The first time was a slap across the face, hard enough to force her teeth to clamp down on her tongue until it bled.
He cried then, hugged her, apologized, told her he didn’t know why he did that, how he had never done that before, how it would never happen again.
Jess wanted to believe him, his apology, his promise.
“I actually felt bad for him,” she said. “I shouldn’t have. I should have paid attention.”
It got worse. Much worse until finally he was charged with sexually assaulting her one drunken night in a parking lot.
Jess tells her story now, midway through Sexual Assault Awareness Month, to help others who don’t pay attention to what they should and to talk about what saved her and what she hopes will save others.
The 38-year-old Albuquerque woman said she and Cameron Hines, 37, began dating around 2014 or 2015. He was charismatic and athletic, the life of the party. She was a single mom from a small eastern New Mexico town working on her college degree.
The slap came six months into their relationship after he had seen a text on her phone from a male friend, she said. After that, she said he began isolating her from their friends. Verbal abuse turned to 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.
By March 2018, she finally had enough.
But it wasn’t over. She told an Albuquerque police detective that he sometimes drove by her house, made obscene gestures and shouted vulgar names at her.
And she wasn’t entirely over him. In a moment of weakness and intoxication that September, she called him and asked him to drive her home from a Panera Bread parking lot, she said.
“He got into my passenger seat and immediately started verbal abuse, accusing me of having sex with other men, grabbing my face to make me look at him, calling me a whore,” she wrote in her narrative to police.
He dumped items in her purse out of the car, poured something on her head, blocked her passenger door with his car, got back into the car and raped her, despite her pleas for him to stop, she wrote.
She awoke the next morning at home, still in the same clothes, twisted and stained, her legs scratched and bruised, she said.
“I was hysterical. I needed something, someone, but I didn’t know what.”
But her counselor did.
That day with her counselor’s help, she arrived at the offices of the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in the Family Advocacy Center, a one-stop location for agencies dedicated to aiding victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
SANE nurses see survivors in the raw moments of acute trauma, or whenever the survivors make the decision to get help. They examine and collect forensic evidence, provide medical care and hold the hand of the survivor through the process, offering services, suggestions and support.
“Some of that day is blank to me, but what I remember was the kind, compassionate way I was treated,” Jess said.
No one made her feel shame or to blame for what happened, she said. At SANE, an agency she had never heard of until then, she felt safe.
Going to SANE does not obligate a patient to report the assault to law enforcement, said Connie Monahan, executive director of the local program. Although it’s best to see a patient within five days of a rape, she hopes victims will come in when they are ready.
Jess agreed to report the assault to Albuquerque police, but the case languished until Nov. 9, 2020, when the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office charged Hines with two counts of felony criminal sexual penetration and one count of criminal sexual contact.
Less than three months later, Hines pleaded guilty to the two felony charges, with the third charge dropped, in exchange for a conditional discharge contingent upon his successfully completing five years of probation.
If Hines stays out of trouble and away from Jess; receives counseling or treatment for domestic violence, sexual assault, alcohol or substance 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 state District Judge Clara Moran. Jess said she was told Hines’ lack of a violent criminal history weighed heavily in his favor.
“It’s barely a slap on the wrist,” Jess said. “He was never in jail, never arrested, never in handcuffs, never made to register as a sex offender. There should be more accountability. Being a first time offender may just be the first time the offender was caught.”
In an ironic twist, Hines’ new attorney Rachel Walker Al-Yasi has asked the court to set aside the judgment and allow Hines to withdraw his plea, arguing that Hines agreed to the plea because he was afraid of his former attorney, Adam Oakey, a former martial arts fighter.
In the motion filed December 2021, Walker Al-Yasi states that Oakey punched Hines, yelled at him and told him the plea would allow him to continue working as an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher, coach sports and take his national boards in radiology, none of which proved true.
No date has been set to hear the motion.
Regardless of what happened in her court case, Jess said her experience with SANE helped her to heal.
“I wanted to share my experience with SANE and to encourage others to seek their help,” Jess said. “You have to take care of yourself, find your way to heal, because you can’t do it yourself and the universe isn’t going to do that for us.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org.