Victim of sexual assault speaks out


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, May 31, 2018

CAMDEN — Crystal Richardson says she is tired of keeping quiet about her sexual assault on a Camden school bus two years ago.

Richardson, who was a 14-year-old student at Camden County High School at the time, claims that one day in September 2016 while riding home on the bus, four male students put their hands on different parts of her body without her permission.

Richardson reported the incident to school authorities, who in turn reported it to the Camden Sheriff’s Office. Although sheriff’s deputies investigated Richardson’s claims, both she and her mother, Shelia Richardson, are unhappy with the probe’s results.

Crystal, who’s coming forward in the wake of another Camden High School student’s claim that she was sexually assaulted by another student at school, said she’s speaking out now about what happened to her because she doesn’t want it to happen to anyone else.

Living with what happened hasn’t been easy. After the incident, Crystal said she was prescribed medication to ease her stress and anxiety. Even so, she said she continues to suffer nightmares and flashbacks.

"It's constant," she said.

Most nights she can't sleep, and if she does manage to fall asleep she has nightmares.

“I also have suicidal thoughts,” she said.

Sheila Richardson said she understands the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” However, she believes Camden sheriff’s deputies who investigated her daughter’s assault gave more weight to the male students’ claim that they didn’t sexually assault Crystal than her daughter’s claim that they did.

“They took a person who had been violated and treated her as if she was guilty,” Sheila said. “After that she never rode the bus ever again.”

Sheila also claims Camden sheriff’s investigators determined the incident on the bus involving Crystal and the four male students was “consensual.”

“They put it down that they all thought it was consensual,” she said. “To her it wasn’t consensual because she never told them that they could put their hands anywhere on her body.”

Lt. Max Robeson of the Camden County Sheriff's Office said he is not sure what deputies told Crystal and Shelia Richardson at the time of their investigation. But he said a juvenile petition was sent forward charging three juveniles in the incident with sexual battery. Robeson said sexual battery involves the touching of sexual parts of the body through clothing, with no penetration.

Robeson and Camden Sheriff Rodney Meads also disagree strongly with Sheila Richardson’s characterization of the Camden Sheriff’s Department’s investigation of Crystal’s alleged assault as hurried and incomplete.

Both said investigators talked to all the students directly involved in the incident, as well as to others on the bus who were close enough to have seen or heard what happened. None of the students on the bus reported seeing or hearing Crystal Richardson “yelling or screaming or throwing a fit,” Robeson said.

Meads and Robeson said all of the male students claimed the acts were consensual except for one juvenile who admitted kissing Crystal three times after she told him to stop.

No other witnesses corroborated Crystal’s claim that what happened on the bus wasn’t consensual, according to Robeson. The bus driver also reported seeing some consensual activity but did not notice anything that appeared not to be consensual, Robeson said.

Robeson said juvenile justice officials indicated they would consider the case for a “juvenile diversion” contract. Juvenile diversion in North Carolina is a program of juvenile justice that is similar to probation.

Sheila Richardson said when the case went to juvenile court it ended with a determination the boys were guilty of “simple assault.” Court officials said the boys could be sentenced to community service, she said. Shelia said the boys were not suspended from school or suspended from the bus.

That proved to be distressing for Crystal, Shelia claims, because she had to see the boys every day at school. 

Crystal said some of her classes were shifted so she wouldn’t have to see the boys, but she still had a class with one of them.

Shelia said her daughter ended up dropping out of school and eventually moved away because of the incident and its aftermath. 

Crystal, who is now 16, said she couldn’t remain at Camden High School because of the trauma she suffered from the incident.

“I tried and I couldn’t,” she said of attempting to continue in school at Camden. "We're looking into an online school."

While saying he couldn’t address specifics, Camden County High School Principal Billie Berry said school officials dealt appropriately with Crystal Richardson’s claims.

“I cannot give specific information about student discipline matters, but I can say that the incident was investigated at the school level and turned over to law enforcement,” Berry said. “Class schedules were also changed to accommodate the students involved and the appropriate consequences were given based on the results of the investigation.”