A massage therapist convicted of assaulting a customer will serve up to 16 years in prison, after the victim asked the judge to consider “the safety of women everywhere.”
Ronnie Blom, 58, of Litchfield, was convicted of sexually assaulting a 42-year-old woman during a massage at Massage Luxe in Edwardsville. During the October trial, three other women testified that he had also assaulted them during massages.
Defense attorney Scott Snider had argued that the “line between therapy and sensuality and sexuality” could become blurred during a massage. But prosecutor Kathleen Nolan argued that there was “no gray area” between a therapeutic massage and sexual assault.
He was convicted after the jury deliberated for less than an hour.
“This is an individual who hid in plain sight in a place where people felt safe and secure, and he preyed upon multiple women,” Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said. “The bravery of the victims in this case can’t be overstated. Their willingness to come forward and tell their terrible stories about what happened to them, what this defendant did to them, is what allowed us to secure justice, and I think probably saved countless other women from suffering the same fate.”
One of the women who testified that Blom had also assaulted her said she “did not react the way I thought I would.” She said she didn’t stand up and scream, didn’t report it, and didn’t “just get over it.”
“I tried to tell myself that I was going to move on,” she said. Instead, she “checked out,” retreating from life and from friends over a sense of deep guilty and shame, sorry that she was not brave enough to turn him in.
Then she saw a news story about Blom’s arrest, she said, and she knew she couldn’t let the victim think she was alone. But even the trial didn’t alleviate the psychological impact, she said, and she remains in therapy.
The victim said she has suffered from anxiety and depression, with a serious impact on her home and family life. “It is not merely a moment in time that has passed,” she said, referring to the assault as a transfiguration of her as a person. She said there were more women who came to her with their stories, but could not testify. Without the three women who did testify, she said, it would have been a “he said, she said” case.
“Sexual harassment and assault are topics that have gripped us as a nation,” the woman said. “I have a glimmer of hope; my assailant was convicted. Few women have this consolation.”
She asked the judge to sentence Blom to the maximum “for the safety of women everywhere,” and to tell society at large that sexual assault is a crime that society takes seriously.
Blom declined to speak at the sentencing.
Nolan asked for the maximum sentence of 15 years for each of the two counts for a total of 30 years, running consecutively and of which he would have to serve 85 percent. She referred to the betrayal of trust in Blom’s employment as a licensed massage therapist.
“He took advantage of that trust in order to abuse more women,” Nolan said. “No more women should have to stand up and say, ‘me too.’”
He took advantage of that trust in order to abuse more women. No more women should have to stand up and say, ‘me too.’
Madison County prosecutor Kathleen Nolan
Snider pointed out that Blom had no criminal record prior to this, and asked for the minimum sentence of 8 years. Even at 85 percent, he said, Blom would be 65 years old upon release.
Madison County Circuit Judge Neil Schroeder chose to set the sentence at eight years for each charge at a total of 16 years, served consecutively. Blom will receive credit for time served and must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.
Before proceeding to sentencing, Snider moved for a new trial, arguing that the trial had not proved Blom penetrated the woman with “force or threat of force.” This was an argument Snider raised during the trial with a motion for a directed verdict, which the judge had denied then.
Nolan reiterated her argument that there is no legal standard for how much force is required to make it rape. The victim froze in her fear, she said, and the law does not require that she fight back or resist in order for the charge of sexual assault to stand.
Schroeder affirmed the original ruling, citing statutes that say if resistance would have been useless due to the difference in strength and size, due to circumstances such as being alone in a dark, enclosed room, and/or frozen in fear, that resistance is not required to rule it rape. “Evidence was more than sufficient to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Snider also protested the testimony of the other women, but Schroeder reaffirmed that the testimony shows a pattern of behavior.
Blom called the jury foreman from the trial as well, questioning him about brief conversations he had with sheriff’s deputies when entering the security barriers each day. The foreman said he was personal friends with an officer and they had brief conversations about unrelated matters, and stated that at no time did any officer discuss the case with him during the trial.
Nolan said the testimony clearly showed there was no impact on jury deliberations from the foreman’s conversations with police. Schroeder agreed, pointing out that the officer in question had nothing to do with the case and was concerned only with courthouse security.
Gibbons said one of the positive outcomes of the national conversation on sexual harassment and assault is that society is becoming “more aware and understanding of the fact that these circumstances really do happen, these terrible things do exist, and victims cannot be expected to react in some robotic or simple way.”
“The reaction of victims is complex and difficult. This [understanding] allows us to focus on the facts and the evidence, to get justice and get our arguments to juries,” Gibbons said.