By Joel Mills Lewiston Tribune
LEWISTON, Idaho — Nez Perce County Sheriff Joe Rodriguez apologized Saturday for a meme his wife posted to his Facebook page that mocked women who don’t immediately report sexual assault.
“It’s problematic for anybody,” Rodriguez said of posting such material. But he agreed that it was especially problematic for an elected law enforcement official. “I don’t take anything of this sort lightly. I don’t care if it was 30 years ago. It takes a lot for someone to come forward and say ‘This happened to me.’ ”
The meme (an internet term for a picture usually accompanied by humorous text) showed a photograph of a very old woman in a negligee with the words, “My ass was groped in 1886 and I waited till now to tell about it.” Rodriguez said he immediately deleted the post once he learned of it.
Delayed reporting is highly common for victims of sexual assault, making it one of the most underreported crimes. The issue came into intense national focus over the past week after psychologist and professor Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party in 1982. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation. (See related story, Page 1A.)
Social media users widely shared the post on Rodriguez’s Facebook page, which drew extensive and intense criticism. Some even called for his resignation. But Rodriguez said his wife, Julie Rodriguez, inadvertently posted the meme on his page instead of hers because they share the same home computer.
“She believed she was on her Facebook page,” he said. “I don’t go on Facebook very much for this very reason.”
Julie Rodriguez said she has stopped following national news very closely, and was unaware of the Kavanaugh nomination and the furor over Ford’s allegation.
“It was just a bad choice for me,” she said through sobs. “I guess I didn’t think about it before I posted it.”
She apologized, adding that she was especially sorry for any harm she may have done to her husband’s reputation. Julie Rodriguez described the sheriff as a compassionate man who goes above and beyond to help others.
Sheriff Rodriguez said he understands how difficult sexual assault cases are to prosecute and that victims have to fight through the attached social stigma and the other recriminations that come with reporting.
“If you don’t have somebody who wants to testify, it’s hard to pursue,” he said while acknowledging how hard the decision to report can be.
But he wanted to assure county residents that his department takes all reports of sexual assault seriously, and has officers who are trained in comforting victims. The prosecutor’s office also has victim advocates who can help shepherd them through the process, Rodriguez said. Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman said the time of an offense or status of the offender doesn’t matter when reporting sexual violence.
“We know how difficult it is to come forward and how horrendous it is to go through the criminal justice process when you’ve been victimized,” Coleman said in a written statement to the Lewiston Tribune. “We have people in place to help, some of the best trained detectives in the area and victim advocates and prosecutors in my office who are the most passionate professionals I’ve seen on these cases and the people they assist.”
Coleman added that his office has held several individuals accountable in the past year in cases where years had passed since the crime was initially committed. He encouraged victims to call Lewiston police at (208) 746-0171.
“I do want to make something absolutely clear though: victims of sexual assault, rape … any kind of sexual crime, should please not hesitate to come forward and report the crimes committed against them, no matter how long ago it was,” Coleman said.