February 21, 2018

Cedar Shoals Article Was Misleading

I am outraged by the Flagpole’s one-sided and inaccurate article about the charges in a sexual assault at Cedar Shoals High School (Jan. 30, 2018, “Cedar Shoals Rape Charges Dismissed; School Incident That Shook Athens Was Consensual, Officials Say Now”).

The headline alone is patently false. There is no statement given by the victim in this case or the criminal justice system that the incident was, in fact, consensual. The men in this case all pleaded guilty to charges, including Collins to child molestation. Flagpole refers to the female classmate as the victim, yet contradicts that, saying it “turns out the stairwell encounter was consensual.” Consensual does not mean victimization. How can you label someone (a child) as a victim in the very same article that you insinuate a false charge of rape?

Saying that “officials say” the incident was consensual is misleading. The defendants and the defendant’s attorneys say it was consensual. Since when are either considered officials? The actual officials, like the deputy chief assistant district attorney, are quoted as saying this was “a very serious case.” The DA’s office worked hard to hold persons accountable for this incident, but like too many cases the victim is not believed, is discredited and the defendants are painted by their attorneys as the injured parties.

In this case, add to that a story in the local paper that continues the victim blaming. The young victim in this case is painted as a person who reported a false crime and caused innocent men to suffer. Further, the writer paints the defendant featured as victimized, with no regard for the eternal impact of this incident on a child who was sexually assaulted in a school and a young person who lives in this community. Did you think for a moment about the impact of this article on the victim’s life?

If you or someone you know has been affected by child abuse or sexual assault, please call The Cottage crisis hotline, 877-363-1912, for support or visit

Sheppard is executive director of The Cottage, an Athens sexual assault and children’s advocacy center.