Sexual assaults growing at alarming rate
Her sister tries not to think about what 9-year-old Krystal Steadman went through last month when she was raped and murdered.
A day after she disappeared, her small body was found at the side of U.S. Highway 50 – her throat slashed, her clothing stripped away.
After two men, a father and his son, were arrested for Steadman’s murder and sexual assault, Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said the end of the girl’s life was probably terrible and traumatic.
“That kind of thing is very deviant and very bizarre,” said Sgt. Tom Conner of the South Lake Tahoe Police. “People who do things like that are very dangerous. They have no moral or social conscience.”
Mental health professionals agree that people who attack others lack empathy and were often victims of sexual assault themselves.
The crime is growing at an alarming rate, according to the American Medical Association. Its president called sexual assault a “silent and violent epidemic.”
More than 700,000 women are sexually assaulted each year, according to a report issued by the AMA late last year. It revealed sexual assault is the fastest growing violent crime in the nation, claiming a victim every 45 seconds.
“Typically, it is somebody the victim knows, and it can happen to anybody,” said Leanne Spillner of the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center.
One out of three girls and one out of six boys will be sexually abused before they are 18, according to Spillner, who admitted that those numbers are based on the broadest possible definition of abuse.
That definition includes exposure or harassing language prompting Conner to say, “The parameters and definitions of some of these crimes have expanded dramatically.”
There are 37 registered sex offenders in South Lake Tahoe and 30 in Douglas County – most of them convicted for molesting children – but Conner does not think sexual assault is becoming more common.
There is more awareness of the crime and of what might lead people to assault others.
“What you will find is that if somebody was molested they are more likely to perpetrate the same crime,” Pierini said. “The whole issue comes down to trying to stop that snowball effect because if you don’t, it keeps going.”
Thomas Soria Sr., one of the men accused of killing Krystal Steadman, was abused himself and has a history of harassing women.
When he was 8, “Tommy,” as he was called then, was molested twice by his stepbrother. Years later, when he was 18, Soria Sr. found his mother’s body after she was raped and murdered by the same brother who had abused him.
Soria Sr. was arrested in 1998 after making threatening and obscene phone calls to two women he worked with at the California State Lottery Commission, according to court records. He allegedly threatened to rape one of the women. He spent 75 days in jail before moving to Stateline in 1999.
The Women’s Center’s Laura Van Dien said such a history can lead to violence, but that not everyone who is abused will go on to abuse.
“Any trauma that happens early on can have a deep impact on a person’s life,” she said. “Trauma is not just war or something similar. It can be the yelling and screaming, the chaos and poverty that exists in many of these families.”
Victims such as Soria can resort to violence as a means of gaining power over what happened to them and as a way to express their anger, Van Dien said.
“They can know right from wrong,” she said. “But they don’t have a basic concern for other people because it has been burned out of them.”
Most victims of sexual assault survive and the effects of the experience can be terrible.
“There is a lot of guilt or shame, and a lot of terror,” Van Dien said. “It is so painful that you just want to forget it ever happened.”
Each year the Women’s Center conducts presentations at each of the elementary schools in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District. Spillner said 11 girls came forward this year with tales of abuse.
After the death of Steadman, a 15-year-old girl came forward about something that allegedly happened in October. She claims the Soria Sr. and his son, Thomas Soria Jr., convinced her to have sex with the father.
Both men have also been charged with sexual assault in connection with that incident.
“It is scary for the kids,” Spillner said. “They often don’t come forward because they think it is their fault.”
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