Two unlawful sexual contact charges against a Bingham man with a history of randomly assaulting women have been upgraded to felonies based on his lengthy history of sex crime convictions, according to the Somerset County District Attorney, who said that her office erred in not charging him with felonies sooner.

Christopher Cates, 41, was arrested and freed on bail twice in eight days last week. The charges were originally misdemeanors even though Cates has more 15 convictions for sex offenses over the past 20 years.

The number of convictions “enables the charge to be elevated and I’ll be honest, it should have been done from the beginning,” said Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney on Tuesday. “I’m glad it has been taken care of today and I wish it had been done last week.”

Both recent cases are still pending and the change from misdemeanor to felony will not have an impact on bail or bail conditions, Maloney said.

Cates’ criminal history that includes more than 15 convictions dating back to 1996 for offenses of assault, indecent conduct, unlawful sexual touching and three convictions for unlawful sexual contact in 1996, 2000 and 2002, according to the Maine State Bureau of Identification.

A Somerset County Sheriff’s detective described Cates in a court affidavit as someone who has shown repeated behavior of randomly assaulting women, “whether at a private location or place of business.”

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said last week that he believes Cates may have more victims, but would not say Tuesday whether the sheriff’s office has received any new allegations. He said last week he was extremely concerned that Cates was released on bail.

A representative from the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault said Tuesday that sexual violence crimes are among the most under-reported, and it’s not unusual for communities to have repeat offenders who the public is not aware of.

“We have many offenders in our community that we don’t know about,” said Destie Hohman Sprague, associate director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “That’s not meant as a scare tactic — it’s just an acknowledgment of how ineffective our infrastructure still is in understanding and responding to sexual violence of all kinds.”

Only 34 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement nationally in 2014, according to the coalition.

RECENT ALLEGATIONS

In both of Cates’ most recent arrests, a judge in Somerset County set bail at $5,000 cash of $50,000 surety — figures that Maloney said last week were high for misdemeanors. Maloney could not say Tuesday whether bail may have been set higher if the charges against Cates had been elevated sooner.

Both charges are now Class C felonies, which means they are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The charges had previously been Class D misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to one year in a county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Cates’ May 25 arrest came after a Smithfield woman May 9 told police that Cates assaulted her while visiting her property under the pretense of looking at a car she was trying to sell.

He told her she had a tick on her leg, she told police, and when she panicked and asked him to remove it, he allegedly touched her vagina, according to an affidavit filed in Skowhegan District Court by Somerset County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jeremy Leal.

Police said when they first went to Cates’ house to arrest him after that report, Cates’ father stalled a sheriff’s deputy at the front door of their house while his son escaped on foot. Cates was finally arrested May 25 when he appeared in court on a charge of operating after suspension.

A Norridgewock woman who saw Cates’ photo in the news media contacted then contacted police about an assault she said took place last August at her business on Madison Avenue in Skowhegan.

The woman told police that Cates came into her hair salon and asked if she took walk-in appointments. She thought it was odd since his hair was already fairly short, but agreed to trim it for him. As she was standing in front of him cutting his bangs, Cates put his hand between her legs and touched her vagina.

He returned to the salon a second time, in November, and again asked for a haircut, but was turned away. He left the salon after the woman told him twice to leave, according to the affidavit.

He was arrested on those charges Thursday.

STRUGGLE TO UNDERSTAND

Morning Sentinel archives show a range of Cates’s 15 convictions cited in the SBI report.

He was a three-time convicted sex offender in 2011 when he was sentenced to 90 days in jail for two counts of indecent conduct after exposing himself to a woman in downtown Skowhegan and attempting to do the same thing to two teenage girls, according to Morning Sentinel archives. Charges were also brought against him in Franklin County in 2008, when he was charged with unlawfully touching two girls while performing massages and exposing himself to a female jail guard.

Hohman Sprague, of the coalition, said she wasn’t familiar with Cates’ case and couldn’t comment specifically on it, but in general society struggles to understand the issue of sexual violence.

She also said when it comes to defining sexual violence — including those definitions that separate misdemeanors from felonies — victims don’t always see crimes the same way the law does.

“I don’t think they draw those kinds of distinctions about the varying levels and degrees of assault,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a hands-on or hands-off offense, or if there’s penetration. What matters is how it makes a victim feel.”

She said while law enforcement officials and prosecutors work hard at addressing sexual violence, more jail time isn’t necessarily the answer to reducing assaults.

“An evidence-based approach to sex offender management means including them in society, not excluding them,” Hohman Sprague said. “That means making sure they have stable work, that they’re connected with family, connected with effective probation, effective treatment, which might include behavioral therapy.

“It’s a lot of steps and work and we have limited opportunities for sex offender treatment that we know works.”

There isn’t one explanation for why a sex offender would continue to re-offend, but Hohman Sprague said in general mental illness does not play a role in the majority of sexual assaults.

“Sexual violence is generally about power, exerting power and believing you’re entitled to other people’s bodies and boundaries,” she said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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