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A modern myth: Boys from good families don’t rape

| Friday, August 30, 2019

In July, yet another judge argued in favor of a young rapist, warning the survivor’s family that pressing charges would destroy the young man’s life. He had great grades, a nice family and was an Eagle scout. Perhaps, what he had done could be qualified as sexual assault, but rape? Never.

This boy had taken an incapacitated girl and raped her in a basement at a party and filmed the entire incident. He himself referred to the crime as a rape in texts to his friends. Yet the judge failed to identify the severity of the crime to try him as an adult, claiming there is a vital distinction between sexual assault and rape.

In Judge James Troiano’s uninformed view, “the traditional case of rape” involves a gun, an abandoned house and a randomly-selected victim, clearly unaware of the modern dangers that many young individuals face today.

Judge Troiano went even further by refusing to try the 16-year-old as an adult, which is often the case when a severe crime is committed in the state of New Jersey. The judge cited his potential for entry into a good college.

After Brock Turner, how are we allowing our justice system to be perverted by individuals who have a misconceived basis for judgment?

This is a serious issue. Not only on a case-by-case basis, where survivors are not receiving the justice that they are due, but also as part of a larger systemic crisis. The implementation of a common law system in the United States is a unique and vitally important attribute of our criminal justice system. However, it undoubtedly leads to issues of inconsistency in application.

The case was eventually reevaluated by a higher court, which agreed that Judge Troiano’s justifications for his ruling were off-base and irrelevant to the facts of the case. Writing in its decision to try the 16-year-old as an adult: “That the juvenile came from a good family and had good test scores we assume would not condemn the juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores from withstanding waiver applications.”

In cases of substantiated rape, why are some perpetrators sent to prison for years while others walk freely because of their budding college career? This case is indicative of not only the continued crisis experienced by survivors in a system which refuses to recognize the severity of their claims, but also a crisis of misapplied valuation of virtue.

Would the judge’s decision be different if the boy had come from a low-income background? An individual with struggling grades, an average ACT score and a lack of impressive extracurriculars?

This double standard is evidence of the persistent and inherently violent assumptions that land a young black man in jail for a non-violent offense, but lets a young individual from a high-income background off the hook for a violent crime.

America is racist. This is a fact that has been proven true time and time again. The workplace is racist, our politics are racist and college admissions are racist because all of these systems value the privileges associated with whiteness and institutionalized wealth. Our modern court system, however, is arguably the most racist institution in American society. When rulings come down to individual judges who may be stuck in their ways, we allow an inherently racist system to perpetuate harm and affect the availability of opportunity for individuals who have gone through the court system.

While the appellate courts have thankfully served as a safeguard against these unjust decisions, there are inevitably cases that have fallen through the cracks.

In a case as clear as this, it is obvious that our implementation of justice has been perverted by societal perspectives of good and bad. Good homes lead to good boys, and good boys with good grades don’t rape nice girls.

This myth has been debunked time and time again. Not only across America, but on our own campus as well. Highly regarded institutions have disturbingly high rates of sexual assault. A life set up for overwhelming success is no indication of the possibilities of a person’s behavior. Until we overcome this line of thinking, and recognize this myth for what it is, both in ourselves and in our criminal justice system, survivors will continue to be re-victimized and the guilty will walk free.

 

Jackie O’Brien is a Notre Dame senior studying political science and peace studies, originally from the Chicago suburbs. When she’s not writing for Viewpoint, you can find her attempting to complete the NYT crossword, fretting over law school applications or watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. She can be reached at [email protected] or @im_jackie_o on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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