said Friday: "We met today with persons who are concerned about the situation, and we are aware of the situation. The victim's safety and well-being are our top concern, and we are confident local police will respond appropriately and effectively if there is any question of public safety."
Townspeople are now posting the ribbons on private property: car rear-view mirrors, trees and front porches, Manley said. Orange and white bracelets are on order, she said.
"We just want the public to know the justice they had was all wrong," Manley said. "We've got pedophiles out there with less time than these guys, too. Murderers that get less time. These guys would have been better off to drive out of there drunk and kill someone."
Hodge is worried about conflict escalating in Creston. "I recognize that many people are hurting, and I would encourage people to behave with dignity and respect for one another," she said. "I obviously believe the criminal justice system did its job. Others do not, and I understand that. This is ripping the town apart. People who are doing that need to stop. We need to move on and heal.”
No investigation is underway, the mayor said.
“If it gets to be an overblown situation, we’ll take a look at it as a more in-depth investigation,” Woods said.
Just. Fucking. Sick. This isn't entirely new information, since the trial divided the town, (they are good ol' hometown boys, puke) but to put up RIBBONS, like you put up for veterans and sick people...disgusting. Just disgusting.