Mayor Michael Victorino lauded for revealing he was sex assault victim

Experts say his story may help others

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino speaks Tuesday at a news conference announcing the appointment of Moana Lutey as interim Corporation Counsel. The day before, the mayor revealed that he was the victim of a sexual assault as a teenager. He made the revelation at a Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Hawaii proclamation event at University of Hawaii Maui College. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Local experts on sexual assault are commending Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino’s unexpected public disclosure of being the victim of sexual abuse as a teenager, noting that his story can help other victims start to heal.

Victorino, 66, said he was sexually assaulted at age 13. The mayor revealed details of the incident — something he said he hadn’t told anyone about — during an event Monday at University of Hawaii Maui College to mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Hawaii.

“I have never told even my wife of 43 years this story. It’s a true story. It was about a young man who was 13 years old, and four guys jumped him and took his clothes off and played with his privates,” Victorino said in Maui Now video footage of the event. “Thirteen years old. And I never told this story because I’ve always kept it within, inside of that person. I never wanted anyone to hear about it.

“But it was me that it was done to. It was me.”

Paula Chun, Hawaii Coalition Against Sexual Assault executive director, said Victorino revealing his secret was “very moving and very courageous.”

The Oahu-based Chun, who said she didn’t know the mayor would share his own story, attended Monday’s event as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month proclamation signings across the state.

“You could tell he was speaking from the heart, and that he must have felt safe within this context to disclose,” she said Tuesday. “It’s not easy for anyone to disclose, regardless of gender or age. It was very courageous.

“We all hope that not just Maui, but statewide, that his disclosure will encourage more voices to step forward and talk about their sex assault experiences.”

The clinical director of Child & Family Service at Wailuku-based Maui Sexual Assault Services, which serves as the county’s main resource for child and adult victims of sex assault, said the mayor’s disclosure marks an important part of the healing process.

“I really just appreciate his honesty and his willingness to come forward,” Dani Riggs said Tuesday. “Like any of our victims, we wish him support and would love to hear the way that he has moved to be a thriver in the face of what he has experienced. For all of our victims, we want to see them move from victim to survivor to thrivers.”

Riggs, a registered psychotherapist, said that for many victims of sexual abuse, delayed reporting is “actually the norm.” Disclosure timelines can range from weeks to months to years after the incident, with some reporting in their 70s, and others deciding never to reveal the information.

“The shame, the blame and the guilt, all sorts of pieces prevent people from coming forward,” he said.

Victorino said that his experience led to isolation and resentment.

“I resented that, and I hated that,” he said at the event Monday. “For years, it stayed in me. Never talked about it, not even to my priest. No one.”

The mayor said that if the incident happened in today’s world, he would have pursued justice.

“But this is like 55 years ago, or 50 years ago, I should say. And back then, you had nowhere to turn. You know, you didn’t want to tell your parents; you didn’t want to tell your friends. Because what? You cannot handle yourself? That was the attitude,” he said Monday.

“So I grew strong from it, and I worked hard and never let it deter me,” the mayor continued.

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old, according to current statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are often confused, said Robert Rivera, first deputy of the county’s Department of the Prosecuting Attorney.

In Hawaii, sex assault involves contact, over or under clothing, of a victim’s sexual or other intimate parts. Crimes range from serious offenses that involve sexual penetration to offenses that involve sexual contact by touching another person’s private parts.

Sexual harassment, a civil violation, doesn’t involve sexual contact. It includes lewd or lascivious jokes, catcalls intended to harass or annoy another person, and touching nonsexually intimate parts, such as rubbing an elbow.

Riggs said part of the challenge sex assault victims face is the social perception of the crime. In the standard scenario, a women is the victim and a male is the perpetrator. It’s late at night. He often has a weapon. She gets assaulted. Then she wakes up the next morning and calls the police.

“Those aren’t the majority of cases at all,” he said. “Many assaults happen at people’s homes, and they often know the person.”

In order to start healing, the local expert encouraged sex assault victims to call the Maui Sexual Assault Center hotline to speak with a trained professional. Sometimes friends or family don’t always have the best information, he added.

Also, proper professional treatment, along with parents who believe and support child victims, are vital to faster recovery.

Riggs hailed the Maui team and center, which offers confidential and sometimes free services. Victims are supported through the collaboration of the Maui Sexual Assault Response Team, the prosecutor’s office, the Maui Police Department, the Children’s Justice Center, forensic medical examiners and sex assault center staff.

The Maui Sexual Assault Center, which has offices in Wailuku, Lahaina and Kaunakakai, is part of statewide nonprofit Child & Family Service.

Key to healing is disclosing the information, because then the process for recovery can begin, Riggs said.

“That’s part of why I’m proud and so supportive of the mayor,” he said. “Particularly when someone has a public voice and they share it, it gives the courage for other victims to come forward. Then they have the opportunity to begin their journey of healing.”

On Friday, Gov. David Ige will proclaim April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Hawaii and recognize 14 community members and organizations making a difference. Maui Sexual Assault First Responders will be among those honored.

The mayor did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Tuesday.

To reach Maui Sexual Assault Center hotlines, call 873-8624 on Maui, (808) 495-3340 on Molokai; and (866) 443-5702 on Lanai.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.