I’m not sure how I feel about vigilante justice, but I do know how I felt last night as I read Dugan Arnett’s piece in the Kansas City Star about Daisy Coleman. I made the mistake of reading the article in bed before trying to fall asleep. The story made that task almost impossible. The story is told very well by Arnett. Read it, then come back and skip the highlighted part below where I try to summarize the story.
Daisy Coleman was a 14 year old freshman when she and her 13-year-old friend sneaked out of her room to go to an older boy’s house. Matthew Barnett was senior. He was a football star. He was the object of many a school-girl crush. By the end of the night, he was the subject of nightmares.
If Arnett’s story is to be believed, Matthew Barnett is a rapist. He and his friends gave Daisy enough alcohol that she blacked out. He then raped her in his basement, and left her passed out in her own front yard wearing nothing but a t-shirt and sweatpants when it was 22 degrees outside. He does not deny having sex with her, he just claims that it was consensual. At 9 a.m. the next morning, about seven hours after her last drink, her blood alcohol level was .13. The incident was apparently filmed on one of the boys’ iPhones, shared with classmates that week at school. Daisy’s friend was also raped. Though she was not as intoxicated, she claims that she repeatedly told her assailant “no,” while he undressed her and had sex with her.
As if the nightmare of being raped and left out in the cold were not enough, things got worse for Daisy. Matthew Barnett was arrested, but never indicted. Never tried. Never stepped foot in a court room. Charges against him were dropped. Matthew Barnett was a football star in a football-mad town. The ensuing victim-blame that happened in Maryville, Missouri, is enough to make any objective person boil in rage. Daisy’s older brother, who was a teammate of Matthew Barnett, was threatened. Daisy’s mother was fired. Eventually the family moved 40 miles away. Their house burned down while it was on the market.
Making things even more maddening is that Matthew Barnett is the grandson of Rex Barnett. Rex is a former Missouri State Trooper and four-term Missouri State Representative. He, of course, denies using his influence to gain leniency for Matthew. The claim, of course, is dubious.
Where things stand right now, Matthew Barnett is a freshman at Central Missouri. Daisy Coleman is a suicidal young woman who had her life turned upside down. But that does not seem to be the end of the story.
The video below came out yesterday. Anonymous, a infamous group of online hackers have promised to take action.
Like I said, I have mixed feelings about vigilante justice. I’m afraid that in our culture we are much to quick to confuse vengeance with justice. I understand the desire for someone to be punished, but too often people are quick to be judge, jury, and executioner. It seems clear that someone needs to answer for what happened. I am a big believer in grace, but not grace without accountability. Anonymous has promised action, and though their move has not yet been made, others are sure to follow in some small way.
It has started. The article mentioned the A and G Restaurant. Its reviews on Yelp have been relentless. The University of Central Missouri’s Facebook page has also been blown up with bad reviews. There is a lot of anticipation brewing as to just what Anonymous is going to do. One unfortunate side effect of this desire for justice has been some threats to another Matthew Barnett – the wrong Matthew Barnett, who is a pastor in California. The Matthew Barnett in question no longer has a public Twitter account, although his last public statement on twitter showed how little he has learned from this experience.
The whole story is heartbreaking. It seems as if Daisy has been made a victim over and over. She was raped once, and it seems like she was raped over and over by the failed justice system and the community that turned their back on her. When I consider this from the perspective of a father of two daughters, the rage is hard to contain.
I would be angry at my 14-year-old daughter if she sneaked alcohol into her room and then sneaked out of the house to party with older guys. I need to do my best to teach her to be safe. I need to teach her to make wise choices. But do Daisy’s actions somehow justify her being raped, left in the cold for dead, and then tormented by a town that wanted to protect their football team? I’ve written about his before. It is clear that much more needs to be done. Our culture of rape acceptance and victim-blame is terrifying. Just last week a fraternity at Georgia Tech circulated an email that basically taught the brothers how to successfully rape girls. The problem seems to be getting worse, not better. Luckily, there is another way to teach rape prevention that is probably more thoughtful than my hackneyed list AND avoids victim-blame. Here is another great article on proper rape prevention education. We have to do better. For the sake of both or girls and boys. We need to do better.
So where do we go from here? I don’t want vengeance. I don’t want retribution. All I want is what Daisy deserves: compassion and a trial. I want Matthew Barnett to answer for what he did. Also, I want to know how the people of Maryville that abandoned Daisy in her time of need can sleep at night.