In recent months, much media attention has been given to sexual assault cases with “atypical” perpetrators. Brock Turner, David Becker and Austin James Wilkerson, were all white, middle-class college students who were convicted of sexual assault and emerged minimally-scathed with incredibly lenient sentences. As the public looked on, fueling its rage with righteousness, many an outraged onlooker fixated on the disparity in justice doled out to blacks as compared with whites. And there’s no question that such a disparity exists in many problematic and disturbing ways. But this week’s case involving a University of North Carolina football player accused of raping a student gives us the [obviously unwelcome, but nonetheless informative] opportunity to analyze a sexual assault prosecution without attributing the leniency to the defendant’s race.
Allen Artis, a linebacker for UNC, turned himself in to a magistrate earlier this week to defend sexual assault charges. Theoretically, Allen Artis, a black man accused of raping a white woman, would fail to qualify for any of the “special treatment” defendants like Turner, Becker and Wilkerson received. In that regard, Artis may be a perfect control subject for a review of how sexual assault cases are handled.
Delaney Robinson, an 18 year-old student at the time of the incident, alleged these facts: on Valentine’s Day, she went to a party where she drank some alcohol. Later that night, she says Allen Artis pinned her down with his weight and forcibly raped her. During the attack, she says he pulled on her bra strap hard enough to cause an indentation.
Immediately following the alleged attack (and unlike many rape victims who later regret their lack of immediate action), Robinson said she went to a hospital, reported the rape, spoke with a sexual-assault nurse, and provided a completed rape kit to authorities. Robinson reported the attack to the school, and even provided pictures, including one showing serious bruising around her neck and throat. According to Robinson’s attorney, the physical exam revealed “vaginal injuries consistent with blunt-force trauma and bruising consistent with a physical assault.”
As of today, there is still a pending investigation in Orange County, but felony charges have yet to be filed. District Attorney Jim Woodall has already managed the public’s expectations by reminding interested parties that sexual assault cases are “difficult to prosecute and difficult to prove” – an unwelcome truth for anyone seeking justice for sex crime victims.
Allen Artis did report to court and appear before a judge – but that reporting was in response to charges initiated by his alleged victim herself – not by law enforcement. Under North Carolina law, any person is permitted to appear before a magistrate and make a complaint against an alleged perpetrator. The magistrate can, on that basis, order the case to go forward—but only as misdemeanor charges. Because the District Attorney’s office has yet to prosecute this case as a felony, Artis now answers only to the misdemeanor charges of sexual battery and assault on a female, and is released on $5,000 bond.
Unlike the Brock Turner prosecution, which garnered public attention mid-trial because its grizzly details and compelling victim statement, Artis’ prosecution has landed in the news at a far earlier stage because of what didn’t happen. Allen Artis wasn’t prosecuted by the District Attorney. He wasn’t disciplined by the University of North Carolina. He wasn’t suspended by his football team. The only action taken against Artis was a case that was prosecuted by his alleged victim.
I don’t know whether Delaney Robinson’s account of the facts is true or not. I wasn’t there and have never met her, so it would be absurd for me to comment on her veracity. What I can say, though, is that her allegations certainly could be true. And in a global sense that transcends this individual case, that’s all that matters. If a person could suffer a violent sexual assault, report that assault immediately, and then be virtually ignored by law enforcement and campus authorities, then something is seriously amiss. And in a post-Hunting Ground world, where campus scandal after campus scandal is widely covered in the media, the pervasive mishandling of sex crimes cannot continue to go unchecked.
It’s certainly possible that the DA will choose to pursue serious felony charges against Allen Artis, that he’ll be convicted, and that he’ll be sentenced to a punishment commensurate with his conviction. But it’s also possible that he won’t. We may watch Delaney Robinson’s body language and listen to her story, and deem her to be truthfully recounting a tale of a devastating rape. And if that is our conclusion, there is bound to be ire over the mishandling of this case from its start. The University of North Carolina will be lambasted for ignoring Delaney Robinson’s allegations and for cultivating an environment in which hundreds of sexual assaults go unpunished. The police will be condemned for their cavalier attitude during Artis’ interrogation – in which they joked with him and told him, “don’t sweat it, just keep on living your life and playing football.” The DA’s assurance – “the fact that someone’s a football player or a basketball player at UNC has not influenced us in any way” will be deemed the ultimate lie when considered in the context of that same DA’s assessment that “the evidence does not support criminal charges.” Even the North Carolina legislature is sure to be blamed for creating what seems like a bizarre loophole. Under applicable law, a victim who is voluntarily intoxicated has only been sexually assaulted if that victim is unconscious – but not if she is merely drunk.
The legacy of the Brock Turner prosecution is that we are more aware than ever of campus sexual assault prosecutions. But with awareness comes responsibility; our obligation is to apply the same scrutiny to Allen Artis’ investigation and prosecution – from beginning to end – that we wished we had applied to Brock Turner’s– and not simply blame a judge at the final stage. The temptation to blame a person, an institution, a statute, general racism, socio-economic privilege, or football fanaticism for perceived “unfair” outcomes in sexual assault cases is inviting in its sensationalism; ultimately, though, doing so obfuscates another distressing truth. Sex crimes are not handled like other crimes. Victims of sex crimes are mistrusted, silenced, and even ridiculed in ways that other crime victims are not. Our compulsion should be to examine what about the handling of sex crimes deprives so many victims of justice every day. The minimizing of sexual trauma and the profound tendency of society to blame female victims has more of an effect on rape cases than any other factors; we must begin there if we are to deliver justice in any real sense.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.