Despite years of outcry, judges across the country keep letting young men off the hook for sexual assault because they are, well, young. The latest example comes from Illinois, where a judge said last week that sending an 18-year-old to prison for raping an intoxicated girl “is not just.”
Cameron Vaughan, 16, alleges that Drew Clinton, 18, raped her at a Memorial Day weekend party in Quincy, Illinois. She told police she passed out after drinking and woke up with a pillow being pushed onto her face and Clinton inside of her. “I asked him to stop multiple times and he wouldn’t,” Vaughan told WGEM. “I finally got off the couch and pushed him off of me and he jumped up and just started playing video games as if nothing had happened.”
After an October bench trial, Adams County Judge Robert Adrian found Clinton guilty of one count of criminal sexual assault and not guilty of two separate counts of the same crime. A guilty verdict meant a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison, but Clinton’s attorney, Drew Schnack, filed two motions arguing the sentence would be inappropriate.
At Clinton’s sentencing hearing on Monday, January 3, Judge Adrian said he couldn’t send the teen to prison because he was so young, had no prior record, and had already served several months in county jail, which was “plenty of punishment.” To avoid the pesky mandatory sentence, the judge would simply overturn his own verdict.
It’s a mandatory sentence to the Department of Corrections. This happened when this teenager — because he was and is a teenager, was two weeks past 18 years old. He has no prior record, none whatsoever. By law, the Court is supposed to sentence this young man to the Department of Corrections. This Court will not do that. That is not just. There is no way for what happened in this case that this teenager should go to the Department of Corrections. I will not do that.
The Court could find that the sentencing statute for this offense is unconstitutional as applied to this Defendant. But that’s not going to solve the problem because, if the Court does that, this Court will be reversed by the Appellate Court, and Mr. Clinton will end up in the Department of Corrections.
Mr. Clinton has served almost five months in the county jail, 148 days. For what happened in this case, that is plenty of punishment. That would be a just sentence. The Court can’t do that.
But what the Court can do, because this was a bench trial, the Court will find that the People failed to prove their case on Count 3. The Court is going to reconsider its verdict, is going to find the Defendant not guilty on Count 3. And, therefore, the case — the Defendant will be released from custody. Bond will be discharged.
Judge Adrian also blamed Clinton’s parents for permitting the drunken party, saying “they allow 16-year-olds to bring liquor to a party. They provide liquor to underage people, and you wonder how these things happen.”
In the victim impact statement submitted to the court, Vaughan said, “You saw me unconscious and took the chance that I wouldn’t wake up, and if I did wouldn’t be believed.” She added: “Unlike so many other girls whose cries for help weren’t heard, mine was. And it doesn’t matter what I was wearing that night or the fact that I was drinking. You took advantage of an unconscious girl, and there was ZERO consent given that night.”
Vaughan’s father, identified in other reporting as Scott Vaughan, told The Herald-Whig that his daughter now wishes she didn’t report the assault. “It’s worse now than it was [before], because not only does she not have her justice, but now she feels like she spoke up for nothing, and you know that hurts,” he said. “Now she wishes she wouldn’t have even said anything.” Vaughan’s stepmom told the Herald-Whig that the girl attempted suicide after the assault.
Adams County Assistant State’s Attorney Anita Rodriguez said that, in her 40-year career of prosecuting sex crimes, she’s never seen a verdict overturned like this.
“The verdict and Adrian’s comments send a chilling message to other rape victims that their behavior, not the rapists’, will be judged. Shame the victims, free the rapists. This judgment reinforces the fact that standards for women have always been impossibly high while they are impossibly low for men,” the statement read, adding, “Women in Adams County should be angry and afraid. One message is clear: If you are raped, avoid Judge Adrian’s courtroom.”