Treat sexual assault as a serious crime

To: Limestone County Circuit Judge James W. Woodroof, Jr.

Thanks to you and many others nationwide who publicly shared your outrage over Austin Smith Clem getting a probation-only sentence for his conviction on three counts of rape, Judge James Woodroof has filed an order agreeing to re-sentence Clem. We raised our voices together to demand justice for his victim, 20-year-old Courtney Andrews. Now the neighbor and "family friend" who sexually assaulted her, verbally threatened her life and the lives of her parents, is likely to go to prison.
Treat sexual assault as a serious crime
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Show you believe that rape is a serious crime by vacating Austin Smith Clem's original sentence and giving him a meaningful punishment for the felony sexual assault of a vulnerable family friend that he could easily intimidate.

Why is this important?

In Limestone County, AL, another convicted child rapist was allowed to walk away from that conviction with no jail time. As long as rapist Austin Smith Clem fulfills the terms of a community corrections program designed for nonviolent offenders [1] who are "likely to maintain a productive and law-abiding life," [2] he can avoid serving any of his sentence in prison.

Limestone County's district attorney, Brian Jones, has filed a motion asking Circuit Judge James Woodroof to vacate his sentencing order for Clem and re-sentence him according to Alabama law, which prohibits felony offenders completing their sentences in community corrections programs. [3]

In fact, the judge seems to have accepted the defense attorney's line of reasoning that because the victim continued to have a social relationship with Clem and his family, that she must have been lying about having been forcibly raped. This conveniently ignores Clem's threats to kill his victim's parents, threats that would have sounded much more credible to a 14-year-old, and the shame that led her at 18 to tell her parents through a family friend.

Shame, fear and intimidation around sexual assault and gender-based violence committed by close friends or family routinely keeps the victims of sexual and domestic abuse trapped quietly in ongoing relationships with their abusers -- relationships that are later used to damn them in court. Was it really serious if she didn't immediately kick up a fuss, move out, tell everyone she knew, or change everything about her life? Yes. Yes, because most violence against women isn't committed by strangers leaping out of bushes, but by people we know and trust, people who are deeply woven into the fabric of our lives.

Not many people can afford to risk walking away from their support networks of friends and family, their schools, their jobs, or their homes, just like that, because someone has attacked them. For minors, who rarely have the resources to act independently or the confidence that someone will take their word over an adult's, escape from abusive situations can seem impossible.

When judges treat sexual assault like it isn't a serious crime, it tells other offenders that if they're caught, even judges are more than willing to spread the blame to their victims and let them off the hook. Especially if the victim is someone they know, someone who believes they're powerless to get away. 

This is intolerable. Austin Smith Clem needs to get an appropriate sentence.

[1] - "Alabama Man Convicted of Raping Teen Neighbor Will Serve No Jail Time," by Emily Crockett, RH Reality Check, November 15, 2013.
http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/11/15/alabama-man-convicted-of-raping-teen-neighbor-will-serve-no-jail-time/

[2] - "Alabama Man Won't Serve Prison Time for Raping 14-Year-Old," by Molly Redden, Mother Jones, November 14, 2013.
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/11/alabama-man-no-prison-time-raping-teenager

[3] - "Alabama District Attorney Seeks Prison Time for Rapist Sentenced to Probation," by Molly Redden, Mother Jones, November 16, 2013.
http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/11/alabama-district-attorney-seeks-prison-time-rapist-sentenced-probation
Category: women's rights
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Reasons for signing

  • Jay W. 2013-11-18 15:29:03 -0800
    How safe would you feel?

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