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Beginner's Heart

burnt house 2

Note: This is not the Coleman’s house, but a house similarly burnt out.

When I first read the story of Daisy Coleman’s rape, I was so horrified and angry I didn’t notice where she came from. It was only after I read it a 2nd — or perhaps a 3rd time — that I realised: I know Maryville. I go there every summer, as guest editor for a writing retreat with teachers, some of whom have taught where Daisy’s nemesis, Matthew Barnett, was a senior last January.

The month Daisy Coleman was left in 22˚ weather, dumped in her family’s front yard.

The former beauty pageant competitor — also a cheerleader, before the January tragedy  — had slipped from her bedroom through her window. She was 14. Matthew Barnett, the boy who handed her a large glass of alcohol when she arrived at the party, was a 17-year-old senior.

Girls do sneak out. I did. So did at least two of my three sisters. Most of our friends did, as well. And thankfully — luckily — no boy took advantage of us. No group of boys plied us with two tumblers of  booze, then raped us while a friend filmed the assault. Daisy’s  13-year-old girlfriend — with her that night — was a little luckier: she wasn’t on film. Raped? Yes. But not on film. (Did I mention that these girls were 13 & 14???)

The punch line? Matthew Barnett has walked on the charges Daisy’s mother filed against him: sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. A 14-year-old child.rape culture

Subsequently, Daisy’s mother was fired from her job (Mrs. Coleman was a veterinarian). The taped conversation with Coleman’s boss doesn’t match the boss’s later public statement (the boss had a familial relationship w/ one of the 3 boys involved in the rapes).

Enough on the story, which you can read. Or even the lack of follow-up by the Maryville prosecutor’s office. What I want to know is this: given that there is film the sheriff’s office says corroborates Daisy’s story, and that the boys admit to getting Daisy drunk and having sex w/ her, why have they gone stock free? While the Coleman children were bullied & threatened — Daisy tried to commit suicide twice — Barnett & his buds have gone on to college. Two on athletic teams.

The Buddhist in me is trying very hard to turn my visceral anger towards wrathful compassion. So instead of writing what I, as a victim of assault, as the sister of one rape victim and the aunt of another, would like to do to Matthew Barnett, I am working diligently to try to understand how a boy can grow up with such different values from my own two sons. From my three nephews. From the many young men I know.

rape culture 2What lets a boy think this is okay? Rape culture. And no, America, it’s NOT made-up. It’s a post on a college website (in Missouri, no less) that coaches you on how to get a girl who is saying no to be ‘willing.’ And alcohol is one of the major strategies. Now that’s a lesson Matthew Barnett has, almost certainly, taken with him to university.

But you know what I also come back to? The fact that his family would protect him. Would sacrifice a young girl’s reputation and peace of mind to make the law not apply to him. Would excuse him to the point of letting his morally reprehensible behaviour go unpunished. Even defended.

So yes, Virginia, there IS a rape culture. One that encourages young men to assault young women by excusing it as ‘boys will boys.’ One that covers up by blaming the victim. One that says there is no lesson here for Matthew Barnett except that influence wins. And that a 14-year-old girl’s life is immaterial. The lesson is one I’m sure Daisy Coleman thought of each time she tried to exit the life that changed so radically that January night.

 

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