Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual crimes.
Two victims of former coach Kevin Howard Dale are going public to encourage other sexual assault victims to come forward and to work toward shrugging off the shame that society can pin on victims.
Savanna Hawk said she was assaulted by Dale, who had previously been her basketball coach at Horizon Christian School in Hood River, in May of 2018 when she was 19 and home from her freshman year of college.
She’s speaking publicly because “I would like to own it that it’s me.” She tried to keep her identity a secret at first, but word soon got out.
She said she of course hopes there aren’t more victims of Dale, but if other girls did have similar experiences, she hopes they come forward.
“There are people that are fighting for them, and are on their side,” said Hawk, now a college junior.
In October, Dale pleaded guilty to two counts of harassment, for touching each victim’s intimate parts. He got credit for jail time served and was sentenced to 18 months of probation. (See related story, A1.)
Some of her friends who knew Dale, who was well-liked, “are really angry at me,” Hawk said. But the friends she spoke to directly about what happened weren’t mad at her, she said.
“You hear about how sexual assault victims get blamed and shamed,” Hawk said. “Well, I didn’t believe it until I saw it happen to me and I saw the types of things that people say because they don’t want to believe the horrible thing I’m alleging happened.”
When Hawk came forward, some of her friends thought she was lying.
Then the rumor mill kicked in. “They made up rumors that my mom went in front of my church and apologized to my church for my lying. Which, I never lied, and my mom never went in front of a church.”
Hawk decided to report to police after Christy Caldwell, then 18, reported to police in April 2019 that she’d been assaulted, and the subsequent charges against Dale were publicized.
Hawk was shocked at the similarities to her own situation nearly a year earlier.
She said in both cases, Dale presented himself as a personal trainer, which he wasn’t, and used keys to get into places he wasn’t supposed to be, after hours, alone, under the ruse of working out. He instructed both young women beforehand to wear skimpy clothes for a fitness “progress” photo, and then he touched them on their intimate parts.
Caldwell explained in an email why she was publicly identifying herself, “I mainly wanted the community to be aware that things like this happen to real people! Real girls! And I want women to feel safe in coming forward if something similar has happened to them! If a woman is harassed, abused, molested, or raped, it’s not their fault, no matter the situation! Our community and culture needs to stop making them feel like it’s their fault and that they can’t talk about their experience without judgment or humiliation.”
Caldwell felt justice wasn’t done in their cases. “Savanna and I are broken and in pain while he only gets an 18-month probation. Where is the justice there?”
Caldwell added, “I used my name because I want predators, like Kevin Dale, to know that myself and other victims will not stay silent and we will not let them get away with the horrors that they commit!”
Caldwell asked a reporter to refer to police reports for an account of what happened to her.
According to police reports, Caldwell met Dale through a mutual acquaintance and had heard through friends that Dale was a really “fun and cool guy.”
Caldwell agreed to meet him at the Gorge Athletic Club to work out, but since time was short, Dale suggested they sit in the women’s sauna in the women’s locker room to discuss “fitness goals.” He told her to put on a swimsuit for progress photos.
After Dale proposed meeting at the club on a Sunday evening, Caldwell said, “Isn’t the club closed?” and he said that it was ok and he did it all the time, according to police reports.
Former Wasco County Chief Deputy District Attorney Leslie Wolf described Caldwell as trusting.
Dale and Caldwell were in several areas of the women’s locker room, including a sauna, which is in the area of the showers, and at a massage table, which is in the upstairs part of the women’s locker room. He touched her intimately a number of times, under the guise of an “assessment.” She initially told him it didn’t make her uncomfortable, but then she told him it did.
As their meeting continued, Caldwell had a growing fear and concern and was thinking about how to extricate herself from the situation. She told police she didn’t want to anger him because she was afraid of what he would do.
She told police when he appeared to suggest sexual activity in exchange for personal training, she became “so scared” because he was much bigger than her.
She told police that as they sat in the sauna a second time, Dale asked if he could touch himself in front of her. She said she wouldn’t be comfortable with that and after he persisted, she tried to put him off by telling him she’d decide on that another day.
