Going Public in the Maryville Rape Case To Spur Action

Jan 9, 2014
Originally published on January 9, 2014 9:30 am

On a quiet Sunday morning last fall, Paige Parkhurst remembers being awakened by her mother, who was crying.

A newspaper story about the night two years ago that Paige was assaulted and her friend Daisy Coleman was allegedly raped was going viral. She and her mother, Robin Bourland, talked about how they had already been through so much. The minor boy who admitted to having sex with Parkhurst had been convicted and sentenced through the juvenile justice system.

But with the news that the story was out there, everywhere, the quiet was over and something changed for Parkhurst.

“I asked her if people were actually listening and she said ‘yes,’” Parkhurst said. “And I said ‘Well then, I think it’s time for me to actually use my name.’”

Until then, KCUR had not identified Parkhurst, now 15, as she and her mother had decided against it when the original story was published in July. That story focused on Daisy Coleman, the then 14-year-old girl who, along with Paige, who was then 13, snuck out of the Coleman house to drink with a group of boys led by Maryville High School senior Matt Barnett.

Parkhurst went into a room with a boy and Coleman was videotaped with Barnett, who later admitted to having sex with her, but said it was consensual. Coleman was later found dumped at her mother’s doorstep, left without a coat or shoes on a freezing January night.

Charges were brought against the boys, but just three months later, the case was dropped by Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice, who said he didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute.

On Thursday, the results of a second investigation will be announced. Jean Peters Baker, who was named a special prosecutor when the case garnered international coverage in October, is set to appear at a hearing at 1:30 p.m. before Nodaway County Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich.

Baker, who is the Jackson County prosecutor, will hold a press conference following the court hearing.

The Maryville case, which has similarities to the high-profile rape of a high school girl by athletes in Stuebenville, Ohio, has attracted much the same attention. But the Maryville case is different because the two girls who made the accusations went public, talking and being photographed by media, a rarity in sexual assault cases.   

“Before nobody believed the girls. I think they felt like it was just us against a whole bunch of other people,” Bourland said.

But that changed when the Kansas City Star published a story on the case in October, igniting online outrage, triggering national and international coverage and inspiring the so-called Internet “hactivist” group, Anonymous, to launch a crusade.

Coleman’s name was in headlines and even became a hashtag: #Justice4Daisy. She and her mother went on several national television shows. She wrote a first-person piece for an online teen site, relating the alleged assault and her struggles afterwards, including lots of bullying and being called terrible names. Coleman wrote that she refused to be a victim.

“This is why I am saying my name,” she wrote. “This is why I am not shutting up.”

Coming forward can be an empowering choice for some victims, said Scott Berkowitz, the founder of RAINN, or Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

“Right now the criminal justice system doesn’t always work the way it should for victims,” he said. “Most cases never lead to a successful prosecution. So some victims find this is one way to sort of validate their experience and let people know what really happened to them.”

But there’s a price to be paid for coming forward, as Parkhurst and Coleman learned.

Coleman and her family have been the subject of much abuse, verbally and online, and are accused of being attention-seekers. Just last weekend, Coleman, now 16, attempted suicide after being “terrorized” on Facebook, her mother said. Coleman remains in a Kansas City hospital.

Parkhurst, who lives in Albany, Mo., said she was afraid of the bullying that Coleman faced but ultimately, she decided that she didn’t want to be fearful anymore.  

“I only went public because I wanted something done. Because nothing had been done before,” Parkhurst said.  “It was really just the last option, the last thing to do. Then it did spiral into something really big, much more.”

Late last month Parkhurst’s family found three slain rabbits in one of their cars, which they reported to the local sheriff as connected with this case.

A decision to go public as a victim of sexual assault shouldn’t be made by a teenager, who doesn’t have the ability to make a reasoned choice, said media ethicist Lee Wilkins, a professor at Wayne State University and professor emeritus at the University of Missouri.

Journalists should not use a teen’s name even if they have consent, Wilkins said.

“(Consent) doesn’t absolve the journalist, him or herself, from doing the ethical reasoning that says in essence, ‘Just because you’ve given me your consent, does that mean that in my best judgment, I who am older and potentially better informed and we would hope a little wiser than you, still think this is the ethical option?’” she said.

Victims’ names shouldn’t be used even if the teen’s parents give their consent, Wilkins said, which happened in this case. Rape stories can still be published without using a victim’s name by relating details about the person or using a pseudonym, she said.

Parkhurst said she’s happy with her decision to come forward, but she’s ready to move on.

“I also don’t want to be known all my life as the girl that was sexually assaulted,” she said. “I mean, it’s not something to be proud of.”

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