Before you begin tossing rotten fruit at the stage because this is a “local news story” out of Missouri, bear with me. I should also warn you that the “ick factor” in this story is pretty much off the charts. But I believe it speaks to some remnant aspects of our legal system that have somehow hung around for literally centuries but are badly in need of being purged from the nation’s innards.
This report comes to us from the Show-Me state (a nickname that becomes very inappropriate in this context) via the New York Post. Webster County Prosecutor Ben Berkstresser had a tough case on his hands earlier this year involving the repeated sexual assault and resultant impregnation of a 12-year-old girl. Two of the suspects were adult brothers, Aaron and “Petie” Schwartz, ages 22 and 18 respectively. Two other suspects were their unnamed, underage brothers. Making the case all the more awful was that the victim was their sister. The sister gave birth after turning 13. But then we learned that none of her brothers are likely to do a single day in prison.
The brothers were initially both charged with six counts of statutory rape and one count of incest. But those charges were reduced to third-degree child molestation, a Class C felony, the paper said.
They then reached a plea deal last week for 15 years in prison — but suspended to keep them out of jail, the paper said.
The prosecutor insisted it was a “different relationship” than if a “parent in a position of authority sexually abused or exploited their child,” and said the convicts were “very immature.”
“These two young men would’ve been eaten alive in the state prison system,” Berkstresser told the paper in defending his decision.
I”m honestly left scratching my head as to how this prosecutor arrived at the final decision. The two younger brothers are juveniles so they probably need to be dealt with through a different court. But the two elder brothers named in the arrests are adults. They repeatedly had sex with a 12-year-old girl. Even if we were to leave aside the overall creepiness factor the familial relationship brings into the picture, that’s still a situation where rape was repeatedly perpetrated. Being in the same family is not a “mitigating” factor.
The prosecutor is simultaneously claiming that this situation was somehow not as serious and “different” from a case where a parent was doing it. How is that different? The victimization of the child by an adult authority figure is indistinguishable. Further, the prosecutor is concerned that the defendants would have “been eaten alive in the state prison system.” And? Plenty of young men have a very hard time of it when they go to prison after committing brutal crimes, yet we send them anyway.
What we appear to be seeing here is a holdover from the same dangerous attitudes the criminal justice system used to display toward domestic violence cases back in the day. If a man walked out on the street and just randomly punched a woman in the face he could wind up in jail. But if he went home and beat up his wife, well… “that’s a family matter” and the courts probably shouldn’t go poking into their private lives. Besides, she probably did something to deserve it.
Thankfully much (though certainly not all) of that sort of nonsense has been flushed out of the court system these days. But for some reason, incest seems to be one of those areas where the courts still have a hard time wrapping their heads around it. This prosecutor is acting as if the repeated rape of this barely pubescent girl is somehow different than if she’d been abducted and abused by a stranger because it was her four brothers sexually abusing her.
So the oldest sons won’t be going to jail, provided they complete some sort of rehab program, do 100 hours of community service and write a letter to the prosecutor explaining their actions and how they will be behaving differently in the future. Seriously? Here’s the biggest question we should all be asking right now. Where is the little girl? Have they gotten her out of that home and placed her with a responsible guardian? What about the parents’ responsibility in allowing this to happen under their own roof for the better part of a year? And who will be caring for that baby who must now be raised by someone who is still essentially a baby herself?
This entire story is a sickening disaster and it sounds like justice is far from being served. Surely someone at the state level can override this prosecutor’s decisions and investigate further.