In Maryville, Mo., in Dearborn, Mo., and now in Holton, Kan., victims and alleged victims of sexual assault are shamed as justice is sought.
The parallels between the cases are stark: a young girl is or is allegedly sexually assaulted, rumors and accounts swirl around town and then community members take sides, sometimes without evidence and little more than their visceral reaction to the reported events.
Take the case of Daisy Coleman. An alcohol-fueled party ended with Coleman abandoned on her front lawn, in 30-degree weather, by a group of older boys. Coleman was 14. Few dispute that during the party, a high school senior had sex with her, The Star reported.
But after initial support, some in her community of about 10,000 turned against Coleman, working to discredit her and humiliate her. A brother of one of the boys involved tweeted that he hoped she “gets whats comin.” She was booted from the cheerleading team. One person said Coleman was “asking for it.” At a dance competition, a girl arrived in a homemade shirt that read: Matt 1, Daisy 0.
Matthew Barnett later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment, but the evidence was insufficient to bring a felony sexual assault charge.
The Daisy Coleman case garnered international attention and inspired a documentary, “Audrie and Daisy,” which also follows the fallout from the sexual assault of Audrie Pott, then 15, in California. She had committed suicide after photos of her half-naked body violated with lewd messages scrawled by three 16-year-old boys were shared with classmates, Rolling Stone reported. The boys also digitally penetrated her, the magazine wrote.
In Dearborn, Darren Paden pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy for abusing a girl hundreds of times over a decade.
In that case, The Star reported Paden’s community aligned themselves with or against Paden. Among his supporters were church elders, family, a former bank president and other prominent residents, The Star reported.
The victim, who had turned 18 before The Star’s 2015 article, was supported by some in her community but ostracized by others.
“I called a lady about a house she was renting,” the victim told The Star, “and I told her my name ... and she said, ‘I don’t want to rent to you.’ ”
Others who once socialized with her shunned her.
And now, in Holton, Kan., a 13-year-old was allegedly sodomized by a man. Jacob Ewing’s trial began this week, and at jury selection, potential jurors aired similar biases against the alleged victim as seen in other areas.
“If she steps out and looks like she’s 18 years old, that’s on her,” a man said, as reported by The Topeka Capital-Journal. Another asked why, if the girl could testify, she couldn’t consent to sex.
One resident of Holton, who spoke with The Star on the condition of anonymity, said community members were taking sides based on which family they are more familiar with.
“If you know one family, you’re more apt to believe them than if you know the other,” the resident said.