Reverend Sylvester Obwaka walked free today after months of rape allegations brought upon him by a younger priest. The reverend was accused of raping the young man during a one–night stay at his home, and today charges of sexual assault in the first and third degree were dropped.
First to the witness stand was Hope Shores Alliance Advocacy Coordinator Jennifer Baker. The prosecution and defense questioned Baker about victim tendencies in the moment of a sexual assault, focusing on responses such as non–resistance that might seem inconsistent with how a typical juror would expect a victim to respond
“Absolutely. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s inconsistent because it’s a safety issue. So your brain is going to do whatever is going to keep you safest in that moment. So if that’s freezing, it’s freezing. Not responding, not fighting back,” said Baker.
The majority of her statements supported the theory that victims may not resist sexual encounters due to the fight, flight or freeze response, and may not even remember the events correctly because of the way a victim’s brain processes trauma. After her testimony judge Scott Pavlich dismissed the jury to take a short recess, which is when the defense made a motion for the judge to dismiss the charges, believing they had provided enough evidence to prove consent.
The prosecution immediately countered their request.
“He was basically in a state of repose when attacked. He also testified that he did not consent either physically or verbally. And those are facts again that the jury has to decide so I don’t believe a verdict is warranted at all on this record,” the prosecution argued.
Judge Pavlich dismissed the request, stating that it would be up to the jury to make that decision.
Next to the stand was Reverend Obwaka, who provided his end of the story. The details he shared with the court vastly differed from those shared by the young priest on Tuesday, as he described the sexual encounter as one of mutual consent.
“The nature of the allegation had surprised me because what we did the night of January 31st and the first of February, to me was a mutual thing. And now it has changed that I am the one who has done something wrong,” said Obwaka during his testimony.
The trial began on Monday with a jury selection among 125 people, the second largest group that the Presque Isle Township Courthouse had seen in its history. The trial lasted two long days for the reverend, with the decision released just before 6 pm today.