Who knows of a young Black man who has been accused of rape by a White woman? A better question might be who does not know of a young Black man accused of rape by a White woman?
Long before the case of Albert Wilson became the latest standard-bearer for injustice in Kansas’ African-American community, most people were aware of similar charges and similar convictions. But like most instances in Black communities, there’s a tipping point that has to move people.
Albert Wilson is Kansas’ Michael Brown. Well not quite. Kansans haven’t taken to the streets to protest, in fact, they’ve done very little if anything to organize. But at least people are finally talking about a situation that needs to be addressed, and the case is starting to get media attention.
ALBERT WILSON'S CASE
In case you’re not familiar with Wilson’s case, make sure you go to www.freealbertwilson.com to thoroughly understand what happened to this young man, who was a Wichita Southeast High School graduate and a community college graduate who had just transferred to the University of Kansas. He was 20 at the time.
Wilson had never had any interaction with the law, but today he finds himself sentenced to serve 12 years in jail for raping a 17-year-old White girl he met in a bar just off KU’s campus. After his release, Wilson will be followed by lifetime post-release supervision and must register as a sexual offender.
The incident happened in September 2016. It was Family Day Weekend, and the young soon-to-be “victim” was visiting her cousin on campus. While Wilson and the girl were standing in line to go into the dance area of the Jayhawk Cafe bar, they struck up a conversation.
Neither should have been allowed in the bar, as both were under 21. Wilson used a friend's ID and the girl was not carded.
When they finally make it into the bar's “Boom Boom Room,” the girl pulls Albert by the hand onto the dance floor where things got pretty intimate. “Kisses, hugs, and grinds," what was later classified as an assault on the dance floor.
Video cameras captured most of the action, even the two leaving the bar hand-in-hand, heading toward Wilson’s apartment just a few blocks away. Within 15 to 20 minutes later, they are seen heading back to the club, where they part ways.
There are two completely different accounts of what happened during that short time frame.
The “victim” says she was raped. Wilson says they didn’t even have sex.
Not the next day, but the next month, she contacted the Lawrence Police Department to report being raped.
It took police a year to charge Wilson with rape, and until January 2019 for the case to come to trial. Like we said earlier, Wilson was found guilty and sentenced to serve 12 years in prison, and will have lifetime status and supervision as a sex offender.
Wilson's court-appointed attorney asked the judge to depart from sentencing guidelines and grant Wilson probation or at least a shorter prison sentence, but the request was denied by presiding Judge Sally Pokorny.
So, people are talking.
Everyone has seen enough TV law shows to know there needs to be DNA: they only found some of his saliva, no semen. So, it comes down to his word against hers.
This is clearly a case of injustice. Well, not exactly.
We checked with a couple of prosecuting attorneys. They point to a broad definition of rape in Kansas.
According to Kansas statutes, rape is knowingly engaging in sex with a victim who does not consent. The victim must be overcome by force or fear or incapacitated, which includes being unconscious or inebriated enough to be “incapable of giving consent."
Judge Pokorny ordered Wilson bound over on rape charges citing the girl being too incapacitated to consent, and that because he was larger than her and drunk, she would not be able to get away from him, i.e., force.
Video from the club and the girl’s testimony was used to establish her drunken incapacitated status.
CREDIBILITY, PLAUSIBILITY, AND CULPABILITY
Still, Wilson maintains that in the estimated five minutes they were probably in his house, they did not have sex, while the girl says they did.
David Haley, a Kansas Senator and attorney, says it’s sad. ‘The manner in which they devalued, undermined and discredited one of the parties' position in the case and gave credit to the other who is equally culpable in this,” Haley said.
“It’s our society that is on trial here,” said Haley. “Our society is guilty of looking at race as a determining factor to decide credibility, plausibility, and culpability."
By credibility, Haley said, “Are we going to believe his story over hers?
Plausibility: Can I believe you had this young girl at your house on your bed, and instead of having sex with her you decided to go back to the club to find out what your friend was calling and texting you about?
Culpability: Who do you blame? Who is responsible here?
Obviously, the judge and the jury bought the girl's story over Wilson’s.
GROWING FOCUS ON CAMPUS RAPE
For a while now, college campuses have had a problem with rape and sexual aggression. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, there’s a growing demand for college administrators to take on the issue.
Nationally, younger people are at the highest risk of sexual violence. More than 50% of sexual assault victims are less than 30 years old, and 20% - 25% of college women will be the victim of forced sex during their time in college.
College is a carefree time for students where they grow and explore, and two of the things they explore are sex and alcohol, which don’t mix well when it comes to sexual assault.
According to alcohol.org, 43% of sexual assault events involve alcohol use by the victim and 69% involve alcohol use by the perpetrator.
While the incidence rate of rape is high, only 25% of cases are even reported. Maybe we can just conclude that Wilson came out on the bad end of the reporting odds.
RACISM IN RAPE
As college campuses begin to respond to their problem with rape and sexual assault, it turns out Black men are disproportionately charged in these cases.
In a 2017 Atlantic Magazine article, “The Question of Race in Campus Sexual-Assault Cases,” the author asks the question, “Is the system biased against men of color?”
While the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which regulates how colleges respond to sexual assault, collects a lot of data on race, it does not require colleges and universities to document the race of the accused and accuser in sexual-assault complaints. So there isn’t any compiled data. But an OCR investigator told the Atlantic Magazine he’s concerned that there isn’t more concern about what he sees as a disproportionate number of Black, minority and foreign men charged in college rape cases.
In a 2015 Harvard Law Review article, Harvard Professor Janet Halley wrote, “American racial history is laced with vendetta-like scandals in which Black men are accused of sexually assaulting White women,” followed eventually by the revelation “that the accused men were not wrongdoers at all.”
She writes that “morning-after remorse can make sex that seemed like a good idea at the time look really alarming in retrospect; and the general social disadvantage that Black men continue to carry in our culture can make it easier for everyone in the adjudicative process to put the blame on them.”
Back in the Atlantic article, another Ivy League law professor who has been involved in sexual-assault policy said, “Nobody wants to talk about it.” He said students are pushing their boundaries and that many hook up with a partner of a different ethnicity for the first time. But then, “if there is any kind of perceived injury—emotional or physical—when you cross racial lines, there’s likely to be more animus. It needs to be talked about and hasn’t been.”
So maybe it wasn’t the odds that got to Wilson after all. Maybe it was just plain racism.
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED?
We asked Wichita Pastor Jermaine Pennington, who’s worked with situations of human trafficking, which often have sexuality and the sex trade at its roots, how can we reduce the number of Black men charged in rape cases, particularly those involving White women/girls?
“There are real conversations we must have with our Black boys,” said Pennington, who has two sons. Just like he’ll have a conversation with his boys when they start to drive about Driving While Black and how to interact with the police, he’ll make sure they know they need to protect themselves in other ways.
Pennington says he’ll make sure his boys understand how they are demonized and portrayed is not a coincidence. Bottom line, what his grandmother told him still holds true: “We can’t do what they do.”
“Here again, there is certainly a need for us to continue to address this mindset, that in some ways our proximity to Whiteness signifies you’ve made it,” said Pennington. “This becomes a fatal error. Not that we need segregation, there are just things we need to be more conscious of. We have to be conscious they’re not playing by the same rules we are.”
[Correction: The print edition of this article incorrectly gives the accuser's age as 16; she was 17.]