More than the Uptown fountain running teal-colored water, a headliner trial in Greenwood last week serves to bring attention to a serious crime, a problem that plagues this and, really, every community at an alarming rate - sexual assault.
Greenwood County's former fire coordinator, Corey Grumelot, was on trial on charges of misconduct in office and third-degree criminal sexual conduct. At issue: In January 2011, Grumelot had sex with a woman who was in his care. He claims it was consensual; she claims it was not. He claims he took her to Self Regional Hospital when, in the course of his interlude with her, she went limp. She claims she was already in a haze when she and Grumelot arrived at the motel. A doctor testified when the woman was admitted to Self, the drugs benzos and marijuana were found in her system.
Until Grumelot's surprise plea Friday of guilty to misconduct in office and second-degree assault and battery, jurors had the task of determining whether the sex was indeed consensual, in addition to whether Grumelot was essentially on the job at the time. The latter deals with whether the misconduct in office charge would stick.
I can imagine how many readers were reacting to this story as each day's proceedings were shared daily in this newspaper. After learning Vic Carpenter, who is the former county manager and was Grumelot's boss in 2011, testified Grumelot was on duty at the time of the incident, most readers probably had no problem returning their own verdict and finding him guilty of misconduct in office.
But I bet readers were all over the map when it came to the charge of sexual misconduct.
MANY PROBABLY SIDED with Grumelot, chalking it all up to a woman being high on drugs and, shall I say, loose. It was probably consensual, they think, and it was only once she sobered up she decided to say it was an assault. Others just cut right to the more abbreviated phrase and conclusion: She asked for it.
And there are those readers who contend he was a professional public safety employee of the county who, at no time, should have had sexual contact with a person in his care, consensual or not. They're more apt to leave the assault aspect of the case in a gray area, while seeing the misconduct in office charge in black and white.
Then, there are those readers who side with the woman in a more or less sympathetic way. They certainly see the case as misconduct in office, but they also go along with the criminal sexual conduct charge because, in their eyes, the woman's drug-induced condition made her an easy victim. Were she drug- and alcohol-free, however, they might not as easily side with her.
Let's separate the two items on the table last week and assume everyone agrees public employees should not be having sex while on the clock, consensual or not.NOW, JUST FOCUS on what constitutes sexual assault with this little true-or-false quiz:
n If a woman is under the influence of drugs/alcohol and seems into the sexual advances but is unable to say "yes" or "no," it's not sexual assault.
n If a woman is openly flirtatious, it's not sexual assault.
n If a woman is openly flirtatious and participates in some petting but says no to intercourse, having sex with her is not sexual assault.
n If a woman dresses provocatively and hangs around street corners in the night and is picked up by a man who offers to buy her dinner and drinks, it's not sexual assault if he forces her to have sex in exchange for the meal and drinks.
n If a woman initially participates in sexual activity just short of intercourse, says "yes" to having sex but changes her mind and says "no," it's not sexual assault if the man follows through on the act.
n If a man fondles a woman's private areas, it's not sexual assault.
If you answered "false" to all of the above, you get an A. If you answered "true" to even one of the above, you failed the test.
APRIL IS DESIGNATED as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That's why the City of Greenwood allowed the Uptown fountain to be spewing teal-colored water. Teal is the color worn by those who combat sexual assault just as pink is the color worn by those who combat breast cancer.
And just as breast cancer is a battle every month, not just in October, sexual assault is a constant battle. And among those on the front lines of the battlefield are those who do the heart-breaking and mind-numbing work at Sexual Trauma and Counseling Center and its umbrella organization, The Child's Place, which focuses its attention on child sexual assault victims.
If you think sexual assaults are rare in this area, you're not reading our newspaper's headlines. Chances, are it's more than that. Chances are, you choose not to read the headlines (and probably did not get this far in this column), choose to think sexual assault is something that happens only to victims of a particular socioeconomic class. Heck, you might even be one of those who sides with those who think many so-called victims "asked for it."
IF THAT'S THE CASE, you really ought to drop in and visit STCC and The Child's Place. Take a tour, ask questions, learn what they do day in and day out to try to salvage lives and dignity. Ask them what it's like as they try to combat the cycle of abuse that all too often occurs.
Ask them for a definition of the typical sexual assault victim. No, let me save you on that one. There is no typical victim. You see, that's one of the many perceptions those at STCC and The Child's Place have to contend with every day.
Sexual assault is not like sickle cell anemia; it doesn't primarily affect one race. It's not like breast cancer, which primarily affects women. It's not like Alzheimer's, primarily attacking the elderly. It's not like pneumonia, which also primarily occurs in adults. It's not even like a major drop in the stock market, which initially, at least, affects the haves more than the have-nots.
Sexual assault is not constrained by age, gender, sexual orientation, race, wealth, employment status, social status or any other grouping you might imagine.
If you're ready to have a heightened awareness of a problem, a crime, that runs far more rampant than you would even want to believe, by all means do call STCC at 227-1623. Kris Burris and Charlotte Ehney would be more than happy to shed light on the subject by giving you a tour of STCC and The Child's Place.
Believe me, you'll think about sexual assault in a whole new way, and certainly beyond the month of April. Feel free to make a donation, too, not so much as payment for their time in giving you a tour, but rather as a means of helping them fund the everyday war they wage on sexual assault here in Greenwood, Abbeville and Laurens counties.
Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-2522; email email@example.com ,or follow him on Twitter at IJEDITOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.