After seeing him touch himself over his shorts, she left the sauna, telling him she’d see him later after she got dressed, hoping that he understood she didn’t want him to follow her to the shower.
She went a few steps and got into a nearby shower, while still wearing her swimsuit, to rinse the sweat off. He followed her and opened the shower curtain and said, “I hope you don’t think I’m a creep or anything,” according to the police report. He touched her intimate parts while exposing and touching himself, the report stated.
He complimented her body and then left the locker room. Once they were both dressed, Dale let her out of the building.
Dianna Risley, general manager of Gorge Athletic Club, wrote in a statement to the court that she would never forget seeing the video footage from the club the night of the crime that showed a confident Caldwell walking in the building, only to be seen frantically running out the door about an hour later.
In 2019, Dale had been a night janitor at the health club, but had quit a few weeks before the incident with Caldwell, but hadn’t yet returned his keys, despite being asked several times to return them, Risley said. After the crime was reported, the club changed its locks.
As soon as Caldwell left the club, she told a friend what happened, and the friend helped her call police.
About a year before that incident, in May 2018, Hawk had agreed to meet with Dale for what she thought was a group workout at the Wahtonka Community School, which Dale had keys to as a football and girls basketball coach at the time for The Dalles High School.
When Hawk got there, she was surprised it was just the two of them. They worked out for about an hour, then he took her downstairs to the locker room and took fitness “progress” photos of her.
He’d instructed her to specifically to wear a sports bra and a thong. She brought shorts to wear, but he insisted on a thong to “show all her muscles,” and she reluctantly agreed.
The locker room “Just felt really secluded, and I hate that place now,” Hawk said, “because the memory of being downstairs, all the concrete and being completely alone with him completely terrifies me now.”
He had her lay down on a mat on the floor and began a post-workout stretch out, which was something he’d regularly done with the players when Hawk was on the basketball team. He’d always stretched out the players before and after practice, so they were used to him touching them, she said.
But then he began touching her private areas and complimenting her body.
“I was completely panicked, you go into survival mode,” Hawk said.
She faked a phone call and said she had to leave, and left. She went to a friend’s house and burst into tears as she described what happened. Her friend messaged Dale from Hawk’s phone to tell him to delete the photos he’d taken.
Hawk said her assault “was premeditated, he planned it.”
After the assault, Hawk said she went into a deep depression that summer. Her normally clean room “looked like a tornado.” At college in the fall of her sophomore year, “I failed a lot of classes.”
As to the ongoing impacts of the assault, she said, “I don’t date men. I don’t know, it’s just kind of shaped the way I think about everything. I don’t trust anything. I was an open and trusting person, I still am, but now I’m definitely more guarded.”
She’s in therapy and has worked through things. When something like that happens, “I think you put it in a little box and you try not to deal with it and when it does come back out it’s 10 times worse.”
“Looking back, it doesn’t seem like something I would do, but I did it, and it was so easy,” she said of going to the workout. That’s “what’s hard,” she said. There are so many things she would’ve second-guessed now, but he completely put her guard down, she said.
She’s majoring in psychology and hopes to become a therapist working with sexual assault victims.
The criminal case took a long time to resolve and Hawk is just grateful it is over. “He’s just out living his life,” she said. “All of that kind of takes a toll on you. But I was disappointed — no, not disappointed — I was angry at the sexual harassment” conviction he pleaded to.
She prays the sex offender evaluation Dale must undergo — and any therapy recommended from it — is effective.
Hawk is ready to move on in a positive light. She and Caldwell have talked often and have been a support system for each other.
“I just feel this is another thing we can turn positive and remain strong and fight for other women in the future,” Hawk said.
Former Wasco County Chief Deputy District Attorney Leslie Wolf said, “It’s very common for a sex offender to groom his community and be in a position of trust. And he was trusted by both girls. The speed in which he violated both girls is obviously different, but still it make those girls feel helpless immediately.”
Normally grooming takes awhile, Wolf said, and is a process to groom both family members, other people around them, and the victim.
Wolf said what was unusual about this case was that both girls immediately reported to another person. “So that’s a strength, so helpful for these cases,” Wolf said.