Blaming The Witnesses

Here’s a truly awful piece where Dr. Caroline Heldman attacks–by name–the two teenage girls who were called to testify in the Steubenville rape trial. It’s another example of the intimidation innocent people (including teenagers) have been subjected to.

seattle-headshot

Dr. Caroline Heldman; Feminist.

Let’s make it clear: Heldman vs. two teenage girls from West Virginia is not a fair fight. Heldman is a well known media fixture. As her bio says she is:

…the chair of the Politics Department at Occidental College. She is also a political commentator for MSNBC, Fox Business News, RT America, and Al Jazeera English.

I have a peripheral connection with Dr. Heldman; she worked closely with my friend Brandon Darby on a rape story involving athletes and a real cover-up: a case that got about 1/1000th of the attention that Steubenville got, likely because it involved the NAACP and so the Left blogosphere didn’t want to jump into it.

Here’s Heldman attacking the witnesses:

Kelsey and Gianna, at the trial this week you testified against your former best friend, reporting that she has a history of drinking and telling lies, as though these facts somehow make her worthy of rape. When did you stop being her best friend? When did you decide that you would side with the alleged perpetrators in attacking her character, as though her actions somehow justified these heinous crimes?

Let’s get this out of the way : nobody said her actions justified the crimes. Heldman just tossed that in.

This is how intimidation on the Steubenville case works: you get attacked for telling the truth. 

Most of the Heldman’s commenters jump on the same hateful, false bandwagon…

Thank you for calling out those two horrible girls for the scum that they are. While reading up on the trial I was disgusted by them. Special place in hell for you two.

and

I wonder what chance these girls will have in life. Employers google candidates. I wouldn’t admit them to college or employ them, even to dig a ditch. Not one of those kids who have had their names associated with this case are innocent, blameless, or in any way redeemable as a human being. Worst case, the girls in the blog post should bear some criminal or civil responsibility for not helping their friend. Best case, they are just vile and amoral.

Except they DID try to help her. They saw that the victim had gotten herself very drunk, wanted to go with Trent and tried to stop her. And the victim fought them, loudly.

Here’s a summary of what they testified to that Heldman objected to:

Earlier on Saturday, the defense called two former friends of the accuser – Kelsey Weaver and Gianna Anile – who testified that the girl had a reputation for dishonesty.

Weaver, 17, testified the accuser had told her she liked Mays. Weaver also said she watched the accuser drink four shots of vodka and two beers and flirt with Richmond on the night she says the rape occurred.

Weaver said the accuser told her she thought she had been drugged as well – a conclusion Weaver said she did not believe. Asked by defense why she had doubts, Weaver said, “Because (she) lies about things.”

Gianna Anile and Kelsey Weaver, both students at Weirton Madonna High School who said they were at one time friends with the alleged victim, testified that they saw the victim rolling around the floor of the Belardine house, drunk.

Anile and Weaver, who were among three West Virginia residents who tried unsuccessfully to fight the subpoenas issued from the Ohio court in West Virginia court, were called as defense witnesses by Madison.

Wait — Heldman attacked two girls who FOUGHT the subpoenas? She and the vast majority of herc comment pit bulls attack these girls for testifying when they didn’t even want to testify?

And why didn’t they want to testify? Because they were worried about getting attacked by the likes of Dr. Heldman. 

One commenter makes the points well; a woman named Amy who (not surprisingly)  is a prosecutor. Listen to this brief dose of sanity (emphasis added):

Did they have a choice about testifying? If you’re subpoenaed, you have to show up and answer questions truthfully whether or not you want to. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Their evidence (which I haven’t read in detail) may have made it clear that they are in fact terrible people, but the very fact that they testified doesn’t mean they “sided with the perpetrators.” As a prosecutor, I find conclusions like this unhelpful. People are often reluctant to testify for the prosecution, even when they have valuable evidence to give, because they fear being seen as taking sides against the accused (who is often a friend or family member). I am constantly reminding them that they don’t have a choice and that the accused should know that and not hold their testimony against them; articles like this contribute to the perception that testifying for one “side” puts you firmly in that side’s camp and undoes much of the work that I (and probably defence lawyers) do daily.

And of course, Amy is attacked and told to ‘stay quiet’, so she responds:

To me, the article reads very much as if it’s blaming them for testifying too, especially in the fourth paragraph (“you testified against your former best friend, reporting that she has a history of drinking and telling lies…When did you decide that you would side with the alleged perpetrators in attacking her character…etc.”) They were subpoenaed as part of the defence case and had therefore had to testify for the perpetrators, and had to answer the questions about her character truthfully. If they’d pretended she didn’t have a history of drinking, or refused to answer those questions, they could have gone to jail for perjury or contempt. They shouldn’t be blamed for that. As for their true “siding with the perpetrators,” blame away. (I realize that’s the main concern here and I’m not trying to defend these girls; I just fear that this article feeds the common perception that testifying for someone is equivalent to allying yourself with them — a perception that often makes prosecutions difficult).

But eventually, commenter relents and joins in rhetorical stoning of the two witnesses who, in fact, tried to stop the victim from leaving:

I don’t want to drag this on any longer, but Layla — I totally agree with you that they are disgusting individuals. I read detailed accounts of their testimony before posting the last time. The only thing I was trying to express concern about is the way some parts of the article are worded. Apparently I’m not making that clear, and I apologize if it appears that I’m defending them as people.

And such is the nature of the Mob Mentality. Facts don’t matter. Approval of the other bullies does.

But what do Heldman or any of these people care? Kelsey and Gianna and Trent and Ma’lik and the victim and everyone in Weirton or Steubenville aren’t real to them. They are things you blab about on the internet to make yourself feel better.. So, whatever.

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