A Rape in Colorado
(Photo: cristel.m / Flickr)
Written by William Rivers Pitt for Truthout
We have endured, to date, one of the most shallow and contemptible campaign seasons in modern political history. The main storylines of the 2010 midterm season have centered around whether a Delaware Senate candidate is a witch, if one Nevada Senate candidate has been easier on child molesters than the other, and if the President of the United States has a valid birth certificate. “Vapid” doesn’t begin to describe this campaign season so far, a fact that appears ready to pay dividends for the GOP, because real issues don’t play well for them these days. Thanks to the mindless void that is the “mainstream” news media, serious issues have been getting passed over in favor of the crass and the carnival.
Serious issues like rape, abortion, victims’ rights and prosecutorial misconduct, and a politician with aspirations for higher office bulldozing a victim based on a personal and political agenda. These are at the core of the Senate race playing out in Colorado, thanks to the actions of GOP candidate Ken Buck. Five years ago, Buck was the District Attorney for Weld County in Colorado. A 21-year old woman, who has asked that her name not be revealed, contacted the police to report a rape. The police investigated, and recommended that felony charges be filed against the attacker, but DA Buck refused to pursue the case, and no arrest was ever made.
At first blush, one might be tempted to think the details of the attack are sufficient to give DA Buck an excuse to drop the case. The victim knew her attacker – they had been lovers until a year before – and the victim invited her attacker over to her home. Furthermore, the victim was drunk at the time of the attack. Those facts alone would have made great fodder for a defense attorney to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, and it could be argued that it was this that caused DA Buck to refuse to pursue the matter. Commenting on the case to the Greeley Tribune in March of 2006, DA Buck said, “A jury could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer’s remorse.”
It is not nearly that simple, despite DA Buck’s crass comments to the contrary, and the truth of the matter should be crystal clear to anyone with even a vague interest in victims’ rights. First of all, the details of this attack are all too common in a vast number of rape cases. The term is “date rape,” and just because the victim knew her attacker does not mean that rape did not occur. In fact, the victim claimed repeatedly that what happened was rape. She told police that she said “No” to her attacker, that she fought him, that the act was not in any way voluntary. Her attacker admitted that she had indeed said “No” more than once, but claimed she had wanted him anyway, and that’s why they had sex. The victim has also worked as a rape victims’ advocate, and is no stranger to the realities of such an attack. No means no, and she said “No,” and the other circumstances do not change the fact of the attack.
When the victim found out that DA Buck was refusing to pursue the case, she organized protests against his office to try and compel him to take up the case. When he continued to refuse, she demanded and got a meeting with him to ask why he was refusing to seek charges against her attacker. She brought a recording device to that meeting, and the transcript reveals that DA Buck had other motives besides a potentially strong defense case to let the matter drop.
In the transcript of the recording taken by the victim, DA Buck very clearly threatens the victim with the courtroom revelation that she allegedly had an abortion after getting pregnant by the man who subsequently raped her a year later. The victim disputes the abortion, claiming she lost the baby to a miscarriage. Buck claims he brought up the abortion allegation because the defense could use it as motive for the victim to make a false charge of rape, but the comment is so far out of left field as to raise the question of Buck’s own motives in the case (“KB” below is Ken Buck, “V” is the victim, and “M#2” is a second unidentified man in the room with them):
M#2: We’ve talked about a motion to compel prosecution, and that’s the only other option. Ultimately that’s going to be [Name redacted] decision. But that’s really the only option…. Whether or not we’re going to do that, I don’t know. Incredibly high burden …
KB: Be aware of something, if this, if you file this motion, it will be very public, publicly covered event. There are a lot of things that I have a knowledge of, that I would assume (name of possible suspect redacted) knows about and that they have to do with, perhaps, your motives for (unintelligible) and that is part of what our calculation has been in this.
V: I’m interested to hear more about that, my motives, for what this has been.
KB: You have, you have had HIS baby, and you had an abortion.
V: That’s false, that’s just false.
KB: Why don’t you clarify?
V: I did have a miscarriage; we had talked about an abortion. That was actually year and a half ago. So …
KB: That would be something that you can cross-examine on, that would be “something that might be a motive for trying to get back at somebody.” And it would be a (unintelligible). And it’s part of what we have to take into account whether we can prove this case or not. And there are a lot of things that, um, you know, for as why weren’t not prosecuting the case. We’ve got to weigh all that, and it not something that I feel comfortable with, but something I have to be.
