Justice for Daisy has been a war cry that activist groups have chosen to take on in order to defend a teenage girl name Daisy whose alleged rapist has managed to avoid criminal charges in what some are calling a stunning display of rape culture. The story has been gaining significant national attention since the Kansas City Star published a lengthy article about the case that left local authorities in Maryville feeling extremely defensive. Since then the story of Daisy, her rape and her alleged attacker’s unhindered freedom has been circulating with people taking sides. Even the online activism group Anonymous has weighed in, siding with Daisy and demanding justice for her.
For any who are out of the loop, Daisy’s story began in January, 2012 with a night of sneaking drinks with her best friend while watching movies in her bedroom. Her friend and she then snuck out her bedroom window to meet a boy and go to a party. Once there, she was given a drink after which she blacked out. She was later left in her front yard where she stayed for hours because she was too drunk to go inside. Her mother later found her after hearing her scratching at the door, too incapacitated to get inside. Her mother tried to bathe her, only to discover that her body showed signs of assault. Daisy was then taken to the hospital where it was determined that she had likely been raped.
There have been many within the community who have lent their support to Daisy and many outside the community have joined in now that there is national attention on the case. Sympathizers are outraged that the felony charges against her alleged attacker have been dropped. They feel that Daisy has been robbed of the justice owed her for her ordeal.
Not all who have taken notice of this young lady’s ordeal have sympathized with her, however. Fox News aired a segment covering the rape charges in which Shepard Smith spoke to a lawyer, Joseph DiBenedetto, about the case, asking whether or not he though the charges would be refiled against the young man who stood accused of the crime. While DiBenedetto was not personally involved in the case, Smith introduced him by saying, “You’ve done these cases all the time and you’ve got your finger on this.”
DiBenedetto agreed and began to opine by saying that “at first blush” the case appeared to be a legitimate instance where a rape had gone unpunished. He then argued, “When you look at the finer details, there are telltale signs of this girl actually lying.”
“She is leaving her home at one in the morning, “ he continues, “and no one is forcing her to drink and what happens? She gets caught by her mom, she’s embarrassed and the easy way out here is ‘Mom, someone took advantage of me.’”
DiBenedetto then goes on to say, “But what did she expect to happen at one in the morning after sneaking out? I’m not saying — assuming that these facts are accurate and this did happen — I’m not saying that she deserved to be raped but knowing the facts as we do here, including what the prosecutor had set forth, this case is going nowhere and it’s going nowhere quick.”
The reasoning behind his opinion was based largely on inconsistencies in her story during the investigation. “When she had her opportunity to come out and say, ‘Hey, I was taken advantage of,’ what does she do? She invokes her fifth amendment right,” he shakes head, “That tells you a lot.” With that he smiles.
DiBenedetto continued by acknowledging that it is legal for minors to have sex in Missouri, and that a legal distinction can be found in whether or not one of the parties is “incapacitated.” He then went on to say that the inconsistencies in her statements meant that rape could never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. “The issue is, can you prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt? There are too many inconsistent statements You can’t make them disappear. This case is doomed.” He smiled again.
To support his attempts to prove Daisy Coleman a liar, DiBenedetto uses her own mother, whom he claimed, under oath, “freely admitted that her daughter does not always tell the truth.”
In response, Shepard Smith stated, “What you’ve done, Joseph, is taken an alleged victim of rape and turned her into a liar and a crime committer. That’s a far jump from a thousand miles away.”
While Smith is not wrong about the flawed logic in DiBenedetto’s arguments, he has also managed to put his finger on a tendency in our culture to deny rape victims like Daisy justice, instead favoring defamation of character when they are not able to prevent their attacks. The ease with which DiBenedetto spoke with such derision about a child simply because she accused another of rape is reflective of a serious cultural flaw regarding the treatment of sexual abuse victims.
