Another day, another disheartening court decision for sexual assault victims everywhere. Austin Wilkerson, a student at the University of Colorado, has just been let off the hook after sexually assaulting a freshman at the university.
The story eerily resembles that of the Stanford Brock Turner rape case. According to prosecutors, Wilkerson, 22, “isolated and raped the half-conscious victim,” after a St. Patrick’s Day party on 15 March 2014. Reportedly, Wilkerson claimed he would take care of the intoxicated victim; in front of his friends, he was checking her pulse and giving her water. Then, once he had her alone, he savagely assaulted her.
According to prosecutors and The Huffington Post, Wilkerson, unlike Turner, originally admitted to university investigators that he made “repeated advances on the victim, but that she rebuffed him each time,” and that he felt “pissed off” and that she was a “fucking bitch.” But of course, by the time trial rolled around, his tale had undergone a drastic transformation. He claimed the victim wasn’t even inebriated, and that the sex was consensual. In fact, he declared she participated “passionately.”
As if the story wasn’t nauseating enough already, Boulder District Judge Patrick Butler expressed sympathy for the perpetrator and, rather than sending him to prison, is letting him off lightly with a two-year “work-release” and 20 years on probation. This means that, after a brief suspension from the university, Wilkerson, a confirmed rapist, may I remind you, will be able to work, attend school, and continue on his merry way.
This cowardly decision has consequences. First of all, the survivor will not be receiving the closure she deserves. She, after suffering incomprehensible trauma, will have to try to pick up the pieces knowing that all the while, her rapist is roaming free.
In a recent statement to The Guardian, she elaborated on the toll that this has taken on her:
“His life is ruined.” Oh yeah, and it’s not like my life isn’t ruined or anything. It’s always been about the rapist since the assault. As the victim of this sexual assault, my life has been ruined socially, psychologically, academically, and financially…
“Oh boo hoo,” you might say. “She doesn’t get to go out and party and have fun. Big deal.” But it’s not just socially, it’s psychologically. It’s the anxiety. When I started filing this sexual assault case with CU back in the fall of 2014, I had a horrible nightmare that the rapist was going to retaliate against me. He was going to kill me with a bomb. I tried to tell the authorities, but they wouldn’t listen. I woke up from this nightmare crying. I immediately called my mom and told her I couldn’t go to class because the rapist was on campus. She reassured me that he wouldn’t retaliate against me because there would be consequences. I reluctantly agreed to go to class, but in the back of my mind I thought about how the rapist had committed this horrific crime knowing that there would be consequences. So what would stop him from retaliating? On campus I was on high alert, constantly checking over my shoulder. Keep in mind that CU didn’t have a Criminal Protection Order. All CU said was that if we crossed paths, he would have to turn and go the other way. However, this didn’t happen. After the trial conviction, the rapist was in the waiting area. Instead of him turning around and going the other way – like everyone had reassured me he would do – the rapist stayed there. I was the one who was going the other way. The flight part of my fight-or-flight instincts kicked into overdrive. I practically ran the other way so I wouldn’t have to be anywhere near him. Even with the Criminal Protection Order and the court not allowing weapons, I did not feel safe around the rapist. And I never will.
The decision also insists that, once again, white, privileged college students are able to dodge reasonable and deservedly severe punishments for the crimes that they have committed because their fellow male judges don’t want to put a damper on their lives/opportunities. After all, It’s not like the survivors of assault are seriously struggling to cope and maintain a positive outlook on their lives or anything.
A passive and disappointing decision like this is perpetuating rape culture and simply reaffirming what’s been pounded into our brains since birth, which is the notion that, as women, our lives are less important than a man’s.
Image Via Twitter/Boulder Police
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