A Pennsylvania groom’s alleged sexual assault of one of his wife’s bridesmaids days before their wedding made national headlines.
But experts say that while it may be unusual for a groom to be the alleged assailant, sexual violence at weddings and similar events may be more common than people realize.
“There are some unique circumstances surrounding a wedding that someone could exploit easily” to commit sexual assault, said Kristen Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
An inherent sense of trust among a wedding’s guests; a sense of lightheartedness; the free flow of alcohol — all of these can be ingredients for an act of sexual violence, Houser said.
Often people associate such risk factors with college campuses, but weddings aren’t much different, she said.
“If we think of [sexual assailants] as monsters and predators — none of us think we’re friends with monsters and predators,” Houser said. “We err on the side of ‘I hang out with good people, and the people I hang out with only hang out with good people.'”
In the Pennsylvania case, the groom, Daniel Carney, was charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse of an unconscious person, simple assault and indecent assault last week, about a month after he allegedly forced himself on a bridesmaid at an inn on the Delaware River, according to the criminal complaint.
The bridesmaid, a 29-year-old from Oregon, told police she had spent the afternoon of Aug. 30, two days before the wedding, rafting and paddleboarding with the bridal party and other friends — most of whom had been consuming alcohol. At some point during the afternoon excursions, she said she became too intoxicated to stay upright on her paddleboard.
Most of what the bridesmaid said she knows from that day, according to the criminal complaint, is cobbled together from what other people have told her: Her friends put her in a raft for her safety and when they returned to the inn where they were staying at about 8 p.m., she was unable to stand on her own. Carney’s bride-to-be asked him to help the intoxicated bridesmaid out of the water and walk her to the parking lot, the victim said, but instead, he took her to a men’s locker room.
She remembers waking in pain in the locker room to Carney biting her breast and forcefully grabbing her head and body, the complaint says. She then “blacked out” and woke up minutes later with her bathing suit bottoms off, her legs pushed back and Carney on top of her, according to the criminal complaint. His fiancee walked into the locker room at that point and screamed at Carney, the victim told police.
The couple left together, and another bridesmaid assisted the victim in leaving the locker room, according to the complaint. Subsequent interviews revealed the victim “appeared extremely intoxicated and incoherent” when she was found in the locker room, the complaint states.
The bridesmaid told authorities that prior to the assault she had never had reason to feel uncomfortable around the groom.
NBC News, which does not name victims of sexual assault unless they choose to publicly identify themselves, tried to reach the victim in case she wanted to comment for this story without being named, but could not reach her at listed numbers.
NBC News also reached out to Carney’s lawyer for comment but did not hear back.
Three out of four rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
“Many sexual assaults stem from a meeting in a social setting,” said Scott Berkowitz, RAINN’s president.
People at weddings typically know each other to various degrees, Berkowitz said, which makes it likely that sexual assaults happen at such gatherings more frequently than is known.
One unusual aspect of the alleged assault in Pennsylvania is that it was reported to police.
Only one in four women report sexual assaults, Berkowitz said. “And reporting is even less likely when the perpetrator is an acquaintance.”
Often, in cases that stem from a social meeting, alcohol or drugs have been consumed.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has found that half of victims who reported sexual assault said that either they or their assailant consumed alcohol. The institute also found that at least 80 percent of all sexual assaults occur during social interactions.
Experts now know that victims of sexual assault who were drinking beforehand are less likely to report the crime. Victims fear being blamed for drinking, Houser said.
But she said society should begin seeing alcohol as a strategy that in some cases is employed by an assailant, Houser said.
Those who study sexual violence emphasize that the only person with control over an assault is the assailant, and more often than not the perpetrator also tries to control what happens afterward.
The groom in the Pennsylvania case stayed in contact with the bridesmaid after the assault, according to the criminal complaint. On the morning of his wedding, Carney texted her, “Can we please just be as happy as possible” for the bride, and he asked the victim to take emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy, the complaint says. He apologized and told the bridesmaid that “mistakes are behind us.”
On Sept. 2, a day after the wedding, the victim went to a Pennsylvania hospital where state police were summoned to take her complaint of an assault.
Later that day, in a call from Carney that was intercepted by authorities, he again apologized to the victim. He also admitted to sexually assaulting her and said that it was entirely his fault, the complaint says.
That same day, in an interview with police investigators, Carney said that he was also extremely intoxicated the night of the incident and felt he was taken advantage of. He later admitted to police he pulled the victim into the locker room on Aug. 30, which, according to the complaint, supported what was captured by surveillance footage at the inn.
Carney was arraigned Monday in Marshalls Creek, Pennsylvania, and released on an unsecured $100,000 bond on the condition that he has no contact with the victim, a court official in Marshalls Creek told NBC News. He is next due in court on Oct. 30.