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A year later, Homer still struggling with implications of group sexual assault of teen

Michael ArmstrongHomer News
A year after the assault, social workers and Alaska school officials say that they’ve continued efforts to increase awareness about the problems of sexual violence, underage drinking and bullying. Loren Holmes photo

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Almost a year after a large East End Road teenage drinking party turned ugly, with one boy sexually assaulted while others allegedly watched, how has Homer changed from the incident?

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For the victim and his family, they’re trying to move ahead. The victim is now in college and healing from the incident, his mother said in an interview with the Homer News. He’s studying psychology and thinking about a career in social services. The Homer News does not name victims of sexual assault and is withholding the mother’s name to keep from identifying the boy. 

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“He’s trying to get things back on track. It’s not been easy for any of us,” the mother said.

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A year later, social workers and school officials say that they’ve been continuing efforts to increase awareness about the problems of sexual violence, underage drinking and bullying. Those efforts include:

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• Implementing the Green Dot program, where community members learn skills to intervene before an event turns to violence; 

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• More community outreach and awareness by Haven House about the issue of sexual violence, including the start of a focus on prevention;

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• More programs and recruiting of students in Promoting Health Among Teens, a peer-education program run by Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic under a research project from the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, or ISER, and funded by Alaska Division of Public Health using federal funds;

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• Training by some coaches in Coaching Boys Into Men, a program encouraged by Gov. Sean Parnell for coaches to help male athletes show respect toward women and form healthy relationships; and

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• More awareness at Homer High School about the issues of sexual violence, teen drinking and bullying.

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The incident happened Sept. 8, 2012, at a party on East End Road with about 60 to 80 people. Alaska State Troopers alleged that some people bullied a boy who had passed out by writing on his body and shaving an “M” his hair. Many of the partiers were from Homer High School, and some were Mariner football players and other athletes. The boy was then sexually assaulted with an object, troopers said. 

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Some bystanders took photos of the incident. No one called 911. Friends of the boy tried to wake him up and eventually took him home. The incident came to light after the boy’s mother took him to South Peninsula Hospital. A nurse reported the assault to troopers.

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Troopers eventually charged two brothers, Anthony Resetarits, 21, and Joseph Resetarits, 19, with one count each of second-degree sexual assault. A third defendant, a juvenile boy, also was charged. Joseph Resetarits was on the Mariner football team and was removed from the team after his arrest. Fourteen athletes, including some football players, were suspended from activities for violating rules prohibiting being at a party where alcohol was present.

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The Resetarits brothers have been out on bail since shortly after their arrest, and their case has not yet gone to trial. A hearing was held Tuesday, but lawyers and prosecutors have not reached agreement on a plea deal offered by the state and asked for more time to try for a deal. Judge Margaret Murphy continued the hearing to Oct. 3. (See related story.)

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Homer had been considering becoming a Green Dot community, but the Sept. 8 incident brought Homer into the spotlight, said Rachel Romberg, a Haven House advocate who just recently became the prevention program coordinator. The incident prompted Haven House to focus more on prevention, Romberg said. Joining Romberg in the prevention program is Tara C. Schmidt, formerly of Nome, an Americorps Vista volunteer.

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“I don’t think it was a coincidence that we were picked,” Romberg said of Homer’s selection as a Green Dot town.

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The incident clearly showed Homer that sexual assault exists here, Romberg said. The nature of the event —male-on-male sexual assault with an object while others watched — also showed the different forms sexual violence can take, she said. Hazing should be seen as being in the same spectrum as sexual assault, because they both start with people being in positions of power, whether emotionally or physically.

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“They need to be addressed with the same level of seriousness where ‘boys will be boys’ is not OK at all,” Romberg said.

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The role of bystanders also highlights the power of people to intervene and consequences when they do not.

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“That’s why Green Dot is timely,” Romberg said. “It addresses that issue of the bystander.”

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Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic also has been doing education on the issues through PHAT, or Promoting Health Among Teens. The program started before last year’s incident. PHAT has tried to reach out more and recruit more students into the program, said Anna Meredith, youth program manager. Through skits and role playing, PHAT youth teach about issues like teen drinking. A presentation about the adolescent brain, for example, had peer educators acting out the stupid decisions youth make when drunk. PHAT also teaches refusal skills and how to have healthy teen relationships.

