Today I, like so many others, sat horrified as I read the details of the Austin Wilkerson rape case, and the even more shocking details of his subsequent trial and sentencing. Like so many other cases, including the now infamous Brock Turner case out of Stanford, Austin Wilkerson, a respected student athlete, was spared prison time for his admitted crime of isolating a fellow University of Colorado college student after a night of drinking, and raping her.
Following the assault, Wilkerson spent his trial denying allegations that he assaulted the victim; purporting that the victim wasn’t drunk, and that the sex was consensual. Only after he was convicted did Wilkerson show remorse for his crime; apologizing to the victim and her family at his pre-sentencing hearing.
Judge Patrick Butler, who presided over the case and sentenced Wilkerson yesterday, stated that he: “...struggled, to be quite frank, with the idea of, ‘Do I put him in prison?’” Adding that he took into account the assailant’s remorse shown for the crime committed and chances at rehabilitation.
To Judge Butler, I address the following letter with the high hopes that he will read it and perhaps understand an inkling of the damage he has done to the survivor of Austin Wilkerson’s crime and survivors of sexual assault across the country. This letter is for Judge Butler, and likewise for all those agents of the law across the country who are failing rape survivors each and every day.
Judge Patrick Butler
1777 Sixth Street
P.O. Box 4249
Boulder CO 80306
Dear Judge Butler,
I’m trying to find an adequate word to describe what I’m feeling after hearing about the sentencing of Austin Wilkerson. Shocked? No, see that doesn’t cut it – because your sentencing is merely one in a long line of naïve, unthinkably stupid sentences handed down to entitled young rapists in this country. Angry? I could certainly use that adjective – but the anger that I feel is so palpable and physically sickening that I’m not sure if even that word can encompass how I feel about your decision. Outraged? Of course I am – of course the entire world should be just like they were when the sentence for another privileged, white, college-aged rapist, Brock Turner, was revealed. Does the survivor of Austin Wilkerson’s crime have to write an open letter detailing every moment of her rape in order to be heard by you? To be heard by the world? If she feels the need to, I salute her. She deserves to be heard after having her voice taken away from her. Until then, my letter will have to suffice.
I guess the truth is that I don’t have a word to use for how I feel knowing that Austin Wilkerson gets to carry on living his life as a free man while his survivor was sentenced to a life imprisonment the moment he decided to take away her dignity and humanity. Miriam Webster Dictionary defines probation as: “a situation or period of time in which a person who has made a serious mistake or done something bad is watched and must behave well in order not to be seriously punished.” So does his victim gain any sort of probation? Where is her reprieve from serious punishment? What period of time is she given back after she was so callously raped? What justice have you handed down to her besides a condescending manifesto on her so-called “courage” for coming forward to authorities with her case?
Your sentence was not handed down in a vacuum. It sends a message to every person in this country that sexual assault isn’t a serious, punishable offense. Your sentence tells young men that as long as they are white, show an inkling of remorse for their crime, and behave themselves during trial, they too can rape with impunity without fear of true repercussion. You send a message to every victim of sexual assault that even if they do have the, as you say, “admirable strength,” to come forward to police, they will endure the hell of a trial only to have any semblance of justice evade their attacker. By not sentencing Austin Wilkerson to prison, you have sent a very loud and clear message that the state of Colorado does not take rape seriously and doesn’t care about those who have been wronged in the eyes of the law.
When you were admitted to the Bar Association of the State of Colorado, you made an oath, do you remember? Do you remember placing your right hand on a Bible and swearing to “use your knowledge for the betterment of society and the improvement of the legal system?” Do you remember repeating the words: “I will never reject, from any
consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed?” Have these words gotten lost in the many years of a shiny, illustrious career? I suppose they have; because these words were most certainly not taken into account when you sentenced Austin Wilkerson to probation for one of the most monstrous crimes known to man.
Would you sentence a murderer to 20 years of probation, Judge Butler? Would you wrestle with sending them to prison because they have shown remorse in trial? I don’t think you would, and yet here we are, after Austin Wilkerson did so maliciously and without forethought murder a part of his victim. Does this sound dramatic to you? Are my words seeming irrational? Perhaps you believe I’m speaking out of turn, as I am not the victim of Austin Wilkerson’s crime.
My rapist showed remorse in his trial too, Judge Butler. He said that he was sorry for taking away my childhood, my innocence, my future. He was soft-spoken and kind too. His needs as a handsome, athletic, 16-year-old were also put ahead of the needs of the person he raped. That person happened to be me. I’m writing to you today as someone who can attest to the brutality of rape, and the even more damaging process of reporting the crime committed against you – particularly when your rapist is sentenced to 20 years of probation, or in my rapist’s case: 5 years of probation, a curfew, and mandatory therapy.
I don’t know if you have a daughter, a niece, a sister, or a wife that you have to look at and justify this sentence to, whether out loud or in your own mind. I can guess that you know and love at least six women. I want you to think of them now, as you read my words. Think of their smiles, their laughs, their dreams, their strengths. Now I want you to know that statistically one of those women will be the victim of sexual assault, perpetrated by someone just like Austin Wilkerson – the man who you sentenced to probation. I hope that if the day ever comes when one of these incredible women is relying on the justice system to deliver them the righteousness they so deserve they have a more competent judge than you.
University of Colorado Boulder, Class of 2015
I encourage you to write your own letter to Judge Butler at the address provided above, or to call his office at 303-441-3726.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.