In addition to the horror accompanying the details, it might seem unrealistic that a predator like Jonathan Adleta could find more than one woman willing to provide him a child to rape. And yet Adleta managed to find at least two that authorities know of. This is far more common, sadly, than many realize. Not only are men like Adleta driven to abuse again and again, they are also demonically skilled in attracting people who will give them access to victims again and again.
A 14 year-old girl in France was, thankfully, able to demonstrate the reality of a horror that her account of would likely have been insufficient to bring charges. A hidden web cam captured her father sexually abusing her. The man’s attorney claims the abuse occurred- and only occurred- during a period of unemployment and the pressure of a divorce.
Doubtful. More than likely this has occurred 1) about as long as the man’s sexual interest in his daughter has been established, and 2) with no regard to any other stressors in his life.
This is how predatory behavior works. Thank God a camera was able to make the existence of it undeniable.
The “glimmer” is one of doubt. It’s the doubt that’s created when we analyze a rape perpetrated on a victim who was drunk, dressed seductively, or engaged in whatever behavior we have adjudged unwise and foolish. It’s a glimmer that allows for the blaming- ever so slightly, but still substantively- of the victim. It’s a glimmer that allows for the exoneration- ever so slightly, but still substantively- of the offender.
That’s what victim-centered rape prevention does. Regardless of how well-intentioned. Regardless of how coldly logical. Regardless of the reservoir of love and benevolence that lies behind it. Regardless. It still serves to create the glimmer. And the glimmer is too much.
See, we can claim we’re not blaming victims all we want when we advise seemingly obvious and demonstrably effective means of prevention. It does not matter; the effect still serves to blame victims and protect offenders. Why? Because sexual violence is a crime different from any other.
Read that again. Rape is categorically, undeniably in a class by itself. When one person attacks another sexually, the crime is analyzed differently than any other. Since criticizing Emily Yoffe’s State pieces earlier this week (her pieces are here and here) , I have received dozens of messages from people who construct analogies to other crimes to describe why her key advice (control your drinking) is simply sound advice and not victim blaming, regardless of how unfair it might seem. Others shake their heads and tell me I can wish for a kinder, fairer world all I want, but they’ll be damned if they won’t tell their daughters and sons exactly “what not to do” in order to protect them.
That’s understandable. But here is an undeniable truth: Leave aside my belief that all that advice, even if it works in many situations, also potentially opens up the hearers to other vectors of attack. For those who would still prefer to create rules and encourage loved ones to follow them in order to best play the odds, I will challenge them on at least one aspect of their thinking: They cannot avoid a charge of victim-blaming by claiming they would give similar advice to anyone in order to avoid, say, robbery (by walking on well-lit streets), or car theft (by locking doors).
Rape isn’t like robbery, car theft, or even murder. Sex, and how we view it, doesn’t allow for that.
The nature of sexuality in our culture (and most others) does not allow for it to be analogized to any other crime. The nuances and complexities of sexual interaction, seduction, flirtation, gender roles, the intensely private and culturally shame-based nature of the whole subject, the relation of the sexual organs to the excretory ones, the continued prizing of “purity,” etc, etc, etc, all combine to make sexual crime one that is always analyzed differently from any other.
So the danger of tipping the scales even a tiny bit and judging victim choices, thus marginally exonerating offenders, is magnified with sexual crime.
Another hard truth: The further we dig into the nature of sexual crime, the further we must dig into the nature of sex itself. And that means taking an honest look at gender roles, expectations, and deep-seated fears and obsessions that have shaped how society judges, treats, confines, punishes and subjugates women.
Read that again also, if you would. Far too much of the debate concerning how women can and should protect themselves from men is polluted with the continuing and still deeply unresolved obsession that men (and some women as well) still have with women as sexual beings. Our major religions, our societal structures, our laws, customs and mores. How many are hyper-focused on controlling female sexuality? When we can answer that question honestly and accurately, we’ll have uncovered much of what is wrong with how we seek to prevent rape.
That, in a nutshell, is why I find even the best intentioned, victim-centered prevention strategists to be ultimately wrong-headed. Try as they might, they are still tipping the scales. They are still creating doubt. As a prosecutor, that’s a thing I was trained very carefully to avoid when justice is on the line.
A travesty of justice likely took place in 2012 in Maryville, Missouri regarding the rape of a 14 year-old girl by a high school senior. Because the defendant comes from a political family with ties to the local DA, charges of a conspiracy to scuttle charges have captured media attention as much as any aspect of the crime. While salacious and disturbing, I’m willing to bet they aren’t true.
That’s not to say I don’t think the defendant, now a college student who was apparently still tweeting misogynistic messages until fairly recently, didn’t benefit from who he was and where he came from. The victim and her family were also likely disadvantaged by being “outsiders” from another community. But at this point, my guess is the reality is more mundane. I don’t think the case was derailed by a coordinated effort involving the DA and law enforcement to protect Matthew Barnett because of his ties to a former legislator and sitting Congressman.
Far more likely, Robert Rice, the DA responsible for dropping first felony and then misdemeanor charges, simply felt unprepared and discouraged from taking them to trial. If so, he’s far from alone in not knowing how to make the most of good police work and common sense in a sexual abuse case involving alcohol and adolescent behavior.
I’m careful here, as I am in every case I comment on, to stress that I’ve neither considered the case the way Rice has, nor am I familiar with his jury pool and legal culture.
That said, it appears he had quite a bit to go on.
Victim Daisy Coleman was found by her mother, freezing on her porch and still intoxicated; Barnett and the group that drove her home abandoned her outside of her house in 22 degree weather. Her mother saw signs of physical distress to her ano-genital area, and an immediate report was made, the child taken to a hospital. Seven hours after her last drink, her blood alcohol content (BAC) was .13%. Inexperienced drinkers cannot generally reach a .13 without serious signs of intoxication, and she was likely much higher at the time she was raped. Barnett admitted to sexual intercourse on Daisy. A friend apparently video-taped the act. Other witnesses, including Daisy’s 13 year-old friend who was also raped (her 15 year-old assailant confessed as much), reported that Daisy was between crying and incoherent as they left Barnett’s home, and had to be carried from the bedroom. Evidence of drinking was collected the following day.
The case looks- in any legal environment in the U.S. and I have seen most of them- eminently triable. Rice was benefitted by quick and competent police work, a confession to sexual contact, and a concerned mother rightfully terrified and appalled. He dropped charges anyway. Rice says he dropped them at least in part because the Coleman’s asserted 5th Amendment privileges before a deposition, but Melinda Coleman, Daisy’s mother, insists that this was 1) only after felony charges had already been dropped and 2) a short-lived decision that she reversed the next day, agreeing to cooperate. Rice’s other reasoning involves what he calls a lack of evidence and what appeared to him as “incorrigible teenagers” drinking and having sex. If that’s truly how he feels, he has a tragic misunderstanding of the dynamics of sexual assault.
First, I’m not sure what 5th Amendment privileges could have been asserted that Rice could not have proffered immunity for in order to pursue a far more serious case. Second, if Rice thinks his case was too light on evidence to bring in good faith to a jury, I can only say that myself and others- often in very challenging legal environments- have successfully taken cases forward with less.
Rice has done the right thing by asking a judge to appoint a special prosecutor and re-open the case. The Colemans appear ready to cooperate, and I hope the new prosecutor views the case differently, assuming what I know is accurate and complete.
Whatever happens, I believe Rice’s declaration that “there wasn’t any prosecuting attorney who could take that case to trial” should be publicly proven both defeatist and inaccurate. But I’m not willing at this point to believe his motivations are worse than that.