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Parkside High School is the location of a reported rape of a 15-year-old student by a 17-year-old student last week. / Laura Emmons, The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times

SALISBURY, Md. -- It's an echoing theme in Facebook comments about last week's high school hallway rape case.

Why didn't she scream?

Why wasn't the 15-year-old girl in class at the time?

Maybe she lied.

The full story of what happened Monday morning here at Parkside High School may or may not come out in court.

But in the court of public opinion, many are placing their focus not on the person charged with the crime but on the girl who reported it. That's not uncommon, experts on sexual assaults say.

"When it's rape, it's always about the victim," said Michele Hughes, executive director of the Life Crisis Center in Salisbury.

People will blame the victim in a sexual assault case when they wouldn't talk about a victim's character in a burglary, Hughes noted.

Recriminations can add to a rape survivor's trauma and prevent other victims from coming forward, rape crisis experts say.

Rebutting the blamers

When Heather Lynette Sinclair saw comments that blamed the girl in the case on local station WBOC-TV's Facebook page, she posted plenty of comments in response to defend her. Having people defend her helped Sinclair after she went public with her own story of being sexually assaulted, she said.

Sinclair recalls facing comments that she was lying. To her, it felt like bullying.

"It was really hard, because it takes a lot to come out about your personal tragedy," Sinclair said. "It really does."

When others wrote comments to support her, that was a big help, she said.

"It meant so much to me that these people, they were strangers to me, and they were standing up for me," said Sinclair, who went to Parkside High and now lives in Pasadena, Md.

The Daily Times does not name victims of sexual assault, including the teen in the Parkside case. Sinclair, however, gave permission for her name to be used. She is the founder of the Lynette's Law for Maryland movement, which is currently working to make therapist sexual abuse a crime in Maryland.

She said she expected some victim blaming in the Parkside case, but the sheer amount of comments on the WBOC page was surprising to her.

However, she was glad she wasn't the only one who responded to those who had questioned the girl's actions or motives.

"It was such an inspiring day for me to see other people come out and support her," Sinclair said.

The public's discomfort

People might be more likely to believe a victim if she had been walking in a bad neighborhood, Sinclair said. But for the public to hear a rape may have occurred at a high school is a different story.

"You get more victim blaming when people are uncomfortable," Sinclair said.

Lisae C. Jordan, executive director and counsel of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, brought up the same point. People sometimes say they wouldn't do what the victim did, which distances themselves from the reality of what occurred.

"I think it often stems from a fear that something like this could happen to them, and so they want to make themselves different from the survivor," Jordan said.

The possibility of a rape occurring at a school is not unthinkable, experts say.

When the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault started the Sexual Assault Legal Institute about 10 years ago, Jordan said she expected some clients would be college students. But the amount of high school student survivors ???? from incidents both in and outside of school ???? has been a surprise, she said.

"It's shocking how many are in school or on school grounds or on school buses," Jordan said.

She said she's seen an increase in high school and college cases, and sexual assault cases overall in the state. She hopes the number is rising because more people are reporting what happened rather than that assaults are happening more frequently.

More than 11 percent of high school girls have been forcibly raped, according to one of the statistics compiled at the 1 is 2 Many page at www.WhiteHouse.gov. The same website states about one in every five female college students becomes a victim during her time at college.

Fear of coming forward

Survivors are often discouraged from reporting sex crimes because of a lack of perceived support or a fear of ridicule, Jordan said.

Most sexual assaults are not reported to the police, statistics show. The coalition website cites studies estimating that as many as 84 percent of cases nationwide are never reported to police.

Sentiments blaming the victim, such as the Facebook posts in the Parkside case, can make survivors doubt themselves.

"It kind of shakes the victim's confidence," said Dee Copeland, a sexual trauma therapist at the Life Crisis Center.

The process of police investigation and court proceedings can also be grueling.

For example, the victim in the recent sexual assault proceeding at the U.S. Naval Academy was asked about the type of underwear she was wearing, Jordan said.

What kind of decision the victim should have made - rather than the person charged - is often looked at first, Copeland said.

And more than one person interviewed for this story said a forensic evidence kit - also known as a rape kit - is an extremely unpleasant experience to have to go through.

Seemingly normalized

Hughes, of the Life Crisis Center, said

sexual assault is traumatizing on many levels.

"Rape is not about sex, it's about power," Hughes said. "And mostly, it's about anger."

Tasha Thomas, a counselor at Salisbury University's Counseling Center, said the cultural tendency toward women being shown as controlled and sexualized helps explain why women may be blamed after a sexual assault.

The way a woman dresses doesn't mean she was asking to be assaulted, Thomas said.

"That person who has violated them has chosen to violate their boundaries, and so it's never the victim's fault," she said.

Boys should instead be taught about respect, Hughes said.

"Women cannot stop rape," Hughes said. "We can all wear burqas. It isn't going to stop it."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Victimized twice: Accuser blamed in rape case

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