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“How to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself with your friends,” Meredith said. “You have to practice saying, ‘No, that’s not cool, let’s go outside. This isn’t what I want to be doing right now.”

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That’s something one coach is trying to teach his players. Sgt. Lary Kuhns, a Homer police officer who also coaches baseball, took the Coaching Boys Into Men program last year, a program praised by Gov. Parnell. 

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“They’re made to understand sports is not if you can run a play well, it’s about how you live your life, too,” Parnell said in a visit in July for the Governor’s Picnic.

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Kuhns said he doesn’t want to implement the Boys Into Men program fully until he talks to parents, but he said he does talk with his players about values like self-improvement and respecting others. 

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“We’ve been talking to them about doing the right thing, making the right choices. When they get themselves into a situation, they don’t have to do what everybody else does,” Kuhns said. “It’s OK to be different.”

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After Homer High School students heard about last year’s party, the initial reaction on campus was that it was a really outrageous prank, said three PHAT peer educators and Homer High students, Sierra Moskios, Zoe Story and Jonas Noomah. That changed when the sexual assault charges were filed a month later and the incident became public.

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“Everybody’s mood switched when the police got involved and it was labeled as sexual assault,” Story said.

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Moskios said after the incident she heard someone talking about it as if it wasn’t a big deal. That made her angry.

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“I said, ‘Don’t you dare talk about it that way,’” she said.

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Several PHAT peer educators talked about the incident to English classes at Homer High School. Noomah wasn’t in PHAT then. He said students didn’t understand the seriousness of the incident then, but started to get the idea after people talked about it. The peer educators think Homer youth understand now that it’s OK to stand up if they see something wrong being done to another student. 

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What if there was another party like last year and someone started to bully another?

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“I know at least some would stand up,” Moskios said. “I hope so.”

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Individuals and even sports teamS can take the PHAT training, said Douglas Koester, peer coordinator for Kachemak Bay Family Planning. Under the research grant, teams can earn $200 if athletes do the PHAT training and individuals get gift cards.

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Homer High has tried to move forward after the incident, said principal Douglas Waclawski, who was assistant principal last year.

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“Everybody was horrified at what allegedly happened,” he said. “Everybody in the school and the community was ‘This is not us,’” he said. “As a school, we were in a mild depression.”

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Story said she also had seen that.

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“The whole community, whether they want to admit it or not, it hurt all of us,” she said.

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Waclawski said there were some new changes in the curriculum. For example, health classes now teach “the fourth R,” for “relationships,” he said. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District also increased its focus on identifying bullying and how to make healthy choices, said district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.

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“I think it’s good that we’ve been able to talk about those issues more freely. It’s helped solidify for the kids that this is not acceptable, it won’t be tolerated,” Waclawski said. “We’re not that way.”

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The mother of the victim said there’s  bullying going on at the schools, but that kids might not be reporting it or parents might be turning a blind eye to it.

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“If your kid is being bullied, then you need to go to the school and talk to people,” she said.

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The victim’s mother said one thing she hasn’t heard is apologies from the students who were bystanders. Nobody from the party, including the father whose house it was at, has stepped forward to say they were wrong.

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“It’s kind of frustrating. I’m trying not to dwell on that too much,” she said.

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The PHAT peer educators said they hadn’t heard any remorse, either.

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“It’s kind of scary no one talked,” Story said.

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Moskios said maybe the bystanders feel guilty that it happened and don’t know what to say.

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Parnell did express his support to her, the victim’s mother said, and said that he was praying for the boy and his family. Waclawski and other school officials also were supportive, she said.

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The victim’s mother said while she doesn’t like the notoriety, she’s glad that the issues of bullying and sexual violence are being talked about around the state.

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“We’re not going to step aside and let this disappear,” she said. “We’re going to fight for justice.”

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If any good can come out of this, it’s that Homer opens its eyes to teenage drinking, bullying and sexual violence, the victim’s mother said. 

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“I do hope from this and other things the community opens their eyes to what’s going on in our town, especially from our kids,” she said. “What I can hope is it doesn’t happen again to somebody else’s kid.

Michael Armstrong is a reporter for The Homer News, where this report was first published. Used with permission.