What Happened?

On April 24, 2024, the Press Democrat released an article, following reporting from the SF Chronicle, describing an incident of a woman being sexually assaulted by a massage therapist at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn in September 2022. The survivor reported the assault to the Sonoma County Sheriff and was discouraged to pursue a report. The interview and interaction was captured on the officer’s body cam and released along with the report.  Verity’s Response to the Fairmont Sexual Assault Case is as follows:

Verity’s Response to the Fairmont Sexual Assault Case

“Verity is concerned by the April 26, 2024 news report of Sonoma County Sheriff deputies discouraging a survivor of sexual assault at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn on Sept. 5, 2022 to report her assault. As is evidenced by body cam footage, this survivor clearly stated that she wanted to prosecute and was dissuaded from doing so by the deputies who suggested that it would likely lead to nothing, so she signed an agreement to terminate the case. Verity is concerned that the deputy’s assertion that this case is a “your word against his” situation may indicate the need for increased empathy and belief in survivors among members of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office.

As Jane Doe reflects in her interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, a dismissive response, especially from a person with authority such as law enforcement, not only disempowered and silenced this survivor, but also has the potential to do the same to others who may fear a similarly dismissive response if they choose to report their assault. The response from these deputies undercut Jane Doe’s right to due process. 

Per California Penal Code 679.04 which states that a victim “has the right to have victim advocates and a support person of the victim’s choosing present at any interview by law enforcement authorities,” Verity is committed to working closely with law enforcement throughout the county to ensure that survivors are supported and fully in control of their journey for justice and healing in response to sexual assault. Verity advocates serve as compassionate experts who provide support for both the survivor and law enforcement to ensure a trauma-informed, survivor-centered response. They will support the survivor to understand their rights and resources as they navigate their healing and justice journeys, in a way that is tailored to their specific needs. Verity advocates get called in to be present during detective interviews and sexual assault exams. Because the deputies dissuaded Jane Doe from her case continuing on to a detective, she did not get connected with a Verity advocate.

Moving forward, we are committed to pursuing a deeper partnership with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department and other jurisdictions to provide training that will facilitate more appropriate responses to allegations of sexual assault. Verity is currently in discussion with the Sheriff’s Department about next steps.”

Disclosure: Sheriff Eddie Engram sits on the Board of Directors of Verity.

Call to Action: Stand with Survivors of Sexual Assault

Verity is actively collaborating with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department to ensure interactions with survivors are both supportive and empowering. You can take action by educating yourself about the rights of sexual assault survivors and being a changemaker by bringing these important conversations into spaces in our community. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please contact Verity for help.