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Minnesota woman speaks out about sexual assault: ‘I wanted to take some control back’ – Duluth News Tribune

ROCHESTER, Minnesota — Heather McConnell was sexually assaulted outdoors her house by Paul Gustine on the morning of May 3, 2021. Her kids had been at house at the moment.

Gustine pleaded responsible to one among his costs in Goodhue County associated to that incident. Afterwards, McConnell informed the Rochester Post Bulletin that she wanted her story informed. She wanted some control again.

She mentioned since reporting 74-12 months-previous Gustine, she has felt out of control. Not what the information stories. Not what the courts do. Not what individuals say about the assault.

“For the first few months, I didn’t want to leave my house. I locked doors while I was at home. I kept all the blinds closed,” McConnell said. “When I left the house, I would search the street for his car. I kept looking behind me.”

McConnell, who has identified Gustine since she was 9, mentioned she even went as far as to memorize his license plate so she may preserve a watch out for him.

“How am I supposed to teach my kids all that stranger dangers stuff and when to be extremely alert,” she mentioned. “I’m so paranoid about everything right now to the point where I don’t want to scare her anymore.”

She mentioned he is not too long ago began making feedback about her physique, nevertheless it’s one thing she will normally stroll away from.

But then Gustine arrived at McConnell’s Pine Island residence after ending his bus route to the Pine Island School District that May morning.

While standing in her doorway, he would ask her about her affairs earlier than starting to make feedback about her physique and he immediately started to seize his crotch, prompting McConnell to inform Gustine that she actually cares about her kids had to end the day.

At this level, Gustine grabbed McConnell’s chest. She pushed his arms away.

“Oh, please just let me touch her,” Gustine informed McConnell, in accordance to the legal grievance.

McConnell repeatedly informed Gustine “no” and that she was married and did not need him to try this.

After being informed no, Gustine clutched her chest once more, this time as McConnell’s 9-12 months-previous daughter rounded the nook and requested who Gustine was.

“This is Paul, he lives with Grandma and Dad,” McConnell informed her daughter earlier than turning to Gustine and telling him once more that she had to get her children prepared.

After listening to this, Gustine continued to seize his crotch earlier than deciding to depart, telling her not to inform anybody what occurred.

Paul Stuart Gustin.

Paul Stuart Gustin

Contributed / Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office

Gustine was charged in Goodhue County District Court the day after the sexual assault.

He introduced a plea settlement to the court docket on October 31, 2022, agreeing to plead responsible to a felony cost of fifth-diploma legal intercourse conduct involving non-consensual sexual contact. His plea deal comprises no negotiated settlement, or perhaps a point out of jail or probation for his responsible plea, and doesn’t point out whether or not his different costs — fifth-diploma legal conduct with indecent show within the presence of minors beneath 16 — are a gross misdemeanor and a extra indecent misdemeanor Exposure – being dropped.

One of McConnell’s considerations is that Gustine would not want to be registered as a theft offender due to the low costs.

According to Pine Island School District superintendent Tamara Champa, Gustine’s final day within the Pine Island School District was on the morning of May 3, 2021. This is similar day because the assault on McConnell’s house, nevertheless it’s unclear if Gustine’s employment got here earlier than or after the incident ended.

“The school district has received a complaint regarding Mr. Gustine,” Champa wrote in an electronic mail to the Post Bulletin. “The school district has investigated the report,” however no disciplinary motion was taken, she mentioned.

The trial that resulted within the responsible plea, which lasted a 12 months and a half, left McConnell feeling powerless.

Gustine waived his proper to a speedy trial, McConnell mentioned, and in our justice system, survivors haven’t any say.

“It really felt like his attorneys were protecting him and I have no direct protection,” McConnell mentioned.

Gustine is scheduled to be sentenced on January 5, 2023, greater than 20 months since his assault on McConnell.

“Victims have rights within the court process, but it’s still the criminal justice system,” Heather Kolling, outreach supervisor on the Hope Coalition, wrote in an electronic mail to the Post Bulletin. “Our current system is that the crime is against the state, which often forces the victim to wait for their opportunity to have a voice.”

