Whenever victims of domestic violence and sexual assault come forward years after their ordeals take place, they are often asked why they waited so long to speak up. Speaking as someone who was a victim of domestic violence and as someone who knows a large number of victims, the answer is easy–they fear that they either won’t be believed, or they won’t get real justice.
A textbook example of why victims don’t come forward occurred last week in an Oklahoma courtroom. A former cook at a Christian youth camp admitted to brutally raping a camper in 2016. But he won’t serve any jail time because–wait for it–he’s legally blind.
Two summers ago, a 13-year-old girl from Terrell, Texas came to the Falls Creek Christian youth camp outside Davis, Oklahoma. She befriended one of the cooks at the camp, Benjamin Petty, who told her that he wanted to show her how to do a trick on one of his devices. Without warning, he pulled her into his cabin, tied her hands, and pulled her jeans down before raping and sodomizing her.
Petty was subsequently arrested on charges of first-degree rape, forcible sodomy, and rape by instrumentation. Additionally, the victim and her family are filing a civil suit against several parties whom they believed failed to protect the girl from Petty. Among the defendants are the victim’s church, First Baptist Church of Terrell; Petty’s former church, Country Estates Baptist Church of Midwest City, near Oklahoma City; and the Baptist State Convention of Oklahoma, which runs the camp.
Now here’s where this story really gets hideous. On January 19, Petty pleaded guilty to all three counts before District Judge Wallace Coppedge and was sentenced to three concurrent sentences of 15 years in prison. But those sentences will be suspended. Instead, Petty was placed on 15 years’ probation, and will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He will also have to wear an ankle monitor for 24 months, and get treatment.
According to Murray County assistant district attorney David Pyle, “the big thing is that Mr. Petty is legally blind.” Bruce Robertson, the victim’s attorney in the civil suit, says that his clients were told that as a result, Petty “would not serve any meaningful prison time.” With that in mind, they agreed to the deal.
Oklahoma defense attorney Joy Miskel told KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City that Petty got a whopper of a deal. Watch here.
Miskel said that Petty faced anywhere from five years in prison to life without parole on the two rape counts, and as much as 20 years on the sodomy charges. She noted that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections had the capacity to deal with someone who was visually impaired–especially someone whose impairment was not severe enough to keep him from holding down a job. It led her to suspect there was something more at play.
She’s not the only one who wants to know. Even if Petty is blind, there is no defensible reason to allow someone who commits such a heinous crime to remain on the streets. Period. There is something fundamentally wrong if any state’s laws make it even remotely possible for someone to violently rape an innocent girl and avoid even one day in jail. Indeed, anything less than 20 years in prison would have been a joke. Coppedge and District Attorney Craig Ladd better hope that Petty doesn’t victimize anyone else. If he does, then no expense should be spared to hold them responsible for allowing a monster to remain free.
Believe it or not, this so-called sentence isn’t the only injustice that this girl has suffered. Attorneys for Country Estates Baptist want to ask the victim about her “prior history of voluntary sexual activity.” They claim that the victim talked with other campers about that activity, including fears that her then-boyfriend got her pregnant. This is victim-blaming at its worst. If you’re wondering what planet this is from, a number of evangelicals consider sexual assault victims to be no different from prostitutes. Let this church have it on Facebook.
Hopefully Governor Mary Fallin and the powers that be in the Oklahoma Legislature are paying attention. Petty just slipped through an economy-size loophole–one that needs to be jackhammered shut, and jackhammered shut yesterday.
(featured image courtesy Oklahoma Department of Corrections via KFOR-TV)