Why I’m following the trial of alleged serial rapist Anthony Rollins

Boney Courthouse, Alaska Court System

Boney Courthouse, Alaska Court System (photo taken 11 Sep 2010)

Crossposted 9 Feb 2011 at The Mudflats.
Lots of comments there.

Anthony Rollins: he’s the suspended Anchorage Police Department officer  on trial right now in Anchorage Superior Court, accused of sexually assaulting multiple women, over a 3-year period, while he was on duty — in uniform, using his patrol car and police substations to effect his (alleged) crimes.  Anyone who’s been following me on Facebook or Twitter knows that I’ve been following the Twitter feed of (especially) KTVA news reporter Grace Jang, who has livetweeted four of the five days of the the trial so far.

A Facebook friend of mine asked me yesterday why I had such a strong interest in the Rollins trial.  Here’s my answer.

I’ve never been a victim of sexual assault myself, or any other sexual predation, though of course I have friends & acquaintances who have.

My particular interest in this case started in late 2009 when I read reports via the local liberal blogosphere about the massing of Rollins’ supporters — mainly from his church — at hearings taking place at the courthouse, such that (alleged) victims & their families could barely get into the courthouse. I wrote a blog post at the time called “How to be a friend to an accused serial rapist” which focused on one of my interests in cases like this: how people who really love/care about an (alleged or actual) offender should show that love/care. Should they just take the accused person’s protestations of innocence at face value? Or should they weigh the evidence & help the accused person, if actually guilty, face the guilt & its consequences? (Which is what I say they should do.)

Bigtime thorny ethical question that we see zillions of examples of all the time, & frequently (as now) attended by claims about the accused person’s religious faith. On Monday, according to Grace Jang’s tweets from the courtroom, an Internal Affair investigator testified about finding gold-wrapped condoms, Alaska Public Safety Information Network (APSIN) printouts (i.e., criminal records), a previously unknown-to-his-superiors cellphone, containers of (partly consumed) liquor, & other suspicious evidence in Rollins’ patrol car. Questioning the IA officer, Rollins’ defense attorney elicited the admission that Internal Affairs had also found a Bible in his car.

Sure. A Bible in his patrol unit, and Rollins’ profession of faith as a Christian, are just bound to establish his innocence, or to wipe away all his (alleged) crimes, just as assertion of Christian faith did (in the eyes of some) for, say, disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker — to name but one example of past use of this rubbish argument.

My undergrad degree is a B.A. in Religion, & I’m still very interested in how religious ideologies as opposed to real religion skew people’s thinking & behavior about all kinds of stuff. The religious ideology that says “he’s a Christian, that makes him innocent” or “he’s a Christian, his offenses have been washed away” is one such skew.

God’s mercy and compassion towards sinners is one thing; and indeed may Rollins receive such mercy and compassion, for the sake of his spirit & soul.  But I daresay God’s compassion is also for the victims of crimes such as those alleged here. I daresay God’s concern is not only for the individual salvation or redemption of one sinner, but also with reconciling people who have become alienated from each other through wrongs they have committed against each other.  God’s concern, as it should be our concern regardless of our individual faith, is to restore the relationships that have been damaged & sometimes even destroyed by crime.

If Rollins indeed committed these crimes against these women, it is to them he needs to make apology and from whom he must seek forgiveness; and likewise he bears responsibility towards the rest of us: the community he took an oath to protect and defend, only to violate that oath and duty and to betray the victims, the men and women with whom he served, and the whole of the Anchorage community.   Repentance and redemption come not through hiding behind Bible and cross, or whatever the signs of one’s faith might be.  Repentance and redemption come with honest and unshirking admission of one’s wrongs to the people one has wronged — not only in private confession to one’s God — and a willingness to bear the consequences for those wrongs.  Otherwise, all professions of faith are just words and posturing and spiritual vacancy.  No matter what religion Rollins claims to follow, no matter what book rode in his unit within feet or inches of his gold-wrapped condoms, his bottles of liquor, and the notebook containing the phone number of one of his victims.

Oh yeah.  Alleged victims.  Right.

Aside from that, this trial is a trial under Alaska law before a Superior Court judge of the Alaska Court System, not before the judgment seat of a Christian God as understood by a particular church or a particular believer.

Another of my interests in this case is that after 20 years as a staff member at the UAA Justice Center (though not myself a “justice professional”), I think a lot lot lot about what “justice” really is, & how we bring it about (or don’t); how we could improve the say we “do” justice, how we address (or don’t) abuses of authority, & so on. This has made its way a lot into my writing, both poetry & fiction I’m working on… & being a storymaker, its pretty instructive to watch watch particular stories unfold.

I didn’t write to my friend, but should add here, that opening arguments in Rollins’ trial took place just the day after data from the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey were presented at a joint meeting of the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, and on the same day that a whole lot of stories about the data appeared in the media. You can get links to media coverage in the UAA Justice Center blog post about the presentation (a blog post which, guess what, I prepared), and also watch the full briefing before the legislators on video presented by Gavel to Gavel Alaska. (See the UAA Justice Center’s website for results of other research on violence against women in Alaska.)

Summary of lifetime estimates of victimization by violence against women

Summary of lifetime estimates of victimization by intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence of Alaska female respondents, from the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey.

The upshot is this: women are victimized by intimate partner violence and sexual violence at much higher levels than anyone has really understood before — even though we’ve known for a very long time that Alaska consistently the highest rate of forcible rape reported to law enforcement in the U.S.  Why did we not understand just how truly awful the situation was (& is)?  Because most women victimized by sexual & domestic violence — & arguably most men so victimized too, though for reasons discussed in the presentation only women could be included in this survey — do not report their victimization to police.

The abuse of authority alleged in the case of former APD officer Anthony Rollins in pursuit of his alleged crimes is one reason why.  As some of the alleged victims have already testified, they felt intimidated because of his uniform and the power he held as a police officer, and didn’t trust other police to help them if they did report.

Which is all the more reason to ensure that, if Anthony Rollins is guilty of the crimes he is being tried for, that he be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  He was a sworn officer of the law whose uniform and shield represented his oath to protect — not to abuse and violate. Unless we can trust police and the courts to bring offenders to justice, there’s little chance that we’ll be able to stem the tide of sexual and domestic violence in Alaska.

APD officer and cars at the Performing Arts Center, downtown Anchorage

APD officers and cars at the Performing Arts Center, downtown Anchorage, Feb 2010. May the discredit Anthony Rollins has brought to them & to the Anchorage Police Department be removed. I for one believe that 99% of Anchorage police are damn fine people and a credit to the uniform.

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