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Judge reverses rape conviction and blames the victim.

If ever there was a judge who deserves to be removed from the bench, this is the guy!

An Illinois judge reversed a rape verdict. The victim and her advocates didn’t stay quiet.



JAN 25, 2022 AT 12:34 PM

Opinion content—editorials, columns and guest commentaries—is created independent of news reporting and is exclusive to subscribers.

Quincy, the county seat of Adams County in downstate Illinois, is a quiet town. Here residents vote conservative, prize neighborliness and don’t raise voices. Controversy isn’t courted.

But that changed when a judge reversed his guilty judgment in a sexual assault trial that has raised a loud outcry. National media took notice when Quincy Area Network Against Domestic Abuse (Quanada), whose board I sit on, expressed its outrage over the verdict. Quanada provides services to victims of domestic and sexual violence in west central Illinois.

Adams County Judge Robert Adrian in the courtroom Aug. 26, 2020. Adrian, who found an 18-year-old man guilty of sexual assaulting a 16-year-old girl, came under fire after he reversed his own decision, saying the 148 days the man spent in jail was punishment enough.

Adams County Judge Robert Adrian in the courtroom Aug. 26, 2020. Adrian, who found an 18-year-old man guilty of sexual assaulting a 16-year-old girl, came under fire after he reversed his own decision, saying the 148 days the man spent in jail was punishment enough. (Jake Shane/Quincy Herald-Whig)

At a sentencing hearing Jan. 3, Adams County Judge Robert Adrian overturned his October decision that found 18-year-old Drew Clinton guilty. He declared the state’s mandatory minimum sentence of four years for rape was too much. By this time, Clinton had served 148 days in the county jail.

“For what happened in this case, that is plenty of punishment,” he said.

The case involves a 16-year-old high school student who attended a graduation party, where she said she got drunk and swam in the pool in her underwear. She fell asleep on a friend’s couch and woke up to find a pillow over her head and Clinton on top of her.

After overturning his verdict, the judge chastised the victim, the victim’s parents and the parents whose house hosted the party. He blamed everyone except Clinton.

“This is what’s happened when parents do not exercise their parental responsibilities, when we have people, adults, having parties for teenagers, and they allow coeds and female people to swim in their underwear in their swimming pool,” Adrian said. “And, no, underwear is not the same as swimming suits,” he said, according to court transcripts.

It might have ended there except Quanada’s director, Megan Duesterhaus, was alerted to the verdict and issued a statement signed by all organization board members.

“The judgment reinforces the fact that standards for women have always been impossibly high while they are impossibly low for men. … Shame the victims, free the rapists,” the statement said.

“The penalty for underage drinking isn’t sexual assault,” Duesterhaus has added.

The message went viral, and was picked up by news organizations, talk shows and legal pundits internationally.

Lawyer and TV commentator Greta Van Susteren said in an interview with WGEM-TV that the judge “stepped way outside his authority. ... They’re going to have to straighten this out because obviously this has become a huge mess.”

A Facebook group #StandwithCammy and an online petition calling for the judge’s removal have attracted support from tens of thousands of people.

Meanwhile Adrian, in a fit of pique, kicked a trial attorney with the state’s attorney’s office out of his courtroom for “liking” a Quanada Facebook post. “I can’t be fair with you. Get out,” he said.

That got Adrian reassigned by Chief Judge Frank McCartney. He is no longer presiding over criminal cases and will handle civil court matters.

That’s not enough for Quanada or the victim, Cameron Vaughan, who went public to speak out against the verdict and to support other women.

“What drew Clinton did to me was not okay. But what judge Adrian did on January 3rd is even worse,” Vaughan wrote in a Facebook post.

Although approximately 1 in 6 women experience sexual violence, most rapes go unreported because justice for sexual assault is an uphill battle for the victims.

Recall the case of the Stanford University swimmer who raped an unconscious woman in 2015. Brock Turner was found guilty and sentenced to six months, yet walked after three months. “I think he will not be a danger to others,” California Judge Aaron Persky said. (Voters later ousted Persky as a result of that sentence.)

What needs to be done? Quanada and national victim advocacy groups are calling for Adrian’s January decision to be reversed, the judge forced off the bench and courts to mandate comprehensive training for judges on domestic and sexual violence dynamics.

Judges need to know rape truths and myths. And they should be forced to confront sexist thinking. Even Adrian’s language — words such as “coed” and “female people” — signals misogyny.

Since the verdict, other victims have called Quanada with stories about their sexual assault trials and the justice they didn’t receive.

The attention this case has received could bring judicial reform and additional funding for organizations such as Quanada. Thirty rape crisis centers statewide belong to the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Most run on a shoestring budget funded by government grants and local contributions. If you are motivated to support their effort, consider donating to sustain them.

Because of Quanada, Vaughan may eventually get her due process. The county’s state’s attorney, Gary Farha, is seeking to get the original verdict reinstated.

A small women’s shelter run in downstate Illinois and a 16-year-old traumatized girl raised their voices so loud they inspired worldwide support. That gives hope that someday survivors will get the justice they deserve.

Christine Ledbetter, a former arts editor at The Washington Post, is a journalist now living in downstate Illinois.

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