Sex abuse expert testifies in tutor’s trial

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An expert who works with sex assault victims testified Thursday as the defense tries to prove the tutor was the victim in a sexual relationship involving a teen.

The defense claims Abigail Simon was intimidated by the 6-foot-3, 220-pound, 15-year-old teen into staying in an abusive sexual relationship. Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Helen Brinkman has called that defense “absurd.”

Tom Cottrell, the vice president of counseling at YWCA, has spent years counseling sex assault victims and offenders. Thursday, both the prosecution and defense used his testimony to bolster their cases.

He told the court that it’s quite common for teen boys and girls to have crushes on teachers because a relationship with an older person can be comforting.He also testified that female sex offenders use emotional manipulation rather than force to get victims to go along with sexual acts.

When questioned by the prosecution, Cottrell said that an abuser needs to have control over things in the victim’s life, like money or housing.

“In my opinion, most of those controlling behaviors are really connected to an assailant having the ability to do those things, having authority in those arenas and I don’t think 15-year-olds have a lot of authority in most of those arenas,” Cottrell said.

He said it’s also common for sex victims to try to keep affair secret if they think someone will get in trouble.

But Cottrell also agreed with Simon’s defense attorney Mike Manley that the teen’s alleged text message of a bloody hand after hitting wall could be threat but that it could also be a “demonstration of sorrow.”

He went on to say making the victim jealous is “last thing” an abused lover would do.

A friend of Simon’s then testified that Simon was a victim of domestic violence in Chicago in 2007. The defense showed the jury photos of injuries Simon’s then-boyfriend apparently inflicted on her.

“I noticed bruises and welts on her face and at that point I knew, and I knew I had to act,” Lindsay Goldfarb said.

Goldfarb said Simon was a shy, nonagressive person who didn’t talk much about sex and was reluctant to call police about the abuse in 2007. That fits into the defense’s claim that the student was the aggressor in this case.

Michael Jacob, a teaching colleague of Simon’s, said he saw nothing unusual in her tutoring relationship with her alleged teen victim. But he did tell jurors about an incident when he went with Simon to a visitation after a death in the teen’s family.

“She mentioned she was very nervous to meet [the teen’s mother] for the first time because recently [the mother] discovered a T-shirt of Miss Simon’s in [her son’s] pillow case,” Jacob said.

He said Simon told him she had given the alleged victim the shirt at school when he was lifting weights while shirtless and she thought that was improper.

The alleged sexual relationship between the teen, who was a 15-year-old Grand Rapids Catholic Central student at the time, and Simon, then a tutor at the school, started in early 2013. Simon, now 35, is charged with first-degree sexual assault and accosting a minor for immoral purposes. 

The alleged victim, who is now 17, spent four days testifying. Wednesday, the defense pressed the teen about lies told in previous court hearings regarding the sexual relationship between him and Simon. The teen previously claimed that he forced Simon to have sex with him. He claimed he said that because he “was trying to protect Abby.”

The defense has said that Simon will take the stand in her own defense. That could happen Friday. The judge says the trial may slide into Monday.

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