Rape victims and advocates: Emotions high when attacker is leaving prison
A man who led the gang rape of a teenage girl and raped another girl earlier in the same year is due to be paroled from prison in December, and his victims are scared.
“My biggest fear is that as my life is starting to fall into place, and I have a really good job, he will show up at the job,” said a Weber County woman, now 20, who was raped in 2016 by Jeremy Tre Olson. A victims’ rights attorney said Olson took her to his mother’s house, got her intoxicated and raped her while she was unconscious. Olson was 17 at the time and the case was prosecuted in juvenile court.
The victim of the second crime, the gang rape, was so traumatized that she moved out of Utah. Heidi Nestel, the victims’ rights attorney representing her, said during Olson’s Aug. 24 parole hearing that the rapists recorded the act and shared the video with others. “It became a very hostile environment and she eventually moved out of state,” Nestel said. “Even now, she has a desire and an interest to move back to Utah to be with her friends and family, but she’s scared to move back.”
The two cases spotlight what crime victims can experience when they find out their assailant is getting out of prison, and skepticism offenders face as they look to return to the community. The offender has served the time imposed by the state and the system is built to help integrate the person back into society. Still, some victims feel new fears when that time comes.
“All victims who fear their safety is compromised should be thinking about a safety plan,” Nestel said in an interview. That can include a phone emergency button, friends and family who know the situation and can be summoned quickly, and property being made secure. Court protective orders also can be sought. “It stinks to be a victim of crime and then have to be worried about your safety,” Nestel said.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole granted Olson parole effective Dec. 14, contingent upon him completing sex offender therapy. The board ordered the therapy during his first parole hearing in 2019 and Olson said in the August hearing he had not yet finished it.
“He is someone who is very dangerous and has really dangerous thought processes about women and sexual dominance,” Nestel said.
Olson, now 21, of Willard, was charged with rape and aggravated sexual assault, both first-degree felonies, in the gang rape. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of third-degree felony attempted forcible sexual abuse, a third-degree felony.
Box Elder County prosecutors recommended a year in jail, but Judge Brandon Maynard sentenced him to zero to five years in prison.
During the August parole hearing, Nestel urged the board to keep Olson in prison up to four and a half or five years, followed by two years of close probation. The victim repeatedly begged her assailants to stop, and “when some of the other young men seemed willing to stop the behavior,” Nestel said, it was Olson who flipped the girl over, slapped her sharply on the bottom and said, “This will end when I say it ends.” The other three males were juveniles, their cases processed in juvenile court.
The hearing officer asked Olson if he belonged to the Crips gang, which prison staff had reported. “I never actually joined, I just worked out with them,” Olson said. The officer also listed write-ups Olson had received in prison, including consuming intoxicating substances.
“I wasn’t ready to change at the time,” Olson said. “I just wanted to fit in.”
Nestel said Olson was “defiant, obstinate and unremorseful” during the district court proceedings, and based on the hearing officer’s reports, she added, “He’s definitely not being a model prisoner and has been furthering his unremorseful behavior.”
Olson said he agreed “with everything she said,” but he said that when he was 17 he was “a very uncaring person and had no respect for anybody.” He said he “always wanted to be the cool guy” and he had “a high sex drive,” but he has learned coping skills during prison therapy.
Olson said he has a job lined up at a distribution warehouse in the Ogden area. He said he then wants to move to Washington state “as soon as possible” because his immediate family has moved there.
“Do you understand you probably ruined this woman’s life?” the hearing officer asked Olson, who responded, “I am upset with myself that I could allow myself to do that to somebody. It’s hard for me to comprehend because I’m not in her shoes, but nobody should have to go through that.”
Olson offered an apology to the victims and added, “I don’t want anybody in pain around me. I want to be somebody people can look up to and respect.”
The hearing officer said Olson’s case “is one of the most disturbing cases I’ve ever had to deal with.” He told Olson, “I don’t believe you understand the destruction you’ve caused.”
Brandon Merrill, a victims’ rights attorney based in Orem, said in an interview that he tells his clients to write letters to the parole board each year “to explain why they’re still being hurt by this person.” Such correspondence reminds board members of the gravity of the offenses, Merrill said.
“Obviously our justice system is there to rehabilitate and allow people to serve their debt to society,” Merrill said. “The lawyer in me who has to be objective says we have to give people a second or even a third chance, but the victims’ advocate in me says, no, they will never change and they need to be kept away from everybody else. It’s very hard for me to find that balance.”
The mother of Olson’s first victim said her daughter “is very, very strong now, but still has trust issues.” The girl switched high schools after being bullied by friends of Olson, she said.
Now that Olson may soon be out of prison, the woman said her daughter “is very, very nervous.” She had planned to get her own apartment, but she’s staying with her parents for now.
Even if Olson has reformed, it does not mean there is not lasting trauma, those interviewed said.
“I am very nervous and scared, and kind of angry too,” the now-20-year-old woman said. “I will not go anywhere alone and I watch everyone who’s around me ever since I was notified he was getting out.” She keeps handy multiple copies of the restraining order against Olson.
Meanwhile, she said she is getting engaged to a college football player and is studying to be a crime scene investigator. “At first, I was wanting to be a rape recovery advocate, but as I thought more into it, I didn’t think I could handle seeing everybody else go through what I have. It was a living hell.”