RAPE AC­CUSER: ‘I WON’T BE SILENT’

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL GOR­DON mgor­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Michael Gor­don: 704-358-5095; @MikeGor­donOBS

Karah Ab­bott, the ac­cuser in Kevin Olsen’s rape case, says go­ing pub­lic car­ries a cost.

Her name is Karah Ab­bott. She is Kevin Olsen’s ac­cuser. Here are a few things she wants you to know:

Dur­ing the two-week rape trial of her for­mer boyfriend, Ab­bott’s iden­tity was pro­tected by a court or­der and a gen­eral me­dia pol­icy not to iden­tify the al­leged vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault.

Ab­bott, 25, says her de­ci­sion now to lift that veil fol­lows months of per­sonal doubt, emo­tional tur­moil and a self­im­posed ex­ile from fam­ily and friends. She also says she’s aware that coming for­ward — af­ter a jury ac­quit­ted Olsen of rap­ing her — opens her to crit­i­cism that she is more in­ter­ested in re-ar­gu­ing the case than in speak­ing the truth.

Ab­bott, who sat down with the Ob­server for a 90-minute in­ter­view, says she no longer cares.

“This is in no way about him. This is about me. It’s time to start stand­ing up for my­self,” she says.

“I needed to put a face to this woman that no­body had ever seen or heard or any­thing. I needed peo­ple to see me. I don’t know why.”

She of­fers a pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion: “I think a lot of women get scared that peo­ple won’t be­lieve them, so they just stop.”

Ab­bott has kept go­ing. On Oct. 5, two days af­ter Olsen was found not guilty, the UNC Char­lotte stu­dent went pub­lic on her Face­book page. Her 350-word post in­cluded four pho­to­graphs of her face, show­ing dif­fer­ent an­gles of her black­ened left eye.

She tes­ti­fied dur­ing the trial that the pho­tos were taken at a hos­pi­tal near cam­pus in Fe­bru­ary 2017, sev­eral hours af­ter Olsen, then UNCC’s quar­ter­back, had beaten and sex­u­ally as­saulted her.

“Here’s to all the women like me (who are) ter­ri­fied, an­gry, scared, and frankly numb,” she wrote in her Face­book post. “We are hu­man be­ings coming for­ward for help. Si­lence should no longer be the norm.”

She also wants women to un­der­stand: Go­ing pub­lic car­ries a cost.

Ab­bott says her role as the ac­cuser in Char­lotte’s most pub­li­cized rape trial in years was an even big­ger or­deal than she ex­pected. She says she found the ques­tion­ing by Olsen’s at­tor­neys ex­ces­sively in­va­sive, and she re­mains in­dig­nant that she was por­trayed as a liar.

While tes­ti­fy­ing, Ab­bott says, she avoided eye con­tact with her fa­ther. He sat di­rectly in front of her in the court­room, she says, and was hear­ing the vi­o­lent and in­ti­mate de­tails of her last night with Olsen for the first time.

Af­ter Olsen’s ac­quit­tal, Ab­bott says she and her fa­ther rode in si­lence for most of the 90-minute drive back to her apart­ment in Win­ston-Salem. Fi­nally, she says, she spoke.

“I don’t know what just hap­pened,” she re­mem­bers say­ing.

De­fense at­tor­ney Ge­orge Laugh­run says Olsen won the case for a rea­son. While those fol­low­ing the trial out­side the court­room did not see Ab­bott’s face or hear her real voice, the nine men and three women of the jury faced no such ob­struc­tions, he says.

“They didn’t hear a mask­ing voice. They didn’t see a black dot over her face like they did on TV,” Laugh­run says. “The jury saw the live per­son tes­tify, and they had a chance to as­sess her cred­i­bil­ity and be­liev­abil­ity on the rape charges, and they didn’t be­lieve her be­yond a rea­son­able doubt.”

Laugh­run says Olsen and his fam­ily have no fur­ther com­ment.

As wrench­ing as her court­room ex­pe­ri­ence turned out to be, Ab­bott says she also has come to see the trial as an op­por­tu­nity to be heard, even if she’s still deal­ing with the re­al­ity of not be­ing be­lieved.

In a nod to the #metoo move­ment and the roil­ing de­bate on col­lege cam­puses over sex­ual as­sault, Ab­bott says women who have been at­tacked are “stuck in this weird sit­u­a­tion: You want to come for­ward, but you don’t know if it’s worth coming for­ward.”

Was it worth it for her?

“Yes,” Ab­bott says without a pause. “The big­gest point in coming for­ward is to save your­self.”

