A victim of sexual assault should be able to get a fair investigation without having to plead her case on national media.
But after prosecutors in the Missouri town of Marysville dropped rape and sexual exploitation charges against two locals, a teen girl and her mom are speaking out with the hope that media pressure will lead the state to reopen the case. Melinda Coleman and her teenage daughter Daisy—who decided to not remain anonymous and go public about the incident—appeared on CNN last night. In the meantime, they've been harassed and feel they’ve been forced out of the town they lived in.
Their case is a grim reminder that incidents like Steubenville are not as exceptional as we’d like to believe they are. The Kansas City Star reported the full details of this case, but the basics sound familiar: two teenage girls were drinking to the point of blacking out and were then assaulted by older boys, including 17-year-old football player Matthew Barnett. The assault was filmed by Barnett’s friend. When the girl and her mom pursued rape charges, the boys were questioned but the case was quickly dropped. There are other horrible details that the family lays out on CNN.
The young men admitted to police that they had "sex" with the girls. Barnett said what happened was consensual, but under Missouri law, you cannot have consensual sex if someone is incapacitated by alcohol.
"Mr. Barnett cooperated with the investigation and freely admitted to the sexual encounter," said Barnett family lawyer Robert Sundell. "While many find Matt Barnett's behavior reprehensible, the legal issue was whether a crime was committed.”
It's worth noting the headline of the Kansas City Star article about this case: “Nightmare in Marysville: Teens’ sexual encounter ignites firestorm against family.” Not a firestorm against the family of Barnett, who is the grandson of a state representative, but against the Coleman family. When they pursued the case, Daisy was bullied at school and Melinda was let go from her job in what she believes was a retaliatory firing. Then, prosecutors dropped the charges, saying that Daisy’s story was unreliable and that the Coleman family refused to cooperate with the prosecution—which the Colemans say is ridiculous.
Daisy attempted suicide twice. Eventually, the Colemans felt like they had to move out of town. After they moved, their old house in Marysville burned down.
It’s sad how many other awful cases this one brings to mind. The Atlantic pointed out the similarities between this and the cases of Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott, two teen girls who killed themselves after being harassed after reporting they were raped. Feministing says its “Steubenville by another name.” It certainly seems like a case where instead of having the justice system work to support a victim, it has only led to feelings of anger alienation.
Media is powerful. Would Steubenville authorities have taken the rape case there seriously if they hadn’t found themselves uncomfortably in the national spotlight? For every victim who is able to speak out on CNN, how many have their cases swept under the carpet?
Photo of Marysville High School from the Kansas City Star.