This column is not about “blaming the victim,” though many will say it is. It is about the inequity in the real-world when someone is accused of sexual abuse.
The Denver Post published a story about a University of Colorado Boulder student arrested on sexual assault. The headline read, “CU Boulder student accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting woman while she slept.”
The sub-head was more shocking, “Conner Shaver, 21, facing three counts of sexual assault on a physically helpless victim.”
Raping a physically helpless victim?! It is truly stomach turning. Horrifying. For those who skim the headlines in search of other stories they want to dive into, meaning most readers, they’d miss the details of the alleged crime.
Those details should spur many questions.
The first thing we learn is that Shaver and the victim knew each other for three years — hardly unusual in rape cases. It is a misconception that most assaults are done by strangers.
Next, we learn that the two have had consensual sex in the past. This throws the incident into a different category. The situation is instantly blurry, maybe changing it to date rape.
But here is where eyebrows raise. The victim says she was assaulted after drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana then going to sleep wearing only her underwear in the bed of the man she accuses of attacking her. I wish we could live in a world where it was completely safe for a college student to get drunk and stoned with a young man that she previously had sex with, then crawl into bed with him in only her underwear and still have every reasonable expectation of complete safety. We don’t live in such a world. And we won’t anytime soon.
If this woman believed she was assaulted why would she drink, smoke pot and spend another night with the attacker and put herself at risk again?
And why would she do it for a third — yes, a third — night?
According to the article on the third night, she made a point of not getting drunk or stoned and expressly told him she did not want to have sex with him when she got into his bed, with him.
Our duty to teach our sons that “no means no” does not relieve us of teaching our daughters how to navigate in a dangerous world. Yes, if guilty this man should be brought to justice. That said, this woman put herself in a highly threatening position and is guilty of using horrendous judgement.
Speaking of guilt, we used to hold as cherished American principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. In fact, it was the political left that guarded that value. Those liberals are now silent.
Today the political left is assuming guilty until proven innocent. Colorado’s new red flag gun law for instance, unlike other states’ red flag laws, strips away the presumption of innocence when someone who has had their gun seized is attempting to get it back.
And what if Conner Shaver is wholly exonerated? It doesn’t matter. The 21-year-old engineering student is already punished, likely for life.
Every potential employer running even a simple Google search will read the headline, “three counts of sexual assault on a physically helpless victim.” Next applicant, please.
Not just employers, but thanks to technology and connectivity everyone who will ever know him in the future can easily learn of his Scarlet Letter, including women interested in dating him.
In the real-world, by publishing his name, the press has passed judgment and sentenced him in a case that is complex to even try to describe, let alone prosecute.
And if this is a false allegation altogether? Does the woman pay a similar price? Her name appears nowhere in the news story. Whoever she is, she faces no such life-long penance.
In a court of law, you may face your accuser. In a trial of newspaper headlines that last forever in the searchable internet ether, your accuser is forever anonymous.
In the real-world Conner Shaver has no right to due process. He is guilty for the rest of his life whether he did it or not.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.