Anybody remember Abner Louima?
In case you forgot, Abner Louima was a Haitian immigrant who was sodomized by New York City police detective Justin Volpe (assisted by other officers) with a broomstick. And Volpe was sentenced to thirty years in prison for the crime. And for a crime like sexual assault, this is an appropriate sentence. Louima was also later awarded $8.75 million to settle a civil case against the City of New York.
Anybody ever hear of Clifton Bennett? No? Perhaps you have heard of his father, State Senate President Ken Bennett.
The younger Bennett and another camp counselor apparently did much as Volpe did, shoving broomsticks and flashlights into the rectums of eighteen boys ages 11-14 at a youth camp in June. Turns out that Bennett probably won't have to go to jail at all if he agrees to plead guilty to a single count of (non-sexual) assault. The boys were honor students and among the state's top youth who were attending the camp to learn student government leadership skills.
The son of Arizona's Senate president confessed that he and another counselor shoved broomsticks and flashlights into the rectums of 18 boys in at least 40 incidents at a youth camp in June.
Now Yavapai County prosecutors say they will drop all but one assault charge and likely recommend little or no jail time if 18-year-old Clifton Bennett agrees to plead guilty.
A similar agreement has been offered to co-defendant Kyle Wheeler, 19, who faces an additional assault charge for choking three of the boys until they passed out.
The plea agreements were first presented in court last week and could be completed at a hearing Monday.
Prosecuting attorney James Landis explained the plea agreement in court, saying the "broomsticking" was a hazing ritual and a punishment, not sexual assault.
But legal experts, sex-crimes prosecutors and victims'-rights lawyers say the acts clearly fit the definition of sexual assault.
The pleas, which describe the assault charge as "a non-dangerous, non-repetitive offense," have outraged parents who say their sons were victims of violent sexual attacks. The boys, who were 11 to 14 years old at the time, have had trouble going to the bathroom, sleep with clothes on, are afraid at night, and have undergone sexual-assault counseling...
"Our biggest concern is that these kids are going to do it again," said the mother of an 11-year-old Tucson boy. "My son had something shoved up his butt seven or eight times. If that's not sexual assault, what is?"
Landis said in court that the case was never viewed as "sexual in nature," in part because prosecutors could not prove Bennett and Wheeler had sexual intent. Parents of the victims said Landis told them privately that the incidents occurred while the boys had on clothes or swimsuits and that there was no evidence the defendants are homosexuals.
"We would certainly start from a different perspective if it was girls (as victims)," he said in court.
This is an outrage. For many reasons:
1. What does the gender of the victim have to do with it?
2. Most sexual assault cases are not based on intent, and in fact in many cases, the sexual orientation of the assailant has nothing to do with it (for example, Justin Volpe was a married man who was not a homosexual.) Rape is a crime of violence and power as much as it is a crime of sex. Like murder, there can be many motivations for rape (and as I recently blogged, child molestation, which this is, is rape. Period.)
In fact, the article addresses this:
But experts who specialize in sex crimes say sexual intent is rarely a factor in charging sexual assault; and sexual orientation has nothing to do with it.
"They could have been charged with sexual assault," said Sue Eazer, supervisor of the Pima County Attorney's Special Victims Unit. "Sexual assault is oftentimes not motivated by sexual desire."
Eazer said she has prosecuted several sexual-assault cases involving objects being shoved into children's body cavities....
The Yavapai County case has national implications for the legal system, said Andrew Vachss, a lawyer specializing in child cases and a best-selling author who uses profits from his books to fund legal work for abused kids.
"This is a theory of prosecution that is based on taking the word of the perpetrators," Vachss said in a phone interview from his New York office. "That's what you have juries for . . . Let the perps tell a jury, 'I inserted a foreign object into the rectums of little boys, but I had no sexual intent.' "
Vachss, who was asked to comment on the case by The Arizona Republic, said most state laws on sexual assault require only insertion, not intent.
3. Does anyone at all doubt that if Clifton Bennett's father was not Ken Bennett, that the punishment would be much harsher? Unlike the Louima case, there were multiple victims and the victims were children. True, the younger Bennett is agreeing to plead guilty and he is not a police officer, but no prison time is a slap in the face to every citizen who pays for the state to even have a criminal justice system.
[Vachss] called the issue of intent a "red herring" meant to distract from the fact that a deal is being cut.
"The bottom line is you don't have to prove sexual intent when you have such gross assault," he said. "It looks like one of the most sweetheart deals of all time."
That pretty much sums it up. You or I would never get such a deal (nor should we if we used a broomstick to sodomize eleven year olds) but I guess if your dad is the President of the State Senate, you can pretty much do what you want with impunity.
We have a legislature who elected as their leader a man who is willing to do whatever it took to cut this kind of a deal with the prosecutors (how would you feel if you had an eleven year old genius who had 'earned' the right to attend this camp and get a broomstick shoved up his anus by Clifton Bennett?), and a house that elected Jim Weiers as leader (in case you had forgotten, he hid the whereabouts of an accused child molester from Mesa police).
Whoever your legislators are, if they voted for people like this to serve as their leaders, you have to seriously question either their judgement or their ethics.
I only hope that our best and brightest youth who attended this camp learned something about government. Because maybe one day they will run for an office like County Attorney and make sure that this kind of deal doesn't get cut in a case like this.