Is Maryville the next Steubenville? When will this end, asks Soraya Chemaly?
Yet another small American town, Maryville, Missouri, is at the center of a botched rape investigation involving teenagers, alcohol, and a culture that glorifies male athletes. This past weekend, The Kansas City Star published an investigative report on a sexual assault that took place in 2012. It is the story of a Missouri community’s horrifying and brutal treatment of two teen girls and the eventual dismissal of charges against the boys involved.
Here are the facts they reported:
- Two girls, ages 13 and 14, snuck out one night and went to a party attended by older kids, including popular senior boys.
- At the party, they were given alcohol. Daisy Coleman, whose name is public and who was 14 at the time, remembered nothing after being encouraged to drink a second glass from something called the “bitch cup”
- The boys then engaged in nonconsensual sex (otherwise known as rape) and assault and apparently videotaped the night’s events on a phone. After circulating briefly at the kids’ school, it was apparently deleted.
- The boys dropped Coleman off on her front porch, were she lay half-dressed, drunk, and nearly unconscious in 22-degree weather, for three hours. When they carried her out of the party, she was crying.
- After her mother found her, she and eventually her friend, were taken to a hospital. Doctors who examined Coleman found signs of sexual trauma. Her blood alcohol levels were almost twice the legal limit.
- Initial reports said that evidence supported felony and misdemeanor charges.
- Almost immediately after pressing charges the girls were shamed, threatened, harassed, and bullied by people at school and online. Daisy was suspended from her cheerleading squad at school. But the boys appear not to have been similarly disciplined.
- Threats started two days after the crime was reported. Hopefully, explained one message, the 14-year-old “gets whats comin” because she was “asking for it.” You can’t make this up.
- Coleman and her mother were referred to as “crazy bitches” for pressing charges and threats extended to include her siblings.
- Two weeks after, her mother was fired because, among other things, the case she brought against the boys was “putting stress on everybody in here.”
- Two months later the charges were dropped. Typical social media messages included sentiments such as: “Our boys deserve an apology, and they haven’t gotten it yet.” ““F—- yea. That’s what you get for bein a skank : )”
- The Coleman family eventually moved away to avoid more harassment and trauma.
- Daisy has been admitted to a hospital four times and spent 90 days at Missouri Girls Town, a residential facility for struggling teens.
- The other girl is also suffering flashbacks, anxiety, and other PTSD symptoms.
- The house that the family moved away from was burnt to the ground last April in an unexplained fire.
- Of the named assailants, two are currently on Northwest Missouri State University athletic teams, one at the University of Central Missouri.
How many times do we have to hear this story? It’s one stereotype and rape myth after another.
Maryville is a very small community. Slightly more than 12,000 people live there. The median age is just under 23 years old. This is a place where the degrees of separation are virtually non-existent. One of the boys arrested in the case, Matthew Barnett, a 17-year-old, was initially charged with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. He admitted to having sex with Daisy and insisted the sex was consensual. He was not charged with statutory rape because in Missouri the law is based on the perpetrator being older than 21. However, the same felony statutes clearly indicate that if the victim is incapacitated by alcohol, then the sex is, by definition, non-consensual. As an underage participant, a younger boy involved faced sexual exploitation charges and served some time in juvenile detention.
According to additional reports, “The (prosecutor) did the right thing by dismissing a case that could not be proven, and it probably would have been unethical for the prosecutor to continue prosecution when the substantial evidence pointed to Mr. Barnett’s innocence.”
Sheriff Darren White disagrees and stated, “Did a crime occur? Hell yes, it occurred. Was it a horrible crime? Yes, it was a horrible crime. And did these boys need to be punished for it? Absolutely.”
There is a lot of speculation that Barnett’s status and political connections ruled the day. His grandfather spent 32 years as a member of the Missouri Highway Patrol. Twenty years ago he was elected as a state representative, a position he held until 2002. Barnett senior has responded to media requests by clarifying that he did nothing to call in favors or contact authorities.
The prosecutor in the case explained at one point that this was “a case of “incorrigible teenagers…They were doing what they wanted to do, and there weren’t any consequences. And it’s reprehensible. But is it criminal? No.” The thing is, it actually appears to be criminal by the terms of Missouri law.
Maryville’s intimate world just got exponentially bigger. As a result of the article, which quickly gained viral ground, CNN interviewed one of the girls involved, the Internet vigilante collective Anonymous has launched demands for an investigation, and the local community is now reinvigorating a petition that gained little traction initially and is holding meetings. In the interview, Daisy Coleman’s mother says that other girls approached her with similar stories and wonders if it will take a girl dying to make a difference.
None of this is new. Time and again we hear about innocent boys’ lives being ruined by lying girls. This goes beyond simple double standards and into the reality of the enduring, everyday harm of deep-seated patriarchal norms that insist on teaching children that women are devious, untrustworthy liars incapable of moral agency, unfit for respect outside of a narrowly defined band of what constitutes a subservient “good.”
Anonymous launched #OpMaryville last night targeting the entire town for its treatment of the girls in the case. Anonymous is demanding an immediate investigation and asking why video and medical evidence was originally sufficient and then not. In our cultural imagination, vigilantes loom large. They right the world’s injustices and make up for systemic justice failures. We love them in stories and movies. But, as Mary Elizabeth Williams pointed out earlier today, the potential for collateral damage is high.
Why are people failing so utterly to teach children to respect one another, to be kind and empathetic? Why aren’t they, at the very least, aware of what constitutes rape? There are lots of people apparently concerned about the lives of innocent boys being ruined, yet again. Whose fault is that? Wouldn’t it be, at the very least, better if we taught boys what the law is and how not to rape, to echo Zerlina Maxwell’s much maligned suggestion? In the video launching its campaign, Anonymous asks, as it did with Steubenville, “How do the residents of Maryville sleep at night?”
The reality of this situation is probably, like so much, more complicated than many people would like to believe. But, no matter what the possible nuance, this much remains clear: Boys rape, whether they know it or not, and they have confidence that they will get away with it, because they do. This story is just one of an infinite pool, often with sad endings involving dead girls. Amanda Todd was, sadly, only an early indicator.
Lizzy Seeberg accused a Notre Dame football player of sexually assaulting her. Before she killed herself, she was warned, “Don’t do anything you would regret,” and, “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.” Fifteen year old Audrie Pott was assaulted by three 16-year-old boys who photographed her brutal sexual assault. She hanged herself.
Rehtaeh Parsons’ father wrote a heart-rending letter about his daughter who was gang-raped, photographed, and shamed under similar circumstances. Her mother wrote: “Everybody turned against Rehtaeh and she was a ‘slut’ and she was the one that they targeted.”
Meanwhile, while this awful Maryville situation plays out, it’s interesting to note this story: A school in North Andover, Mass., just punished a girl for driving to a party and picking up a friend who called her, drunk, and asking for help. What a completely ass-backwards world we live in.
Soraya L. Chemaly writes about gender, feminism and culture for several online media including Role/Reboot, The Huffington Post, Fem2.0, RHReality Check, BitchFlicks, and Alternet among others. She is particularly interested in how systems of bias and oppression are transmitted to children through entertainment, media and religious cultures. She holds a History degree from Georgetown University, where she founded that schools first feminist undergraduate journal, studied post-grad at Radcliffe College.