Rolling Stone magazine’s retraction of a gang rape, of a student known only as “Jackie”, by University of Virginia fraternity members of Phi Kappa Psi, stands in contrast to the case of Donny Ray Williams, Jr., a former Capitol Hill legislative aide, who admitted to two rapes. Williams was sentenced to probation on April 3. One case casts a shadow and suspicion over women who report rapes. The other one makes the case for why many women don’t often come forward and report rapes.
Many men and some women often view many rapes as being unsubstantiated and unproven. I always cringe when I hear people asking for the proof, as if there is some magical formula. And for many people, the story told by Jackie reminds them of the Duke Lacrosse team and rape allegations against their members in 2006. Charges were dropped in 2007 due to insufficient and inconsistent evidence. It provides an argument for some persons that rapes are usually a tale of some sort by the victims. Even in the case of comedian Bill Cosby, as over 30 women come forward to recall their similar stories of rape by Cosby in eerily similar fashion, there are many who doubt these women are telling the truth. And the case of “Jackie” merely adds fuel to the fire of those arguments against the victims.
The flip side is also as much a tragic case as a fabricated rape story. In the majority of rape cases, the victim is often fearful and apprehensive to come forward for fear of being raped or sexually assaulted by the criminal justice system that should protect her. The victim is usually the one who is also displayed as being on trial. Many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, according to research conducted by the National Research Council. And in the case of sex trafficking cases, the young female or child victim is looked upon as the criminal and placed in jail for sex acts versus her “customer”.
As Rolling Stone magazine retracted its story adding substance to the arguments of those who state rapes hardly ever occur, Williams, a Capitol Hill legislative staffer, who plead guilty to two rapes in the same fashion as Bill Cosby’s allegations—drugging and then raping women, was given probation. Despite facing years in jail, for some incredulous reason, due to Williams’ suffering serious injuries unrelated to the rapes, from lye being thrown in his face by an unknown assailant, he was offered probation by the prosecutor. Assistant U. S. Attorney, Sharon Marcus- Kurn stated that he had also suffered. His pain and suffering had nothing to do with the crimes for which he was found guilty. One victim whose life has been “life changing” attended the sentencing on April 3. She asked for some measure of jail time. And for all of her courage in coming forward to press charges, attend court hearings and the final sentencing, she was placed in the same category as the defendant by the criminal justice system. Her rapist was referred to as a victim in the same way as she and the other woman he admittedly raped. Once again, the criminal justice system let down victims of sexual assault and rape.
All that most people will remember this week is how one woman lied about rape allegations on a Virginia college campus against a group of male fraternity students. They will remember how rape allegations can often be spurious—at best. Few persons will hear or learn about how two women courageously reported and filed charges against Donny Ray Williams, an up and coming Capitol Hill Congressional aide who once worked for Congressman Elijah Cummings (D. MD ), at the White House and for a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee. Most people will never know that unlike the University of Virginia case that Williams admitted to the sexual assault charges against him. And they will never know that for the courageous act of his rape victims coming forward, their rapist received probation without any jail time. And that is a crime for which no rape victim should have to endure. It is as much a tragedy as the fabricated Rolling Stone story of Jackie against the members of Phi Kappa Psi.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst, former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks.com. She has been featured on Al Jazeera America, BET, C-Span, Fox 5, RT America, TV One, among others. She is also a contributor to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.