Crime

Amid rape allegations in Holton, Kan., alleged victims vilified in town find support

Savhannah Jurgensmeier was sexually assaulted when she was 15 in Holton, Kan. She said she was “bullied out of testifying,” and she’s seen similar instances of victim-blaming in the lead-up to Jacob Ewing’s rape trial in the town this week.
Savhannah Jurgensmeier was sexually assaulted when she was 15 in Holton, Kan. She said she was “bullied out of testifying,” and she’s seen similar instances of victim-blaming in the lead-up to Jacob Ewing’s rape trial in the town this week.

When she was 15, Savhannah Jurgensmeier was sexually assaulted in a small Kansas town that today is riddled by multiple rape allegations against a resident.

It was September 2010 when Jurgensmeier reported the incident to police. She said she was met by harassment from those in the town where it occurred: Holton, Kan. Death threats were made, objects thrown at her car and, eventually, she said she was “bullied out of testifying.”

The rape charges against the man, who was 17 at the time, were dropped. He pleaded guilty to indecent liberties with a child, a felony, and is on the sex offender registry until 2035. Jurgensmeier said she doesn’t believe justice was fully served. And when the now-22-year-old saw how the community treated the alleged rape victims of Jacob Ewing, Jurgensmeier felt she was reliving her own traumatic experience.

ewing
In the trial starting Monday, Jacob Ewing is charged with the rape and aggravated criminal sodomy of two women, 18 and 21 at the time of the alleged offenses. Jackson County, Kan., Sheriff’s Office

Ewing is charged with the rape of two women, with that trial underway this week; the rape of two other women; and the attempted rape of another. He was acquitted in April of aggravated criminal sodomy of a 13-year-old girl.

In comments about the allegations Ewing faces, people have written in defense of both Ewing and his alleged victims. On the one side, many write that they believe and support the alleged victims. But there are some who question the veracity of their accusations, wonder why they didn’t report it earlier and discuss the importance of remaining loyal to family, regardless of crimes committed.

A source of positivity amid the vitriol is a Facebook page on behalf of the alleged victims, which Jurgensmeier created in part to encourage people to spread a message of support for the alleged victims.

“It was devastating for me to see this community respond that way,” said Jurgensmeier, who now works as an advocate for survivors of sexual and domestic assault. “I think when folks are making comments about these victims, it’s hard for me not to take it personally, and I imagine it’s the same for other survivors in the community who didn’t come forward.”

Wendy Ewing defends her son, Jacob Ewing, ahead of his trial on allegations of rape and aggravated criminal sodomy. His trial began Monday, June 26, 2017, in Holton, Kan. Michelle McCormick, an advocate for victims of sex crimes, shares perspectiv

Jurgensmeier said she’s personally spoken with five other survivors of sexual assault from Holton.

The treatment she endured from the community kept her from seeking law enforcement help when she was sexually assaulted a second time, which she said occurred in 2011.

“After everything I’d been through with the first trial, I felt, ‘Why bother reporting?’ Nothing came out of reporting,” she said.

Bitter exchanges fill the comment sections on articles about the allegations facing Ewing.

holton
Holton, Kan., a town of about 3,000, is bitterly divided over rape and aggravated criminal sodomy charges facing one of its own. Max Londberg jlondberg@kcstar.com

One man, writing about the Ewing cases in January, said to a woman, “You’re the type of girl I wouldn’t believe. So get raped.”

A mother of one of the alleged victims told The Star before this week’s trial that she felt intimidated from the first court date onward.

“At every court appearance, someone sitting in the victims’ side has been either pointed at, snickered at, called names, or been given the evil eye,” she said.

After one court date, the mother said a Ewing family member photographed the alleged victims.

The alleged victims’ identities, normally kept private, have been shared online, the mother added. And at least one of the victims’ names appears in publicly accessible court documents.

Wendy Ewing, Jacob Ewing’s mother, told The Star that her mother had photographed the alleged victims and those with them in a parking lot outside the courthouse because she was “afraid they were going to jump us.”

She added that invective is often also directed at her son. People have written that they hope Ewing is sexually assaulted while in jail, Wendy Ewing said.

Some have questioned why the trials were not moved to another setting, away from the acrimony in Holton. But state statute seems to preclude the prosecution from making a change of venue request.

The messages of support, some of which were shared with The Star, sent through Jurgensmeier’s Facebook page express sentiments of encouragement and rapport. Some were sent by sexual assault survivors and their advocates or random strangers from neighboring states, from the local community and as far away as the West Coast.

“I don’t understand how our culture and society got this way,” one person wrote. “I am so sorry for all the blame and judgment and hardship you have had to go through...”

A common refrain appears in multiple messages: “Stay strong.”

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg

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