Advocates for sexual abuse victims react to Deshaun Watson trade

CLEVELAND — In the days following Deshaun Watson’s controversial trade with the Browns, there’s been plenty of talk 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 put that aside and continue to offer this guy and this team will offer this athlete such a large contract is really concerning,” said victims rights attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel.

Simpson Tuegel is a victims’ rights attorney who has represented survivors of sexual abuse and assault in high-profile cases, including the trial of former American gym doctor Larry Nassar.

She thinks the Browns and the NFL backing Watson and offering him big bucks on a new contract sends a disturbing message to survivors.

“How many will it take? How many women have to come 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 statements by Browns general manager Andrew Berry that the team conducted a five-month investigation of Watson before pursuing a trade, but did not speak directly to any of the victims for legal reasons. Instead, they hired private detectives.

“A real investigation that fully verified the allegations would involve talking to, at the very least, some of the victims. And there are definitely bits of information that they brought back, but a thorough investigation needs to include both sides,” Simpson Tuegel said.

And while Watson said he needed to regain the trust of the community, he also told reporters he didn’t think advice was needed because he had “no problem”. Simpson Tuegel says that makes it hard to move on.

“Certainly someone who doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong. It’s hard to believe they’ll work to correct the behavior that led to this issue,” Simpson Tuegel said.

Local organizations for survivors of rape and sexual abuse react

Teresa Stafford, CEO of the Hope and Healing Survivor Resource Center in Summit and Medina counties, released this statement in response to Browns’ press conference featuring Watson on Friday.

Sexual violence is one of the least reported violent crimes in our community. One of the main reasons is the fear of not being believed. We see why fear is realistic for many survivors, especially when their abuser has a level of power through their position in society or when multiple survivors have disclosed, and there is still no accountability.

What message does this send to survivors in general, and how do we change the narrative?

The message to survivors is filled with disbelief and void of responsibility.

The survivors deserve better.

We must continue to educate the community as a whole about the dynamics of sexual violence and sexual misconduct. We must understand that an individual can be a good person for us and cause harm to others. Both can be a reality simultaneously. It’s a dynamic that we see play out constantly for survivors.

Survivors who may be triggered by this news can contact the Hope and Healing Survivor Resource Center, the Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties for assistance 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 country – have been disheartened by the news that the Cleveland Browns have signed Deshaun Watson. Journey Center acknowledges and shares the disappointment of fans who are triggered by the news and see it as a statement 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 out against gender-based violence and continue our work to support individuals and families who have been impacted by domestic violence. You’re not alone.

These are complex questions. Keep following us as Journey explores statistics on reports and false reports; challenges in the criminal justice system; why there is often a lack of indictments; gender, race and power dynamics; and more.

Travel Center for Safety and Healing

The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center said it saw a 152% increase in its hotline since Watson’s trade announcement and received more than 1,800 donations in response, raising more than $88,000 in less than a week.

RELATED: Browns acknowledges signing Watson is ‘difficult for a lot of people’

Jade Jarvis is a reporter for News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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