The first time was a slap in the face, hard enough to force her teeth to clench her tongue until it bled.
He cried then, hugged her, apologized, told her that he didn’t know why he had done that, that he had never done that before, that it would never happen again.
Jess wanted to believe him, his apology, his promise.
“I actually felt bad for him,” she said. ” I should not have. I should have been careful.
It got worse. Much worse until he was finally charged with sexually assaulting her one drunken night in a parking lot.
Jess is telling her story now, halfway through Sexual Assault Awareness Month, to help others who aren’t paying attention to what they should be doing and to talk about what saved her and what she hopes will save the others.
The 38-year-old Albuquerque woman said she and Cameron Hines, 37, started dating around 2014 or 2015. He was charismatic and athletic, the life of the party. She was a single mother from a small town in eastern New Mexico working on her college degree.
The slap came six months into their relationship after he saw a text message on his phone from a male friend, she said. After that, she said he started isolating her from their friends. Verbal abuse turned into physical abuse and humiliation.
“I kept taking it and taking it,” she said. “You keep thinking they can change, be better.”
She never reported anything.
In March 2018, she finally had enough.
But it wasn’t over. She told an Albuquerque police detective that he would sometimes walk past her house, make obscene gestures and shout vulgar names at her.
And she wasn’t entirely over him. In a moment of weakness and intoxication in September, she called him and asked him to drive her home from a parking lot at Panera Bread, she said.
“He got into my passenger seat and immediately started swearing at me, accusing me of having sex with other men, grabbing my face to look at him, calling me a whore,” he said. she wrote in her account to the police.
He threw items in her purse out of the car, poured something on her head, blocked her passenger door with her car, got back in the car and raped her, despite her pleas that he stop, she wrote.
She woke up the next morning at home, still in the same clothes, twisted and stained, her legs scraped and bruised, she said.
“I was hysterical. I needed something, someone, but I didn’t know what.
But his adviser did.
That day, with the help of her counselor, she arrived at the offices of the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at the Family Advocacy Center, a one-stop-shop for agencies dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence and of sexual assault.
SANE nurses see survivors in the raw moments of acute trauma or whenever survivors make the decision to seek help. They review and collect forensic evidence, provide medical care and hold the survivor’s hand through the process, offering services, suggestions and support.
“Part of that day is empty for me, but what I remember is the kind and compassionate way I was treated,” Jess said.
No one has brought her shame or blame for what happened, she said. At SANE, an agency she had never heard of before, she felt safe.
Going to SANE does not require a patient to report the assault to law enforcement, said Connie Monahan, executive director of the local program. Although it is best to see a patient within five days of a rape, she hopes victims will come when they are ready.
Jess agreed to report the assault to Albuquerque police, but the case languished until November 9, 2020, when the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office charged Hines with two counts of felony sexual penetration and a count of criminal sexual contact.
Less than three months later, Hines pleaded guilty to both felony charges, with the third charge dropped, in exchange for parole provided he successfully completed five years of probation.
If Hines stays out of trouble and walks away from Jess; is receiving counseling or treatment for domestic violence, sexual assault, alcohol or drug abuse, and anger management; and abides by the usual probation restrictions, the case will simply disappear.
The plea agreement, signed in April 2021, was approved by both parties and granted by District Judge Clara Moran. Jess said she was told that Hines’ lack of a violent criminal history weighed heavily in her favor.
“It’s barely a slap on the wrist,” Jess said. “He was never in jail, never arrested, never handcuffed, never had to register as a sex offender. There should be more accountability. Being a first time offender may be the first time the offender has been arrested .
In an ironic twist, Hines’ new attorney, Rachel Walker Al-Yasi, asked the court to overturn the judgment and allow Hines to withdraw his plea, arguing that Hines had accepted the plea because he was afraid of his former attorney, Adam Oakey, a veteran martial arts fighter.
In the December 2021 motion, Walker Al-Yasi says Oakey punched Hines, yelled at him, and told him the plea would allow him to continue working as an Albuquerque public school teacher, coach of sports and taking his national advice in radiology, none of which turned out to be true.
No date has been set to hear the motion.
Regardless of what happened in her trial, Jess said her experience with SANE helped her heal.
“I wanted to share my experience with SANE and encourage others to seek their help,” said Jess. “You have to take care of yourself, find your way to healing, because you can’t do it yourself and the universe won’t do it for us.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Contact Joline at 730-2793, [email protected]