A judge was left “baffled” by a joint agreement that reduced a rape charge committed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Samson Donick two years ago to charges of indecent assault and battery. The victim of the case was a Boston University student who was sleeping in her room at 33 Harry Agganis Way when Donick allegedly assaulted her in October of 2015.
This was an agreement reached by the defendant, representing Donick, and the prosecution, representing the BU student, after she refused to testify in court. When the agreement came to court Monday afternoon, Judge Janet Sanders said she would not agree to the terms of the agreement unless Donick explained all the details of the assault in his own words. This legal contract also enables Donnick to avoid a prison sentence and not be convicted of rape.
Of course, this agreement points to issues within our legal system, which seems to let people who actually deserve jail time off the hook and incriminates people who haven’t done anything wrong. Regardless of what punishment for the assailant the victim is willing to agree to, justice must be served so they can receive closure. Judge Sanders is right in pressing for an agreement that would find Donick guilty for his actions, along with wanting him to register as a sex offender in his home state.
The premise behind the agreement is that because of the trauma the victim has endured throughout the case, she would rather the situation just come to a close. And even though the prosecution claims she’d be OK if Donick admitted to what he did to her, that doesn’t mean there are better options with the case.
It certainly doesn’t mean that the victim liked the agreement. She may have opted to proceed with whatever limited options she had left. Perhaps this was the only option available to the prosecuting lawyers because their client wasn’t willing to testify in court, which has been going on for more than three years now.
However, there should be ways to incriminate Donick, or any perpetrator of assault for that matter, without the victim being required to testify. A victim in a rape case not wanting to explain their traumatizing experience should not equate to the perpetrator facing less severe charges.
But this is not surprising for the rape culture that exists in this country and especially that within the judicial system. The lawyers should not go into the agreement lightly, and really consider the implications of the case. Because a woman is not willing to talk about what happened on the witness stand, there won’t be sufficient evidence to incriminate the man. This only adds to the system of patriarchy we have in this country where men have more power than women, even when they’re the ones who are being prosecuted.
The agreement is even more troubling when looking at it through the context of the #MeToo movement that has made strides in the past year. With several women coming out with their experiences of sexual assault in the workplace, we would think that agreements like this wouldn’t happen anymore. One of the biggest lessons we learned from the movement is that victims are never responsible for what happened to them, and they shouldn’t suffer if they don’t feel comfortable about talking about their experiences. They shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions — their assailants should be.
We have realized how traumatic reliving these experiences can be for victims of sexual assault and violence. Interacting with people who have suffered from these situations and discussing the details of what happened puts a strain on their mental health. The woman in this rape case does not want this situation to plague her identity any longer. She doesn’t want to constantly think about or revisit the incident, as she’s probably exhausted from carrying the emotional distress.
It would be an injustice if the defendant got to walk away from the case without any punishment or blemish on his records. Legal proceedings are often complicated, and don’t always reach a perfect solution, but this agreement seems to be blatantly helping the defendant. It’s time we address sexual assault in a way that provides justice for the victim and helps them on their journey toward recovery.