A guy from my school raped a freshman girl – so why is he not going to jail?

The sentence for Austin Wilkerson is shocking – but sadly the crime is not

Two years ago, a man called Austin James Wilkerson was at a St. Patrick’s Day party. He saw a half-conscious freshman girl, and he got her on her own. Then he fingered her, orally penetrated her, and ejaculated on her stomach. His victim repeatedly rebuffed him during the attack.

At his trial, Wilkerson admitted he “wasn’t getting much of a response from her.” He was convicted of sexual assault this week.

But instead of spending years behind bars, Wilkerson is free to live a fairly normal life. On Wednesday, a judge called Patrick Butler sentenced him to “work service.”

He can work, or go to school, and then return to a county jail at night. He’ll do that for two years, perhaps less if he behaves himself. After that, he will be on probation.

Yet another rapist, convicted of sexually assaulting a drunk female student, gets no prison time.

Soft sentences for rapists have been a hot button issue recently, especially with the high-profile Brock Turner case. But this case hits closer to home, because it happened here, at CU-Boulder.

Wilkerson's booking photo

Wilkerson’s booking photo

The example that Judge Butler of Boulder County is setting for female students is one of silence. And yet too often, women I meet at CU Boulder have experienced some sort of brush with sexual misconduct. Rarely do they report them.

A friend of mine, a junior here, has had several run-ins with fraternity members trying to force her into sex.

“It was the first week of classes and my friend left me to go hook up with someone,” she told me.

“This frat guy said I could crash there, but I had to have sex with him.

“Another time, I was helping a friend with homework, when he started drinking and doing coke. I said I was going to leave and he blocked the door and tried to have sex with me. When I said no, he banged on the walls really hard and told me to get the fuck out before something bad happened.”

She never told any authorities about her experiences because she felt ashamed. She said: “It affects you on a psychological level that I still deal with today, and I think you start to associate sex with bad things like distrust and control.”

Another girl, a sophomore, was orally raped by a friend at a party.

She said: “He got me in bed and started to hook up with me, but then he told me to get on my knees. I ended up giving him head, after I repeatedly said ‘no no I don’t want to, please I’m tired, please I don’t want to,’ because I was scared.”

The sophomore never reported it. “I thought I was in the wrong because I didn’t stop, even though I wanted to. It took me years to realize what it really was. It happened in my room so I couldn’t leave, but eventually he left.”

Last month, a survey in the Denver Post revealed that 92 percent of sexual assault victims at CU Boulder had never reported their incidents. But with verdicts like the one Judge Butler reached on Wednesday, why would you?

It’s not only the justice system of Boulder County that’s to blame. You could also point the finger at the CU-Boulder party scene, where a blind eye is turned towards crossing the line. Massive parties are the norm in Boulder, full of alcohol, drugs, and incredibly crowded spaces. It’s a hotbed of groping, where alcohol is poured down girls’ and guys’ throats: if you reject it, you’re looked down upon.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve said no to a guy repeatedly attempting to feed me drink after drink. Limits seem to be nonexistent. You’ll see women stumbling, barely able to hold themselves up, and a guy who sees this as opportunity to take advantage of her by “helping” her – which is exactly what Wilkerson claimed he was trying to do to his victim.

Wilkerson’s attack was one of 10 reported rapes at CU-Boulder in 2014. And yet our legal system fails to do its job of keeping people safe, by allowing rapists such as Austin James Wilkerson and Brock Turner to skate by with little to no repercussions.

The junior I spoke to believes the verdict in the Wilkerson case is to do with entitlement. “If he was Black or Hispanic, or even a poorer white man, he would not be considered for ‘rehabilitation’.

“People go to jail for 20 years for selling weed but someone who has physically, emotionally, and mentally abused another person doesn’t even get prison time?”

The CU-Boulder sophomore said: “Rape is taken very lightly in today’s society. The excuse of ‘he has such a bright future ahead of him’ is absolute bullshit. I don’t care whether you’re going to be the best lawyer or the best surgeon in the country – if you touch somebody inappropriately you deserve to be punished.

“Sentences like that make girls scared to come out and press charges against somebody, because their case won’t be taken seriously. They don’t want to go and sit in the same court as someone they’re going to see roaming the streets after they get out.

“If they’ve done it once, they’ll do it again. If not jail time, these guys need isolation and counseling, because there’s something mentally wrong with them.”

While Wilkerson will go on with his life – graduating school, getting a job, starting a family – his victim will never be free to return to the person she once was. What kind of justice is that?

University of Colorado Boulder