CLEVELAND — In the days since Deshaun Watson’s controversial trade to the Browns, there’s been no shortage of discussion in the city of Cleveland and beyond. Many are outraged by the team’s decision to acquire a quarterback facing sexual assault allegations by 22 women.
“The fact that the NFL is just going to set that aside and still offer this guy and that this team will offer this athlete a contract this large is really concerning,” said Michelle Simpson Tuegel, a victims’ rights attorney.
Simpson Tuegel is a victims’ rights attorney who has represented sexual abuse and assault survivors in high-profile cases, including the trial of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
She believes the Browns and the NFL backing Watson, and offering him big money on a new deal, sends a concerning message to survivors.
“How many is it going to take? How many women need to come forward before an organization like the NFL says, we believe you. And in this case, we have 22. Do they need 50? Do they need 100?” said Simpson Tuegel.
She also commented on Browns GM Andrew Berry's statements that the team led a five-month investigation into Watson before pursuing a trade, but didn’t speak to any of the victims directly for legal reasons. Instead, they hired private investigators.
“A true investigation that would have fully vetted the allegations would involve talking, at the very least, to some of the victims. And there are definitely pieces of the information that they have reported, but an in-depth investigation has to include both sides,” said Simpson Tuegel.
And though Watson said he has to earn back the trust of the community, he also told journalists that he doesn’t feel counseling is necessary because he doesn’t “have a problem.” Simpson Tuegel says that makes it difficult to move forward.
“Certainly someone who doesn't think they did anything wrong. It's hard to believe that they're going to work to fix the behavior that led to that problem,” said Simpson Tuegel.
Local rape and sexual abuse survivors advocacy organizations respond
Teresa Stafford, the CEO of the Hope and Healing Survivor Resource Center in Summit and Medina counties, issued this statement in response to the Browns press conference introducing Watson Friday.
Sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes of violence in our community. One of the main reasons is the fear of not being believed. We are witnessing why the fear is realistic for many survivors, especially when their perpetrator has a level of power by their position in society or when multiple survivors have disclosed, and there is still no accountability.
What message does this send to survivors overall, and how do we change the narrative?
The message to survivors is filled with disbelief and voids accountability.
Survivors deserve better.
We must continue to educate the community at large regarding the dynamics of sexual violence and sexual misconduct. We must come to the understanding that an individual can be a good person to us and still cause harm to others. Both can be a reality simultaneously. It's a dynamic that we see play out for survivors consistently.
Survivors who this news story might trigger can reach out to Hope and Healing Survivor Resource Center, the Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties for support at 330- 434-7273.
The Journey Center for Safety and Healing also posted a statement on its website along with a list of ways to support survivors of gender-based violence.
Football fans in Cleveland- and across the nation- have been disheartened at the news that the Cleveland Browns signed Deshaun Watson. Journey Center acknowledges and shares the disappointment of fans who are triggered by the news and perceive it to be a declaration that winning is more important than standing with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Journey Center wants to affirm to everyone, survivors and those who love a survivor- that we believe you. We will continue to speak up against gender-based violence and continue our work to support individuals and families who have been impacted by domestic violence. You are not alone.
These are complex issues. Continue to follow us as Journey explores statistics around reporting and false reporting; challenges with the criminal justice system; why there’s often a lack of indictments; gender, race, and power dynamics; and more.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center said its seen a 152% increase to its hotline since the Watson trade announcement and has received more than 1,800 donations in response raising over $88,000 in under one week.
RELATED: Browns acknowledge Watson signing 'difficult for many people'
Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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