Throughout the transcript, DA Buck repeatedly asserts his opinion that the victim brought the attack on herself – because she knew him before, because they’d been lovers, because she invited him over, and because she was drunk. The fact that the attacker admitted more than once that the victim said “No,” and that he admitted to trying to apologize to her afterward, appears not to affect his judgment. The attacker’s accusation that she had an abortion, however, played large enough in his mind that he threw it in the victim’s face, even though she disputed the claim. Buck appears to have had no other evidence of the alleged abortion beyond the attacker’s word.
Did DA Buck refuse to take up this case because the defendant allegedly had an abortion, and more to the point, because she was a woman? An examination of Buck’s political positions and public statements lend credence to these claims.
Ken Buck holds positions on abortion that are extreme even for his party, befitting his oft-burnished Tea Party credentials. He does not believe in legal abortion unless the life of the mother is in danger, and would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape or incest. He has voiced his strong support for the Personhood Amendment, which is on the ballot in Colorado in November. The Amendment grants a fertilized egg full personhood rights, and would make illegal all forms of abortion. It would also make most commonly used forms of contraception illegal. Beyond this is Buck’s very public disdain for women in general, and his primary opponent in particular. During the GOP primary, Buck quipped that the main reason voters should choose him over his opponent, Lt. Governor Jane Norton, was because he didn’t “wear high heels.”
The Colorado Independent has done an extensive investigation into the matter. In its report, the victim described her feelings after her meeting with Buck:
If he had handled it with a little more sensitivity, the victim, who does not want her name used, says it is possible she may have accepted the decision and moved on. But Buck’s words – as much as his refusal to prosecute – still burn in her ears.
“That comment made me feel horrible,” she told the Colorado Independent last week. “The offender admitted he did it, but Ken Buck said I was to blame. Had he (Buck) not attacked me, I might have let it go. But he put the blame on me, and I was furious. I still am furious,” she said.
It wasn’t just his public remarks that infuriated the woman. In the private meeting, which she recorded, he told her, “It appears to me … that you invited him over to have sex with him.”
He also said he thought she might have a motive to file rape charges as a way of retaliating against the man for some ill will left over from when they had been lovers more than a year earlier. Buck also comes off on this tape as being at least as concerned with the woman’s sexual history and alcohol consumption as he is with other facts of the case.
Kjersten Forseth, interim executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, has taken a personal interest in this case, appearing on a variety of news stories to plead the victim’s case and to highlight Buck’s ulterior motives for failing to pursue the case. In comments to the Colorado Independent, Forseth said:
“She is very strong about her feelings,” said Forseth of the victim. “She believes a grave injustice has been done and that she is a victim of the system.
“What’s most troubling to me about this case,” Forseth continued, “is the way he talks to her in that meeting. There is just so much judgment, in his voice, toward the victim. I would think a district attorney would be an advocate for victims and offer some support, but instead he offers indignation and judgment.”
“When he talks about the abortion as the reason she wants charges filed, that has nothing to do with the law or this case,” Forseth says. “That is his personal bias coming into play. He’s bringing his own personal beliefs and judgments to bear on this case, when he should be acting as a victim’s advocate.”
. . .
“This shows us how he views women and what he thinks their role is. It shows us that even when a woman is the victim of a rape he will not advocate for her. It shows that he is not a believer in women’s rights. He will not side with rape victims. This case is a statement on what his beliefs really are,” Forseth said.
At this point, GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck holds a narrow lead over Democrat Michael Bennet, who currently holds the seat. Buck’s polling among women in Colorado, however, is so low as to be nearly nonexistent, thanks to the growing storm over his handling of this rape accusation five years ago. Groups like ProgressNow Colorado, along with the victim herself, continue to press the issue to the fullest extent. Whatever mitigating circumstances there may have been, rape is rape, and the victim said “No.” The accused attacker admitted as much, and Buck knew it, but that wasn’t good enough to warrant prosecution.
The victim’s attacker alleged she had an abortion, which Buck holds in high disdain. He took the attacker’s word over the victim’s, and justice was not done. No other conclusion fits the facts at hand, and despite this, it is entirely possible that Ken Buck will be a member of the US Senate after the November elections.
Witches and “soft on child molester” accusations are fine comedy, but should not rise to become the prime points of debate in a national conversation about the future of the country. Rape is rape, a prosecutor’s personal and political positions should not trump the rights of a victim, and any candidate who sees things otherwise has no place representing the people in Congress.
A woman was raped. Her attacker admitted the crime and went free anyway. A prosecutor threw abortion in the victim’s face as an excuse to let the matter drop. That happened, and we should all be talking about it.