Justice for Justise: A sexual assault survivor speaks out
She remembers the gun. It was on a nightstand. A handgun. She doesn’t remember its color.
But she remembers what she wanted to do with it.
“I thought about picking up his gun and shooting him,” said 19-year-old Justise, one of at least two rape survivors of Jacob Ewing.
Justise remembers being afraid, of course, by what was happening to her that night in Holton, Kan. But she also remembers being afraid of herself — that she could be capable of killing someone.
Ewing had raped before. And he’s been accused of other sex crimes: the rape of two other women, the attempted rape of another and the sodomy of a 13-year-old girl. (He was acquitted of that last allegation in April.)
In June, a jury found Ewing guilty in Justise and another survivor’s shared trial. He was convicted of two counts of rape, four of aggravated criminal sodomy and other crimes.
Justise’s last name is not being published to protect her family members. However, her name and images are being published at her request. She hopes other survivors will be assured that they are not alone in their pain and their recovery by her story.
The other survivor, who will not be named under The Star’s policy to not identify sexual assault victims, was raped in September of 2014. She has struggled to trust others ever since.
“He took away my safety, my independence and changed how I see myself and others forever,” she said in an email to The Star. “I look at my body and even though the bruises are gone, I still see them. I never feel safe.”
Had Justise not reported the rape, Jacob Ewing’s other crimes may never have come to light, according to Lisa Hyten, the victim services coordinator who worked with all six of Ewing’s victims and alleged victims.
“From the moment I met Justise until today, she has been motivated by the desire to protect others,” Hyten said. “She decided in the early hours of the morning of her attack that while her silence would protect her from personal pain, her words could protect others from great tragedy.”
Ewing was sentenced to more than 27 years in prison on Friday — a maximum sentence.
On a recent afternoon, a few days before the sentencing, Justise sat at a dining room table in her Kansas home and told The Star that her rape still haunts her. On the table was a large frame holding eight photographs. Maternity photos showing Justise and her boyfriend, who sat nearby.
Justise and her boyfriend are expecting their first child in late October, a few weeks after Ewing’s third scheduled trial — this one for alleged attempted rape.
Ewing also faces trial in November for sexual exploitation of a child for possession of child porn. A trial for two of Ewing’s alleged rape victims was canceled, due to double jeopardy rules, after they testified during Justise’s trial.
On that awful night, Justise recalled driving to Ewing’s home, thinking she was headed to a party. Instead, it was just her, Ewing and some guys.
She’d known Ewing since she was 15 but had been too young to notice signs of abuse: degrading insults and social isolation when demands for nude photos weren’t met, followed by apologies and promises to amend.
Some sexual assault perpetrators prey on those they see as vulnerable, according to Michelle McCormick, an advocate for victims of sexual violence with the Young Women’s Christian Association in Topeka.
“One of the strategies we’ve seen is perpetrators will use someone with vulnerabilities so they have an ability to poke holes in that person’s case,” McCormick said.
Some of the abuse happened when Justise was as young as 16, a new student in a neighboring town with low self-esteem, social anxiety and mental health concerns.
Ewing once wrote online that he’s had sex with too many women to count, and that if a “Bitch doesn’t respect herself then Damn straight ill have sex with them and leave.”
Combating sexual assault requires preventative education for young boys, before toxic ideas about women and sex become ingrained, McCormick added.
“You have to start addressing beliefs that people can treat other people this way, that they’re entitled to another person’s body if they’re intoxicated,” McCormick said.
On the night she was raped, Justise wasn’t drunk, but Ewing was. When she left the gathering to go to sleep, Ewing followed.
“I just wanted it to stop. He kept doing it again and again,” Justise said. “I was angry that I had even gotten into this situation. I was scared.”
Ewing yanked her hair. Told her repeatedly to “do it right.” He hit her on the head and her ears rang. She felt dizzy. Her body hurt. She craved sleep to escape.
“I started to think of other things just to get my mind off of what was happening to me,” she said.
When it finally ended, and after Ewing had fallen asleep, Justise snuck away in the middle of the night.
She escaped to a nearby friend’s house. “I was crying knocking on the door.” Her friend’s mother answered and ushered her upstairs and told her she needed to call police.
Justise was the last person to be hurt by Ewing and the first to report a sexual assault at his hands.
“Justise met every challenge presented at trial with unyielding courage, more than she even knew she had,” said Hyten, who as Justise’s advocate has been by the teenager’s side from the day she reported onward.
Experts say sexual assault is the most under-reported crime. One in six women will be raped or face an attempted rape in her lifetime, yet an estimated 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Joyce Grover, the executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said the scrutiny faced by survivors upon coming forward is a factor that deters many from reporting.
“Early on in the process, the finger is going to start being pointed at the victim,” Grover said. “Then the victim becomes the person on trial, and I think it makes it very, very difficult for sexual assault victims to want to go forward with prosecution.”
During the June trial, Ewing’s defense attorney, Kathleen Ambrosio, sought to prove there were inconsistencies in the survivors’ statements.
She questioned why reports to police weren’t made earlier, why one survivor’s parent responded the way she did to the incidents, why bruises were a certain hue.
“If she (the other survivor) was beaten like Justise, wouldn’t you expect deep, harsh bruising? Not small, light bruises on her legs?” Ambrosio said.
Later, she said, “Justise may be a little slower, but you saw her. She’s a tall girl, broad-shouldered girl. She can take care of herself.”
Ewing’s mother, Wendy Ewing, has maintained her belief in her son’s innocence.
“You’re asking the wrong person if you’re thinking I consider them victims,” she said in a text message to The Star. She implied that Ewing was convicted by “word of mouth” alone.
“Justice for Jacob” signs were made and hung around Holton. T-shirts and mugs bearing messages of support for Ewing were also created.
Justise, the other survivor and the alleged victims of Jacob Ewing have faced vitriol online and at the courthouse on the Holton square. Before the trial, Ewing’s family and some Holton community members called for the women’s imprisonment.
Some said the women were colluding to smear Ewing’s reputation.
NSVRC estimates between 2 and 8 percent of alleged sexual assaults are false reports. At one point, five women and one girl had come forward to report they had been sexually assaulted by Ewing.
A member of the Ewing family photographed Justise outside the courthouse after a hearing, which Hyten called a form of intimidation. During the trial, a Ewing family member muttered “hog” at Justise as she walked past, Hyten said. At the time, Justise was about five months pregnant.
But the insult that rattled Justise the most was made on Facebook, by a random man whom she’d never met:
“You can’t rape a whore.”
Invective from the community, though, has been an afterthought compared to the pain Justise suffered after being raped.
“How do you fix it?” Justise said. “You can’t undo what happened or what he did. It’s not like he stole a bunch of money and has to pay it back. It’s not like he destroyed my car. He destroyed me.”
Her relationship with her boyfriend is strained at times because of the crime she endured. She’s dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome. She fears her boyfriend can’t understand what she’s battling on the inside.
“Sometimes I just really don’t want to be touched,” Justise said. “He thinks I don’t care or love him as much.”
One of the only things on Justise’s mind in the days before Ewing’s sentencing was how many years he would be in prison, where he’d be unable to hurt other women.
But Ewing’s survivors will always live with the pain he’s caused.
“I live with what my rapist did to me every day,” the other survivor said. “I have a life sentence no matter what happens to him.”
Resources for sexual assault survivors
For Kansas City-area resources, visit websites for community organizations devoted to supporting those who have experienced sexual and domestic violence.