Friday, May 14, 2010

High School Imposter Guerdwich Montimer: Does Being a Victim Require Knowing That You Are One?

Before this week, Jerry Joseph had a pretty good life.  He was a 16-year-old basketball star at Permian High School in Odessa, Texas -- the high school where Friday Night Lights takes place.  This week, however, he was arrested three separate times.  It turns out that Jerry Joseph is actually Guerdwich Montimer*, and he is 22 years old.  He was arrested first on a misdemeanor charge of failing to identify himself to a police officer, next for falsifying his birth certificate, and today for sexual assault.  It turns out that last summer Montimer had sex with his high school girlfriend, who was 15 at the time and thought he was too.

Most people understand that sexual assault of any kind is traumatic to the victim.  We as a society have come a very long way since the not-so-distant past where "date rape" was not recognized as being "real" rape, for example.  We understand that rape and other forms of sexual assault do not have to be a stranger dragging someone into the bushes, but can involve alcohol or drugs, underage victims, and/or romantic partners or spouses.

This case raises an interesting issue, however.  Montimer's girlfriend consented to the sex at the time (although in Texas you can't legally consent to sex if you're under 17).  Chances are she did not feel traumatized at the time, and probably didn't between then and this week, either.  Because of her age she may well have experienced long-term effects of this experience, but in the immediate she was probably OK.  This week, however, she is definitely not OK. 

So what changed?  The only difference between then and now is that then she thought the boy was her age, and now she knows he wasn't.  Why should that make such a difference?  What happened hasn't changed -- only what she knows about what happened.

It does make a difference.  We experience our lives not just based on the straightforward facts of what happens as we perceive them in real time, but also through our understanding of what those events mean.  We are constantly interpreting the world and processing what impact events have on our identities, our sense of self worth or safety, and about a zillion other things. 

The physical facts of what happened to the girlfriend haven't changed, but her understanding of what that means have changed radically.  She now knows that she was manipulated by a significantly older person -- an adult -- who got her to consent by lying.  She knows she would not have consented if she had known.  She knows that, while she wasn't aware at the time of the inherent power differential that was caused by him being an adult, he was, and he used it to his advantage.  Using a power differential to get sex is a crime, and that's why he was arrested. 

This constitutes sexual assault just as having sex with someone who is too drunk to know what is going on is sexual assault.  If they wouldn't consent if they had all the facts (and could process them lucidly), the sex is not consensual.  When they "come to," either by sobering up or by finding out you lied, they are going to be traumatized, and the person who got them drunk or lied to them or manipulated them in any way will  be looking at jail time.

* As you know, I don't usually identify perpetrators by name.  In this instance, it was relatively difficult to tell the story in an understandable way without doing so, so I've made an exception.

photo copyright istockphoto/Stockphoto4u


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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