Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sensitive topics including rape and sexual assault.
On Sept. 7, The News & Observer published an article about Chapel Hill Town Council candidate Vimala Rajendran’s husband, Rush Greenslade, and his status as a registered sex offender.
The article detailed Greenslade’s history of being put on the registry in 2002 after taking an Alford plea for a case regarding the alleged rape of his then 12-year-old daughter. The plea was for lesser charges of “indecent liberties with a minor” and did not require Greenslade to admit guilt.
In an interview with the N&O, both Greenslade and Rajendran denied his daughter’s allegations. But since the news broke, Greenslade’s status as a registered sex offender has become a major topic of discussion surrounding Rajendran’s campaign.
Allegations against Rush Greenslade
In 2002, following an investigation, Chapel Hill police brought charges against Rush Greenslade for the alleged rape of his then 12-year-old daughter, Sarah Greenslade.
Sarah Greenslade, now 32, alleges that one night in 2001, her father raped her after she fell asleep in his bed. Sarah Greenslade said she was awake for the alleged rape, but remembers blacking out at some point.
Though her memory of the night’s details are hazy, Sarah Greenslade said she vividly remembers waking up to her tear-soaked hair, blood-stained underwear and a lingering “feeling of him.”
Soon after, Sarah Greenslade said she spoke with her mother, Diane Greenslade, about the incident. Though they both initially “brushed it off” and interpreted the incident as a dream, both Sarah Greenslade and her mother said they remained suspicious.
Sarah Greenslade said her father had a history of doling out spankings and “weird” physical touch that made her and her brothers uncomfortable. Sarah Greenslade said her mother, who separated from Rush Greenslade in 1994, had emailed Rush previously to tell him to stop touching Sarah Greenslade inappropriately.
“He would bare-bottom spank me until I was way older than I should’ve been, and I knew that was wrong, and my mom always told me that was wrong, too,” Sarah Greenslade said.
Sarah Greenslade said that after revisiting the details of her memory with her mother a few months later, her mother was convinced that they had to go to the police.
Assistant District Attorney Kayley Taber, a current candidate for the district attorney position, prosecuted Sarah Greenslade’s case in 2002. Taber said in an interview with the DTH that she believed there was both significant physical injury “consistent with penetrating trauma” and that she believed there was compelling evidence of Rush Greenslade’s guilt. She said it was rare to see such significant vaginal injury in sexual assault cases.
“The evidence included the clear and consistent statement of the child, as well as the serious injury to the child which was consistent with penetrating trauma,” Taber said.
Following the allegations, Rush Greenslade was charged by Chapel Hill police with first-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping (which can involve restraining another person for the purpose of sexual assault). After entering into a plea bargain, he was convicted of a lesser charge of indecent liberties with a minor. The plea bargain did not require him to admit guilt.
Taber said Sarah Greenslade and her family were also encouraged to take a plea bargain so she would not have to testify in a jury trial.
“She had a guardian at the time who strongly recommended that we resolve the case by plea so that Sarah would not have to testify against her father,” Taber said.
An offender's status on the registry in North Carolina lasts a standard of 30 years, with offenders having the ability to petition for removal after 10 years.
Rajendran’s position on her husband’s innocence
Rajendran said that she’s known her husband for more than 20 years, and she was a family friend of his when the allegations from his daughter were first brought against him.
“He was wrongfully accused 20 years ago, and it was a shock to him and the rest of us who knew him,” Rajendran said.
She said she’s passionate about justice, and has centered it in every element of her town council campaign — including food, worker and racial justice. She said this also applies to victim justice.
“I do believe in believing the victim, but I’ve also lived in this country long enough to know that some people are wrongfully accused,” Rajendran said. “We need to accept the fact that rape is real. But in this case, this man (Rush Greenslade) was not involved. That’s what he believes, and that’s what I believe.”
Rajendran said she believes in her husband’s innocence, but she also said she does believe Sarah Greenslade was raped.
“No 12-year-old girl — no, no human being — should have to go through what she went through,” Rajendran said. “I don't even call it an alleged rape. If she says it happened, it happened. But, I don't think it was her father.”
Rajendran said her defense of her husband has no bearing on her sympathy for victims of assault. She said that she herself has been a victim of domestic violence and has a history of working with organizations that support domestic violence victims.
Rajendran has been involved in various fundraisers with the Compass Center for Women and Families, a Chapel Hill group that focuses on domestic violence crisis services, education and prevention. Rajendran has hosted fundraising nights for the organization, worked on fundraising drives and is an honorary co-chairperson of the organization.
“The compassion and pain I feel for the victim is never minimized,” Rajendran said.
Impact on public opinion
N.C. State University professor of political science Steven Greene, who specializes in North Carolina politics, said that sex crimes tend to have a disproportionate impact on public opinion.
“Sex crimes and things related to sex seem to uniquely draw our attention,” Greene said.
Greene said that while allegations of sexual misconduct might realistically have a bearing on elected officials involved in issues of legal justice, like sheriffs or attorney generals, he doesn’t believe the issue is relevant to the office Rajendran is seeking.
“Does a Chapel Hill town councilor have anything to do, through his or her professional capacities, with sexual assault allegations?” Greene said. “If she was in a position where it was literally related, then I think that would be a very different story.”
Chapel Hill Town Council member Jessica Anderson, said the alleged crimes ought to outweigh discussions of Rajendran’s campaign. In a written statement to the DTH, Anderson said the framing of the discussion from the N&O article minimized the impact of the allegations.
“I heard from survivors that they found the ‘sipping tea on the porch’ and minimizing the assault of a child to be very triggering and flooding," Anderson said the statement.
Anderson said the importance of believing assault allegations, especially in regards to a child, will always take precedence for her.
“The rape of a child is always more important to me than any one person’s aspirations to be in local government,” Anderson said in the statement. “My values will never be compromised for a local election.”
Sharif Durhams, managing editor at the N&O, said in an email statement that the newspaper stood by its handling of the story.
"We stand by our story and the decisions made throughout the reporting and editing process," Durhams said in an email.
Despite her personal feelings towards Rajendran, Sarah Greenslade said she acknowledges the positive work Rajendran has done in the local community. Still, she said she feels conflicted.
“I don’t know if that means that she can't be a positive influence in the communities, but what I do know is that (Rush Greenslade) has unfettered access to the most vulnerable populations, because that’s who she fights for,” Sarah Greenslade said.
Sarah Greenslade said she worries Rajendran’s background as a “victim’s advocate” has the potential to overshadow her father’s sex offender status.
“He can just sit back and be like, ‘Well, it's not me denying it. My wife, who is this victim’s advocate, and domestic abuse survivor and this pillar in the community, she endorses me,’” Sarah Greenslade said. “And he’s been riding that train for years.”
'I would really like to focus on things that really matter'
In their interview with the N&O, Rajendran and her husband said they “welcome the opportunity to talk about what has happened.”
Rajendran said she always informs new employees at Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, a restaurant on Franklin Street that she and Rush Greenslade operate, of his sex offender's status.
Maria Gutierrez, an employee at the cafe, said that she was told during her hiring process about Rush Greenslade’s offender status. She said that Rush Greenslade has been a good boss.
“He doesn’t have any problems with nobody,” Gutierrez said. “That’s why I’m working here. If there were any problems, I’d leave.”
Rajendran said she wants to move forward and focus on her campaign.
"If I become a council person, I would really like to focus on things that really matter, which is a safe town, affordable housing and having a resilient economy," Rajendran said. "We need to focus on that, not an incident that happened 20 years ago.”
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