Yet another case of white privilege and entitlement played out in a Colorado courtroom Wednesday when a judge decided to spare an admitted rapist from serving time in prison.
Boulder District Judge Patrick Butler sentenced 22-year-old Austin James Wilkerson to 20 years to life on probation, plus two years in the Boulder County Jail on a work release program that would allow him to leave the facility to attend work or class, and then return to jail in the evening.
According to the Daily Camera, the former University of Colorado student was convicted of sexually assaulting a helpless victim and unlawful contact in May. The sexual assault charge carries a prison sentence of up to 12 years. But under Colorado law, the count is subject to indeterminate sentencing – which means Wilkerson would be forced to sit in jail until a judge saw fit to let him out, the Daily Camera reports.
“I’ve struggled, to be quite frank, with the idea of, ‘Do I put him in prison?’” Butler said. “I don’t know that there is any great result for anybody. Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated.”
Wilkerson sexually assaulted a first-year female student on March 15, 2014 after telling the drunken woman’s friends that he would look after her and make sure she was okay, Raw Story reports.
“He made certain his roommate saw him checking her pulse and temperature, and giving her water,” prosecutors said. “(After the assault) he sent a message to the victim’s friend, who then thanked him for caring for the victim.”
According to the Guardian, Wilkerson initially denied his heinous actions but later admitted that he “digitally and orally penetrated” the young woman, as he “wasn’t getting much of a response from her.” He also texted his friends to detail the non-consensual encounter, bragging that he had “let his hands wander” and “fingered a girl while passed out.”
Before his trial began, however, Wilkerson backtracked and said that the assault began as a consensual one. He changed his story once again during trial by testifying that the woman was never intoxicated and “passionately” engaged in sex with him,” the publication reports.
“This defendant raped a helpless young woman … tried to cover up his crime, and then repeatedly lied about what he did – including under oath,” prosecutors wrote.
What makes this case even more disturbing is that Wilkerson reportedly told an investigator that he had made a number of sexual advances toward the victim, but was rejected. According to Raw Story, prosecutors said the rebuffs pissed Wilkerson off, and he referred to the young woman as a “f*cking b*tch.”
The former Colorado State student apologized to his victim, who is now 21, during his court hearing.
“I’m sorry I have perpetrated the cycle of sexual assault on college campus,” Wilkerson said. “My actions can never be undone.”
In her statements to the judge, the victim expressed that she felt most of the blame had been put on her, according to the Daily Camera. She said she was even victim-blamed by her mother and close friends.
“Worst of all is the victim blaming,” she explained. “‘If I hadn’t been drunk, this wouldn’t have happened. If I hadn’t gotten separated, this wouldn’t have happened.’ Yet it was excusable for him to rape me because he was drunk?”
This unfortunate case displays striking similarities to that of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer convicted of raping an inebriated, unconscious woman behind a dumpster. A Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge sentenced Turner to just six months in the county jail for fear that prison time would have a “severe impact” on the young athlete, Atlanta Black Star reports. The case sparked nationwide outrage and put a spotlight on the pressing issue of campus sexual assault and rape culture in America.
In stark contrast, promising football star Brian Banks, who is African-American, didn’t receive the same leniency as the two aforementioned white men. In fact, Banks never committed a crime at all. According to Atlanta Black Star, the aspiring football player was wrongfully accused of rape at the age of 16, tried as an adult, and received a sentence of six years behind bars. He was exonerated for the crime in 2012 after his accuser came forward to recant her allegations; Banks had already served five years and two months of his sentence in addition to five years of parole by that time, ABS reports.
“I would say it’s a case of privilege,” Banks said of the sympathetic ruling in the Turner case. “It seems like the judge based his decision on lifestyle. He’s lived such a good life and has never experienced anything serious in his life that would prepare him for prison. He was sheltered so much he wouldn’t be able to survive prison. What about the kid who has nothing, he struggles to eat, struggles to get a fair education? What about the kid who has no choice who he is born to and has drug-addicted parents or a non-parent household? Where is the consideration for them when they commit a crime?”