‘FAIR GAME’

Ex­perts say that at least 60 per­cent of sex­ual-as­sault cases go un­re­ported. Those who bring charges do so at sig­nif­i­cant per­sonal risk, says Char­lotte at­tor­ney Meg Maloney, who has rep­re­sented nu­mer­ous clients vic­tim­ized by sex­ual vi­o­lence or ha­rass­ment.

“At trial, ev­ery­thing about their per­sonal life is fair game,” Maloney says. “They’re at­tacked all over again, shamed and de­famed and re­vic­tim­ized.”

Ab­bott tes­ti­fied that af­ter Olsen and she spent a night drink­ing and club­bing in up­town, he be­came en­raged in his bed­room af­ter read­ing some texts on her phone. He be­gan beat­ing her with a pil­low and then his fists be­fore de­mand­ing sex, she tes­ti­fied. Ab­bott told the jury that she was too in­jured and scared to say no.

While Olsen’s de­fense team at­tacked the han­dling of the case by po­lice and the hos­pi­tal, Laugh­run spent much of his time us­ing mes­sages col­lected from Ab­bott’s phone to at­tack her cred­i­bil­ity. In one text she sent a few hours be­fore the al­leged as­sault oc­curred, Ab­bott asked Olsen if he wanted to cap the evening with some “hot sex and porn.”

In an­other text writ­ten af­ter Olsen’s ar­rest, she told a friend that “Kevin is not a rapist.” In a third, she said she wanted to wreck Olsen’s life.

“I can’t take any of those back,” Ab­bott says now. “Do I re­gret some of the things I said? Yes. I have a tem­per. I was a 23-year-old who had been in a toxic re­la­tion­ship. I was stuck. I was con­fused. I was prob­a­bly feel­ing ev­ery emo­tion that a per­son could pos­si­bly feel.”

Ab­bott says she tried to tell her story, flaws and all, di­rectly to the ju­rors but found many of them un­re­spon­sive. Sev­eral, she says, would not look at her. Be­fore their ver­dict was read aloud, Ab­bott says, she felt a sense of dread. She says she heard the words “not guilty” with her eyes al­ready closed in fear.

Later, an anony­mous male juror told Fox46 Char­lotte that nei­ther the pros­e­cu­tion’s case nor Ab­bott’s tes­ti­mony proved be­yond a rea­son­able doubt that Olsen had raped her. Ab­bott, the juror said, could have fled the bed­room or called for help to the oth­ers in the house.

“Yes, he beat her,” the juror told Fox. “We made that a sep­a­rate in­ci­dent vs. him be­ing ag­gres­sive dur­ing the sex.”

Two days later, Ab­bott says she was holed up in the bed­room of her apart­ment with her dog, Oliver, when she re­ceived a mes­sage from a for­mer soror­ity sis­ter, a friend who Ab­bott says had been in­spired by Ab­bott’s ex­pe­ri­ences to open up about her as­sault.

“She told me, I had to get my life back,” Ab­bott says.

Ab­bott wrote her Face­book post that same day. She says she was re­spond­ing to anony­mous ac­cusers on so­cial me­dia who said she made up her rape al­le­ga­tions. Her post was also in­tended, she says, as a ral­ly­ing cry for sex­ual-as­sault vic­tims to take charge of their own lives.

“I am fi­nally free and I will not be silent,” Ab­bott wrote. “You shouldn’t be ei­ther.”

Dozens of women, nearly all of them strangers, re­sponded with mes­sages of sup­port or to share their ex­pe­ri­ences, she says.

Though she feels bet­ter about her­self than she has in months, Ab­bott says she still has work to do. She doesn’t feel safe to re­turn to the UNCC cam­pus to fin­ish her fi­nal class­work. She also says she is not ready to re­sume dat­ing.

Yet, Ab­bott says she al­ready has had some glimpses of what her life might be­come. She wants to at­tend grad­u­ate school near the ocean. She cred­its a “weird awak­en­ing” dur­ing her emo­tional strug­gles that has pointed her to­ward the study of psy­chi­a­try. She says she wants to bet­ter un­der­stand why peo­ple en­snared in de­struc­tive re­la­tion­ships stay to­gether as long as they do.

Two de­plet­ing days of tes­ti­mony about her re­la­tion­ship with Olsen, Ab­bott says, in­stan­ta­neously gave way to a sense that her or­deal was over.

“The mo­ment I stepped down from the wit­ness stand, I felt this im­me­di­ate clo­sure. Im­me­di­ately,” she says. “That I didn’t have to do this any­more ... and I could get on with the rest of my life.”

DO I RE­GRET SOME OF THE THINGS I SAID? YES. I HAVE A TEM­PER.

Karah Ab­bott

Lorena Rios-Trevino

“We are hu­man be­ings coming for­ward for help. Si­lence should no longer be the norm,” Karah Ab­bott wrote on Face­book.

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