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In Maryville, Missouri, Daisy Coleman’s life is a shell of the night before. Once a bubbly and popular varsity cheerleader sneaking out of her upstairs bedroom with a close friend to meet a football player, she’s now pleading for justice after allegedly being raped and left for dead on her snow covered front lawn. Gone are the friends, the cheer squad, her former school and even her house (it burned to the ground).
If Maryville sounds shockingly familiar, it’s because it sounds similar to what happened to Jane Doe in Steubenville, Ohio. Both involve young girls and football players, alcohol, a recording of the assault shared through social media and the scorn of a town heaped upon the young rape victims instead of the perpetrators.
In January 2012, Daisy and her close friend left their sleepover to meet 17-year-old Matthew Barnett and his friend. Daisy says they arrived at Matthew’s house, drank five shots from a glass labeled “bitch cup” and remembers little else except waking up on her front lawn in freezing temperatures with “ice chunks” stuck to her hair. Her mother found her like a dog scratching at the door to get inside and took her to the hospital for a rape kit and blood tests. Only after the hospital visit did Daisy learn that her friend was also raped. Barnett’s friend, Jordan Zech, taped the assaults.
The Sherriff’s office contends that the evidence supports the girls’ claims, but two months later the case was dropped. Prosecutor Robert Rice concluded the girls’ testimonies, the taped confession from Zech (that he later deleted the video), and other interviews were not enough evidence to convict Barnett of sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Meanwhile, the Colemans were forced to leave Maryville due to the pressure of the case and intense victim blaming.
Daisy and her mother continue to fight for justice, finally getting the attention of the national press, particularly since #justice4Daisy started trending on Twitter. Daisy, on the other hand made the almost unheard-of decision not to remain anonymous, which is standard practice for sexual assault victims, and is telling her story with her mom at her side.
With the national spotlight on Maryville, a special prosecutor was recently assigned to Daisy’s case, yet the victim-blaming continues -- even by media. On Fox News, criminal defense attorney Joseph DiBenedetto suffered a big dose of foot-in-mouth when he said:
“But what did she expect to happen at 1 a.m. in the morning after sneaking out? I’m not saying -- assuming that these facts are accurate and this did happen -- I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, but knowing the facts as we do here including what the prosecutor has set forth, this case is going nowhere and it’s going nowhere quick.”
DiBenedetto and rape apologizers listen up, here’s how one must view sexual assault: A young girl, a teen or a woman never, absolutely never, does anything to invite rape -- including drinking, dressing provocatively or leaving the house! Ever. There is no wiggle room here. There is no “what did she think would happen?”
A teen girl should never have to rely on the media for justice. That is something she definitely never thought would happen.
Just read some of her letter on xoJane:
My scars only come to the surface when I'm tan or cold now. It's as if over time my body learned to heal some of the ugly, but it will always be a part of me.
Just like this case. It will live with me forever.
Since this happened, I've been in hospitals too many times to count. I've found it impossible to love at times. I've gained and lost friends. I no longer dance or compete in pageants. I'm different now, and I can't ever go back to the person I once was. That one night took it all away from me. I'm nothing more than just human, but I also refuse to be a victim of cruelty any longer.
This is why I am saying my name. This is why I am not shutting up. Matt put on Twitter something recently. It read: “If her name begins with A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z, she wants the D.”
Since Anonymous has gotten involved, everything has changed. #justice4Daisy has trended on the Internet, and pressure has come down hard on the authorities who thought they could hide what really happened.
I not only survived, I didn't give up. I've been told that a special prosecutor is going to reopen the case now. This is a victory, not just for me, but for every girl.
I just hope more men will take a lesson from my brothers.
They look out for women. They don't prey on them.
Liz Henry is a contributor to the forthcoming anthology The Myth of the Good Mother from Seal Press. Tweet her @_LizHenry.