Woman speaks up about sexual assault — 26 years later
Rebecca Shea spent more than two decades hiding the memory of one Fourth of July afternoon.
Shea was 13 years old in 1985 when a family friend sat beside her on a hammock during a holiday gathering outside a neighbor’s Columbia home. Shea said she froze, unable to move, as he maneuvered his hand beneath her and sexually violated her.
In a matter of minutes, her life had been forever changed.
Shea said she carried this secret for 26 years, struggling with the panic and dread that churned in her gut every year when Independence Day rolled around.
Philip Simoneaux, 65, of North Charleston, is accused of molesting two underage girls in 1985 in Richland County.
Last year, she finally decided she’d had enough and confided in her husband, David, a Columbia attorney. He encouraged her to go to the police.
Shea’s decision to share her story led to the arrest last month of 65-year-old Philip Simoneaux of North Charleston, authorities said. Another victim also came forward and accused Simoneaux of drugging and groping her during a 1989 visit to his former home in Blythewood, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Office.
Simoneaux, who has a previous conviction for molesting a 12-year-old girl in 1991, is now under house arrest at his Dolphin Street home while awaiting trial in the two recent cases.
He told a reporter Friday that he is innocent of the charges. He referred further questions to his attorney, Stan W. Jaskiewicz, who could not be reached for comment.
The Post and Courier normally does not publish the names of sexual-assault victims, but Shea asked that her name be used. She said she wants to show other victims who have suffered in silence that it is OK to come forward and talk about their experiences.
“As a mother, I just felt an overwhelming moral obligation to come forward,” said Shea, who is now 40 years old and has three kids. “I just thought about how I would feel if this happened to someone else out there and I could have prevented it.”
Nationally, some 60 percent of rapes and other sexual assaults are not reported to police, and only about 6 percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Even more sobering, an estimated 70 percent of children who experience sexual abuse do not tell anyone about it, according to Stop It Now!, a Massachusetts-based advocacy group.
Melonea Locklair Marek, executive director of People Against Rape in North Charleston, said it is not uncommon for victims to come forward many years after the actual abuse, particularly if they are in their 30s or older. People in that age range often didn’t have access to child advocacy centers that have worked in recent years to expand awareness about abuse and encourage reporting, she said.
“When these women were children and tried to tell people about what happened to them, a lot of them weren’t believed,” Marek said.
Shea said she told her mother about the incident with Simoneaux right after it happened, but her mom was not sympathetic. Her mother had warned her that Simoneaux was taking “an unusual interest” in her.
When Shea explained what happened on the hammock, her mother said she should have known better than to sit next to the man and, at age 13, should have known how to fend off the advance, she said.
Shea said she tried for years to bury the incident, but it haunted her emotionally. She suffered panic attacks every Fourth of July, and it affected her early relationships with boys, she said.
Last spring, she told her husband, what had happened. He did some research and discovered Simoneaux had pleaded guilty in 1992 to committing a lewd act on another minor the year before.
“I didn’t know about that,” Shea said. “For years, I thought I was the only one.”
Court records show Simoneaux was accused of fondling a 12-year-old he was baby-sitting at his Blythewood home. He received a five-year sentence suspended to three years probation and was ordered to undergo counseling for his actions.
Shea said the find made her more determined to file a report with police. She did so in June of last year.
A woman she knew also came forward and accused Simoneaux of another assault, in 1989.
There is no statute of limitations on criminal sexual charges in South Carolina.
In December, while the investigation into the allegations was under way, Shea said she placed a call to Simoneaux and confronted him about the 1985 incident. She said he was surprisingly candid and made incriminating admissions during the call, which she recorded and gave to deputies. The recording is referenced in an arrest affidavit filed in the case.
On Feb. 14, North Charleston police detained Simoneaux at his home and handed him over to Richland County investigators. He is charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and sexual assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct, the sheriff’s office said.
North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said his department has no open investigations involving Simoneaux in connection with his activities here.
Simoneaux is not listed on the state’s Sex Offender Registry, which was enacted two years after his conviction. His past crime is among those requiring registration, but it could not be determined last week whether he was ever notified to do so.
David Shea said he is proud of his wife for having the courage to come forward and pleased she is now getting counseling to help her deal with the episode.
“She’s been struggling with this for years,” he said. “I hope this shows others that it’s OK to come out and talk about it, for their own emotional health.”
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