Editor’s note: A recent Ebony.com interview with a convicted rapist set off a firestorm of complaint and crosstalk in the blogosphere. I have chosen to publish the letter of one reader, herself a law student, who makes some enlightening and damning points. I have followed that with Ebony Magazine’s response. –Oretha Winston Elev8 Lead Editor.
I will give you a little background on the story. In 2003, Genarlow Wilson was a 17-year-old high school senior convicted on child molestation charges for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old female classmate. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the state of Georgia. After serving nearly three years, he was released early due to what that state admitted had been “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The actual law case (HUMPHREY v. WILSON., Wilson v. The State. Nos. S07A1481, S07A1606. — October 26, 2007) stated the following:
Because Weems was decided on direct appeal, and the present case stems from Wilson’s habeas petition, we cannot direct the trial court to set aside the judgment and to dismiss the proceedings against Wilson. Instead, the corresponding and appropriate habeas relief would be for the habeas court to set aside Wilson’s sentence and to discharge Wilson from custody.
In other words, Wilson filed a writ of habeas corpus, not a direct appeal from conviction, therefore his conviction was NOT overturned. Rather, he was released. Ebony.com ran a piece on Genarlow Wilson. The former headline (changed after an outcry by the Ebony readership) asserted that “[Wilson] is no child molester and never was.” Well, the video tape, trial documents and his release decision say otherwise. Even if the young girl in question consented, that assumes that a young girl who is drunk and surrounded by horny teenage boys in line to get sexual services can reasonably consent. I think not.
Below is a letter I wrote detailing my disapproval of the article:
I am seriously, seriously disappointed in your recent coverage of Genarlow Wilson. Even the title is problematic: “From Notorious to Glorious.” You are literally glorifying a rapist.
As a law student, it’s clear to me that Wilson was not innocent because his sentence was never overturned. He was released because the judge felt that 10 years was too long to serve in jail for that type of crime, when he would only have gotten 12 months if the act was intercourse instead of oral sex. Still, the fact remains that under any interpretation of the statute at that time, he was guilty
Statutory rape IS actual rape. As a woman, I resent any attempt to gloss over that truth. Statutory rape laws are in place because the state has an interest in, and a duty to protect children. At the time Wilson was convicted the definition of “child” included a young girl who was 15 years old. It doesn’t matter that she was flirtatious. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t say no (if that was, in fact, the case). It doesn’t matter that she was six months away from her birthday, making Wilson only 1.5 years older than her. Under the law, she was a child. Beyond that, she was drunk! This article implies that because the girl may have been fast, and was certainly intoxicated, that she no longer deserves the protection of the law. Somehow, she has victimized Wilson by not acting in a completely chaste manner. When are we going to expect more from our black men? When are we going to expect them to act with nobility, integrity and restraint in the face of temptation? This article simply reinforces the thought process that any woman or young girl who dares to display anything less than “lady-like” behavior is somehow asking for it
I really hate that Wilson is being let off the hook for his bad judgment. Sure he made a mistake, but it was a CRIMINAL mistake, and he rightfully paid for it with jail time! Both of my parents talked to my older brother about consent. Anything less than a yes, when the young woman is in her right mind (i.e., not high or intoxicated) is a no. Period. Given the prevalence of rape and domestic violence in our communities, you’d think we’d want young men to get this message. When men force themselves on a woman, they not only make themselves vulnerable to getting thrown in prison, but scar a woman for a lifetime. Yet somehow, we see another black man in jail as the ONLY tragedy, despite the fact that he brought it on himself.
As a black woman, I am especially disappointed that one of the few mainstream media outlets that caters to our people would be so reckless about the message they are sending. I’m a Christian, and I believe in forgiveness. I don’t begrudge Wilson moving on with his life and trying to better himself. However, I will not applaud him for doing so. I will not stand idly by as Ebony trashes half of its fan base.