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August 10, 2012

Vigil to support sexual assault victims planned for Payne County Courthouse on Aug. 21

STILLWATER, Okla. — A vigil to support victims of sexual assault will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Payne County Courthouse.

It is being organized by several sexual assault victim organizations and is a response to the recent conviction of Oklahoma State University men’s basketball player Darrell Williams, according to a joint statement provided by three assault awareness organizations.

Williams was convicted on two counts of rape by instrumentation and one count of sexual battery. He will appear in court Aug. 24 for sentencing and is being held in Payne County Jail.

Over the past weeks Williams’ supporters have held vigils and launched a campaign for his release.

“What about the victims?” said Brenda Gill, Stillwater Domestic Violence Services senior counselor. She explained the victims’ vigil is meant to show all victims of sexual assault that there are people out there who support them.

“Who is the voice of the victims in this community?” Gill said adding that less than 10 percent of victims ever come forward and even fewer are willing to go through a criminal trial.

“If after a conviction the community is perceived as supporting the perpetrator why would victims want to come forward?” Gill said. She said the two women who testified were extremely brave to go through the criminal process.

Gill explained communities like to believe that sexual violence and violence in general does not happen in their community but this is far from the truth.

“It happens in Stillwater like it happens in Oklahoma City and New York City or anywhere else,” Gill said.

According to a report from the Wings of Hope Family Crisis Services, in 2011 its staff provided 450 hours of service to 86 victims of sexual assault (73 adult women, 10 adult men, two female minors and a male minor).

“We as a community want to take a stand against all forms of violence,” Gill said.

Gill said both victims and their families were contacted about the vigil and said they fully support it but requested their names not be used.

Brandi Miner-Robertson, one of the founders of a campaign to free Williams, said she agreed that it is important to support victims of sexual assault.

“But I do not believe these girls (the two women Williams was convicted of raping) are victims,” Miner-Robertson said.

“These girls are liars,” she said. “I think these two girls give sexual assault victims a bad name.”

 Miner-Robertson later contacted the NewsPress to say she should not have said that about the victims and explained she made the comment at an emotional time. She then affirmed her support of victims of sexual assault.

Twitter and Facebook accounts created to garner support for Williams have had hundreds of likes, comments and retweets. An online petition calling for Williams’ release has more than 1,500 signatures.

Stillwater Police Capt. Randy Dickerson said after reading many of the online comments from Williams’ supporters, he has found that many of them lack factual information of the case.

“I would caution against blind support when there are victims involved and to keep in mind that, unlike someone who has very little information about the actual case, 12 members of our community listened to every bit of information from both the prosecution and defense,” Dickerson said. He said the two victims went through an “extremely difficult” time.

“[Law enforcement] usually receives criticism from one side of the other,” Dickerson said. “That is part of our jobs and I understand that but don’t bring criticism to the victims of the crime, that is unfair to them and wrong to do so.”

Williams was convicted in July after two weeks of testimony. Two women testified that Williams fondled them and stuck his hands down their pants against their will. Williams is off the team’s online roster.

OSU Director of Communications Gary Shutt said the school had no comment on if Williams was still on the team, on scholarship or a student. He said the school would wait until sentencing on Aug. 24 before making a statement.

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