Everson verdict renews consent debate


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One local rape-victim advocate said the recent sexual-assault trial of former Hawkeye football player Cedric Everson sheds light on societal double standards and the common practice of “victim-blaming” when alcohol is involved.

Cedric Everson, 21, and former teammate Abe Satterfield, 22, were charged with sexually assaulting a female student athlete more than three years ago in a vacant Hillcrest dorm room. Everson was convicted last week of simple assault, the least severe charge presented to the jury. Satterfield pleaded guilty in April 2010 to assault with intent to inflict serious injury.

Karla Miller, the executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, has said the verdict doesn’t mean that what the victim testified isn’t true. Instead, she believes the jury didn’t think there was enough evidence to convict him.

Both the prosecution and defense argued that the accuser was intoxicated at the time of the incident. In these cases, Miller said, people often blame the victim for placing herself in a bad situation.

She believes it’s important to send a clear and consistent message on violence against anyone, as well as educate people that the best way to receive consent is to explicitly ask.

“This idea that it’s so confusing men can’t possibly know what’s going on in a woman’s mind is crap,” Miller said. “If you talk to guys who aren’t abusive or who aren’t aggressive sexually, they don’t have any confusion — they know.”

The Women’s Resource & Action Center received a $200,000 federal grant in 2006 for its “Consent is Sexy” campaign. The Affirmative Consent Program states consent must be communicated by both partners through “clear, unambiguous actions.”

It also notes that consent cannot be obtained if a person is silent, asleep, or unconscious, or incapacitated because of drugs, alcohol or medication.

Despite good intentions, Miller said, the system has not worked as well as she had hoped.

“I don’t think it’s an education issue,” she said. “I think it’s an issue of people intentionally taking their hatred and their anger out toward women, or toward the world, or on victims.”

While the Iowa Code states a person who is passed out cannot give consent, a person who is awake and intoxicated poses a more complicated problem.

But experts agreed consent can be difficult to discern when one or both of the parties is intoxicated or impaired by other substances at the time of the incident.

“If a person was not passed out, it is a jury question whether the alleged victim had the capacity to give consent,” said Peter Berger, a former prosecutor of sex crimes in Polk County.

Robert Rigg, the director of the Criminal Defense Program at Drake University, agreed, noting that intoxication of one or both people involved can confuse a jury.

“It creates a problem for the jurors because it’s like, ‘OK, they were both drunk; how do we really believe either one of them?’ ” Rigg said. “It is certainly something the jury can use to weigh the credibility of both parties if they testify.”

But with, or without alcohol, Miller said, it comes down to consent.

“It comes down to whether that was something the victim wanted to do or wanted to have done,” she said.

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