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‘I was initially adamantly opposed to reporting’

  • Tiffany Marteau and her daughter hug at their North Conway home in March. Custody is split with her ex-husband. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Tiffany Marteau stands outside the Carroll County District Attorney's Office in Ossipee on Sunday, March 19, 2017. The sexual assault case against Marteau's ex-husband was mishandled by the office and ultimately did not proceed to trial. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)  

  • Without looking through the doorway, Tiffany Marteau picks up her daughter from the Conway Police Department on March 25, 2017. Marteau shares custody of her daughter, now 9, with her ex-husband whom she accused of raping her in 2011. The no-contact custody transfer occurs twice a week. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Tiffany Marteau and her 9-year-old daughter take home succulent plants they selected together at a store in North Conway on March 25, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Tiffany Marteau laughs with her competitive gymnastics team during a break at Saco Valley Gymnastics Training Center in Conway on March 25, 2017. Marteau sometimes slept at the gym, which she owns, while going through a divorce with her husband whom she accused of raping her in 2011. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Tiffany Marteau opens the curtains in her North Conway home on March 25, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Tiffany Marteau coaches her competitive gymnastics team at Saco Valley Gymnastics Training Center in Conway on March 25, 2017. Marteau sometimes slept at the gym, which she owns, while going through a divorce with her husband whom she accused of raping her in 2011. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Tiffany Marteau, owner of Saco Valley Gymnastics Training Center in Conway, sometimes slept at the gym while going through a divorce with her husband whom she accused of raping her in 2011. Marteau coaches her competitive gymnastics team in this March photo. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, April 14, 2017

Tiffany Marteau always equated silence with safety.

Silence would allow her marriage to come to a swift and amicable end. Silence would allow her to move forward with her life. Silence would bury the memories of Feb. 19, 2011, the night she says she was raped by her husband.

In time, though, she realized that by choosing to stay silent, she had not yet faced her past head on and made a conscious decision about how to move forward. She remained a victim unable to heal.

Then, in March 2015, just over a year after she filed a rape report with Conway police, prosecutors with the Carroll County Attorney’s Office told her they were dropping the charges. For most of the 48 hours that followed, she sat emotionally paralyzed on her closet floor.

Prosecutors outlined six reasons why they could not move forward. But Marteau said she knew there were broader issues at play than her delayed disclosure to Conway police, her decision not to immediately move out of the family home after that February night, and the complexities that had arisen in the family court.

What she came to realize, like so many victims of crime, is that her credibility was front and center – and it had been all along. From the time police referred the case to the county attorney’s office, her motives were under attack, including by prosecutors who had never before tried a sexual assault case.

She decided to speak openly about her experience and shed her silence in hopes of helping others and spurring reform in the criminal justice system. In the process, she says she ceased to be a victim and became a survivor.

“I wish none of this ever happened, but since it did and I am still standing but remember the pain, it feels only human to turn around and try to help the woman who may find herself in similar shoes next,” Marteau, 33, of North Conway said in an interview in March. “There are pieces of the system that can get better but people have to help. They have to know the issues matter and warrant attention.”

She said she would be lying to herself if she didn’t acknowledge that the psychological trauma still lingers, but she doesn’t let it stop her from pursuing her goal or let it define her as a person.

“I hope that someday many of the barriers that keep women from taking that step will be less ominous. A big part of that relates to destigmatizing sexual assault. Part of it relates to improving the experience of victims when they encounter the criminal justice system. That will be a very long road but I’m willing to put a paver down whenever I can.”

In spite of everything, Marteau said she feels fortunate that she was able to open her heart again. Later this month, she will remarry before nearly 200 guests during a ceremony in Maine.

The case

In the days that followed county prosecutors’ decision not to move forward with the sexual assault case, Marteau drafted a letter to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office asking top officials to take a second look.

“I have spent the past year investing energy, reliving the trauma, granting access to my personal information and fully cooperating with the police and prosecutors,” Marteau wrote. “My expectation was that ultimately a jury would hear about what happened to me that night and that the decision related to a verdict would be theirs to make.”

The case against Anthony Soriente had been passed around the county attorney’s office due to significant turnover – a situation that, in time, became so severe that two state prosecutors had to step in to stabilize the department. One of those prosecutors was Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward, who took over the case.

Ward told the judge the case merited additional investigation, and withdrew a plea deal first proposed by the county attorney’s office in early 2015. That deal stipulated that Soriente would plead guilty to violating a protective order, a misdemeanor, and, in turn, prosecutors would drop all other indictments, including two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault.

Marteau said the proposed resolution painted an inaccurate portrayal of what she had endured as a victim, including on the night of Feb. 19, 2011. Marteau told police that she and Soriente had separated but still lived in the same home. His father had died that morning and she had let him sleep next to her for comfort. She told him “no” when he touched her, but he pulled her close and forced himself on her, according to police reports.

The attorney general’s review of the case only delayed its resolution. Months after rescinding the plea deal, Ward put it back on the table unchanged. He told the court the state could not prove the felony sex assault charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

“We never stopped believing Tiffany throughout this case, but what I believe and what I can prove are two different things,” Ward told the Monitor. “This victim’s case was mishandled by the county attorney’s office, and it was done without any regard to the ramifications it would have on the case, and it did cause problems.”