The Minnesota court docket system is so depending on the offender’s choices that it may be very irritating for survivors, Kolling wrote.

“Sexual assault is about power and control, so it can be a trigger for survivors navigating the court system when the perpetrator still holds some of that power and control,” she wrote.

McConnell mentioned she was a wreck per week earlier than every court docket date and two weeks after. She mentioned she will take care of her kids however feels disconnected.

“That time was taken from me,” she mentioned.

There had been a couple of occasions that McConnell mentioned she wanted to stop as a result of it was too troublesome to preserve getting court docket updates and not using a definitive decision. The trauma surrounding the upcoming trial was compounded by the truth that this was not the primary time she had been sexually assaulted, though it was the primary time she reported it.

Days earlier than a trial was scheduled for Gustine – and McConnell was due to testify towards her attacker – he pleaded responsible.

“As much as I was relieved that I didn’t have to go through that, it felt like a huge slap in the face,” McConnell mentioned. “You left till the final minute, that was over a 12 months and a half. You’ve had what number of possibilities and now you are going to plead responsible?”

Heather and Tony McConnell

Heather McConnell (left) and Tony McConnell (proper). Tony McConnell wrote that Gustine has come gentle as compared to the trauma his spouse endured.

Contributed / Heather McConnell

Portrayal of sexual assault within the media

The Post Bulletin article on Gustine’s responsible plea makes use of the language “alleged” when referring to his crimes. News articles will typically hedge language for concern of defamation lawsuits or to keep away from pointing fingers at an harmless individual. Journalists typically depend on court docket paperwork to present details for such tales.

This ends in articles containing language that isn’t focused in the direction of survivors.

“Articles often contain statements that place blame on the victim — whether the victim consumed alcohol, what the victim was wearing, etc. — but rarely focus on the abuser’s behavior. You often see ‘victim was raped’ as a highlight versus ‘perpetrator raped victim,'” Kolling wrote.

The use of “allegedly” in news articles, Kolling says, sometimes reads as casting doubt on whether or not the perpetrator committed the crime.

“These seemingly subtle language changes are tremendous for victim-survivors as they shift the focus from blaming the victim to the perpetrator,” Kolling wrote. “Rapists are the cause of rape, not victim behavior.”

Survivors often have no other choice when it comes to having their trauma made visible to the world. Journalists often try to mitigate potential harm by omitting identifying details.

In McConnell’s case, that meant not writing that her children were present at her home when Gustine sexually abused them. That fact was one of the first things she mentioned when she first spoke to the Post Bulletin.

Not having that level of control over her own story has prompted McConnell to speak out about her case in hopes that others will too.

“As far as this whole thing goes, I didn’t have a choice. At home I had no choice. I had no choice about the legal aspect of the court system,” McConnell said. “For me it boils down to a control issue. I felt so out of control throughout this whole process that I wanted to regain some control.”

Kolling warns reporters ought to be cautious when contacting sexual assault survivors.

“Not all survivors need their tales informed, and telling their tales can have penalties for survivors that I do not assume the media at all times takes into consideration,” she wrote. “I’ve labored with individuals whose acquaintances discovered out they had been victims as a result of they recognized their associate because the perpetrator in a information article.”

Readers will also comment on what they think of cases that may further victimize survivors, Kolling said.

“This article has been posted to Facebook a couple of occasions, and what actually excites me is that it appears like some persons are virtually placing an age restrict on it,” McConnell said. “He did not contact a baby, what is the huge deal?”

These obstacles for survivors to tell their stories mean that they are often told only with a view to criminal proceedings, which often focus on the rights of the accused.

“For this survivor and lots of others, figuring out as a sufferer and telling your story of what occurred to you will be very highly effective and therapeutic,” Kolling wrote. “I hope that an increasing number of media shall be prepared to report sexual assault with this sufferer-centric lens.”

Sexual assault survivors can name the Day One Crisis Hotline at 1-866-223-1111 or 612-399-9995 or discover a native lawyer by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault listing.

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