DiBenedetto is not the only one to speak of this young girl with such unrestrained malice. Many officials from the town speak of the incident with superficial attempts to disguise their contempt for the girl and her mother. The sheriff, Darren White, refers to the mother as a woman who “clearly has issues” and dismisses their upset over the lack of justice for Daisy with a flippant, “It’s unfortunate that they are unhappy. I guess they’ll just have to get over it.”
The prosecutor of the case, Robert Rice, gave a press conference shortly after the case began to draw national attention and a substantial amount of pressure started to come down on Maryville authorities to reopen the case. During the conference, a reporter asked Rice about the rape kit, which he confirmed he had. He also confirmed that he had confessions on file from the young men accused of the crime but asserted that he did not feel he had enough evidence to prosecute without the witness testimony.
The evidence that the authorities of Maryville, Missouri are known to have includes a rape kit from the hospital where Daisy was taken after she was found that concluded that vaginal tears were present. While in the hospital, it was determined that Daisy had blood alcohol level of .13, nearly seven hours after she had imbibed her last drink. The police have confessions from multiple people who were at the party in question, one of whom admits to taking video of the incident. The accused boy, Matt Barnett, admits to having sex with her, though he says it was consensual. Several people at the party, including the friend who accompanied Daisy to the house report that she was clearly unaware of her surroundings. Daisy’s friend was also allegedly raped and the boy accused of that crime has also reportedly confessed, though the results of that trial are not open to the public.
Many of the records are sealed because the charges have been dropped, so there is some information unavailable.
The entire Coleman family has been subjected to extensive threats through social media. The children were required to switch schools to shield themselves from the abuse, the mother was fired from her job and has, on tape, the reason for her dismissal being that she would be unavailable to work at certain times and would be bringing stress into the office, both of which are directly related to the Daisy’s accusations.
Daisy has tried to commit suicide twice and has spent 90 days in inpatient care. The 13 year-old has suffered from flashbacks and moves her bed to her brother’s room to sleep. Both girls are clearly suffering from a trauma. But instead of justice for Daisy, she has been dubbed crazy by many of her peers and her mother has been called crazy openly by the sheriff of the town.
It is not clear why the women would become uncooperative with the police all of a sudden. It is clear that there is a lot of animosity felt towards them by factions within the community. Even Rice spoke of the women with obvious impatience. All of the details surrounding the interactions between the police and prosecutors of Maryville and the Coleman family will likely never be known but the knowledge that the sheriff of the town thinks the women should “get over it” presents a troubling insight into the investigation may have been approached.
Some supporters for the Coleman family feel that the presentation given by law enforcement in the region is part of a coverup meant to protect Barnett because of his family’s political ties within the community. Law enforcement and Barnett’s family alike deny these accusations. Authorities blame the Colemans for the lack of prosecution which robbed Daisy of the justice she sought. Barnett’s family has not weighed in on this topic.
The public, however, has raised a very loud voice in support of the teenage girl. Bloggers and feminists have not missed this opportunity to decry the way that society deals with rape victims. DiBenedetto’s interview provides excellent insight into what social activists have termed “rape culture” by way of his unapologetic condemnation of a girl who has a mountain of evidence to back her up. His reduction of her rape as something she brought upon herself by venturing out into the night is the epitome of victim blaming. He was not even involved in the case and yet he felt justified to stand there, on national television, and call a teenage girl a liar because she wasn’t able to present a clear story through her blackout and trauma.
With all of this vitriol spinning trauma into crazy and blackout induced holes in memory into lying, it is comforting to know that there are people out there who are willing to take on those who blame victims for their assaults. The movement behind Justice for Daisy is one that takes on rape culture and exposes it for the harmful, backwards system that it is. So far, public outcry has resulted in the case being reopened and displays of support have extended into peaceful protests in Daisy’s honor. Let us hope not only that justice is served, but that our country learns an important lesson about how ridiculously it treats its victims.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard
Kansas City Star