Ward explained during the plea and sentencing hearing on the protective order violation in November 2015 that there were some personnel at the county attorney’s office who believed Marteau and others who did not.

“That disagreement led to damaging blows to the victim’s credibility,” he told the court, adding there was “finger-pointing and blame between co-workers.” Ward said former county personnel entrusted to protect victims had, instead, waged an office battle of their own at Marteau’s expense.

Just last month, the county attorney’s office provided Marteau with the personnel memos that Ward had identified as damaging to her credibility and, ultimately, the prosecution’s case. The memos, which were excluded from her earlier right-to-know request, reveal former employees’ misconceptions about the case at hand and a lack of understanding about the complexities of sexual assault prosecutions.

Further, emails the office had previously provided to Marteau show county attorneys’ limited knowledge of New Hampshire’s rape shield law and the protections it affords sexual assault victims.

Soriente’s attorney, Jim Rosenberg, wrote in an email to the Monitor on April 10 that there is no proof that Soriente sexually assaulted Marteau, who he argued “lacked credibility entirely.” He added, “The facts, themselves, make clear that this case should never have been indicted and it would have been a miscarriage of justice for the case to continue.”

Filing a report

The first time Marteau disclosed in court the allegations of sexual assault against Soriente was in a domestic violence petition, filed on March 29, 2013. Conway family court Judge Pamela Albee signed a temporary order of protection that same day. The divorce proceedings had just entered their third year.

The tipping point for Marteau had come two days earlier, when Soriente trespassed on her property, court records show. She said she filed the domestic violence petition out of necessity, to protect herself and her daughter.

When Marteau filed for divorce in March 2011, she cited irreconcilable differences. The case was before the Conway family court for three and a half years before there was a final divorce decree and approved parenting plan for shared custody of their young daughter, now 9.

The proceedings were fraught with complications and setbacks for Marteau, whose actions were criticized at every turn by a guardian ad litem who Judge Albee had appointed at Soriente’s request. Her attorney, William Boc, objected to the appointment, alleging the guardian wasn’t acting as a neutral third party with the daughter’s best interests in mind. But Albee overlooked the objection, which was supported by letters from health and family professionals who said the guardian had misquoted and misrepresented them in court.

Even with the restraining order in place, the family court prioritized co-parenting strategies that forced regular communication and interaction between Marteau and Soriente – the exact thing Marteau was trying to limit.

Years later, she wonders how the family court case might have unfolded differently if she could have spoken up for herself at the outset and filed a sexual assault report with police sooner. Boc had advised her during their first meeting in December 2012, to amend the divorce petition and file on fault grounds to include sexual assault. She never did.

“If you ask anyone who I spoke with directly after the assault they would tell you that I was initially adamantly opposed to reporting the assault,” Marteau wrote in her letter to the attorney general’s office. “All I cared about was finding a way to move forward for my family.”

There were a million reasons not to report to police, she said. First and foremost, she was humiliated and blamed herself for failing as a wife. She also feared that no one would believe her.

From a legal standpoint, the crime of rape between married partners wasn’t even spelled out in New Hampshire law until the early 1980s.

“I told the people I needed to tell at the time to get myself through that situation,” she said, noting that in addition to close friends, she disclosed to her attorney, victim advocates and health professionals before ever telling law enforcement.

No regrets

Conway police records show Marteau spoke with a detective for the first time on the evening of Dec. 6, 2013. She had built a rapport with the agency in the eight months since the restraining order had gone into effect, and she trusted they would treat her professionally following the disclosure.

“Having someone take the time to listen fully and then investigate was a gift,” she said. “Being believed once that happened made all of the difference.”

Marteau had seen two psychiatrists during the court proceedings, including W. Kieran Cunningham, who began seeing her in the month before she filed the police report. In a letter to Conway police Detective Ryan Wallace, Cunningham discusses his efforts to empower Marteau to “stand up for herself and lodge a complaint.”

Marteau referenced her work with Cunningham in an interview last month, and remarked on how important his advice was to her recovery and her decision to come forward.

“I ended up in counseling where I was encouraged to make a report to the police. At some point that became a viable option for me. All of the reasons for not reporting lost their value over time and as circumstances shifted, she said.”

To this day, Marteau said she doesn’t regret her decision to go to police; she views it as a necessary step in her healing process, even though the criminal case did not proceed to trial. She said she hopes that by speaking candidly about her experience as a victim in the criminal justice system that others will be spared from a similar nightmare.

What she wrestles with most is not being able to provide a healthier co-parenting situation for her daughter. While Marteau and Soriente remain in full contact with their daughter, they are completely disengaged from one another. Since the divorce, they have had limited direct contact, including at the Conway Police Department where there is a custody transfer twice a week.

“It isn’t even co-parenting, but rather parallel parenting, and that is the best I am able to do,” Marteau said. “My daughter needs the healthiest version of her mom, fully present in her life. For me, no contact with him is essential to that happening.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)