Friday, 10 November 2017

News stories can be misleading
How many times we have read a news story and discovered later that the facts weren’t as they were previously written about in the newspapers?

We read a story about a vicious sex assault and about the accused person who allegedly raped a small child. Even his picture is shown in the paper. We are outraged and rhetorically, we all want the monster hanged from the nearest lamppost.                

Then we later learn that the man we wanted hanged isn’t the man who committed the rape of the child. To quote a German saying— “Too smart too late.” The innocent man’s reputation is now ruined since some people are prone to saying that he got away with the crime of raping the child.

Many years ago, three men were accused of committing a horrific rape against a young woman. Their pictures were published in the newspapers. It turned out that it wasn’t them who raped the young woman.  Before that information became public, one of the accused men was so embarrassed when his name and picture became public; he hanged himself. He was married and had two young children.

In today's hurried society with its need to grab its news and information in superficial bites, they are often mere allegations which are vastly different from an earlier society that held firm beliefs about the accused being innocent until proven guilty.

I will tell you about an incident that took place in the United States that will give validity as to what I have said in the previous paragraph.  

School teacher, Daniel Mark Strom was a teacher at a school near Seattle, Washington in the Lake Washington School District. The 29-year-old teacher taught English and German at Rose Hill Junior High. 

One day in late September, 1989, during a teacher workshop day, Strom was summoned to the office of a vice principal, where he was confronted by two detectives of the Redmond Police Department. He was told that a student named Lisa had accused him of raping her on two occasions; once in March, when she was 12, and a few weeks later, just after her 13th birthday

After being arrested, Strom had initially been suspended with pay by the school district. Then in mid-October he was fired outright from his teaching job.

Needless to say, his arrest made the headlines in Seattle and elsewhere. The damaging media reports, in newspapers and on radio that replayed the charges were having a bad effect on his mental wellbeing and that of his family.  

The media reported that the girl had been summoned to his classroom after school to discuss her lagging grades in German class. Strom told her he understood that she had a crush on him. Then he allegedly kissed her, pulled her to the floor and had forced sexual intercourse with her.

Further, the news reports went on (quoting the prosecutor's charges), Strom came by Lisa's residence during the summer driving a red Corvette that he said he borrowed from a friend. They went for a drive, said the girl, but there was no sexual assault that time. Later, as the charge continued, Lisa said she tried to break off the relationship. She also said that he raped her twice.

He was actually innocent of raping the student. But meanwhile the damage had already been done to him and his family.

After the accusation was made, he said, “I was completely stunned. I felt utter disbelief that this could happen to me. Maybe it's the thing you think could happen to somebody else, andt it can't happen to you.”

He felt a sense of panic.  He'd never been in trouble with the law before or any kind of trouble for that matter. Even though he was read his rights to remain silent, Strom gave the officers a statement that the allegations against him by the young student were untrue.

He was released by the police and then he drove home to North Seattle to break the news to his wife, parents and brothers about what had happened to him. They, too, were dumbfounded.  He later said that his wife had broken down and cried.        

Gordon Strom said, “For everyone in the family, the passing weeks were almost like a situation of death and dying. There's been a death—the death of a career and reputation in a sense.”        

Strom's legal defense had a faltering start, but that turned around when Seattle attorney Jan Olson began representing him. Olson had an investigator check some of the facts of the case. The information obtained was passed onto the prosecutor’s office. Then  a full reinvestigation was undertaken by the deputy prosecutor who was handling the case.

Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Roe later explained that Lisa's red Corvette story apparently was not true. Strom had always said that he'd never owned or driven a Corvette and none of his friends owned one. In fact, the girl had told a school counselor that she had fabricated that whole red-car incident. For the credibility of the witness and the state's case, that was a fatal blow. If that part of her story was a fabrication, what else was a fabrication?

There were other flaws. It's implausible that the alleged rapes would have occurred as Lisa described them in an unlocked classroom   in a corner of the room not visible to others passing by the room and hearing her screams.

Further, even before the allegations against Strom were made,  Lisa acknowledged that she also had a crush on another male teacher.

To those around her, Lisa had appeared to be a reasonably stable, credible youngster. She didn’t appear to be quirky. What might have caused her to fabricate such a tale? Could intense fantasy, perhaps rising out of fiction, TV or movie images, overtake and blur reality, then become perceived as reality itself?

Even though the charges had been dropped, a spokesperson for the Lake Washington School District later said that nothing had changed in Strom's employment status with the school.     As far as the school board was concerned, he was still fired. Strom was stigmatized by what had happened to him. Not getting his job back fueled the fire of that old saying—where there is smoke, there is fire.

Alas, I couldn’t find anything in the internet that he had been re-hired as a school teacher. It would appear that that sick puppy had destroyed his career with her false allegations.

There are lessons to be learned from this case.

Never judge a person until you know all of the facts first.

The news media should be careful to not publish an article about someone that would lead the readers into believing that an accused person is really guilty of a crime he or she is accused of until the trial is over.

If a student needs a ride home following an after-school activity, a teacher should call an administrator, a police officer or a taxi. The teacher should never be alone in his or her car with a student, especially a student of the opposite sex.

A teacher should never be alone in a school class room with a student of the opposite sex without first leaving the door to the classroom open so that the two of them are in view of anyone passing by.

Be careful who you hug if the person is a child and isn’t a family member or a relative. If you wish to hug a child to sooth the child’s feelings make sure you do it with others witnessing it. 

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