This Missouri Rape Case Is Depressingly Familiar

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Photo: Shutterestock

A small town in America’s heartland has been rocked by a sexual-assault scandal involving well-connected football players and a young teenager from out of town. Sound familiar yet? It will only get more so. 

According to a long report in the Kansas City Star, 14-year-old Daisy Coleman (who agreed to be named), a cheerleader, competitive dancer, and the new girl at Maryville High School, got blackout drunk at a house party full of athletes and upperclassmen. She was later carried out of the party, half-conscious and crying, by Matt Barnett, 17. Coleman’s mother noticed physical signs her daughter had been raped after she found Daisy passed out on her front step before dawn the next morning (wearing just a T-shirt and sweatpants in below-freezing weather), a diagnosis that was later confirmed in a hospital exam, leading to Barnett’s arrest.

As in Steubenville, another boy at the party confessed to making a video of Coleman and Barnett's encounter, but it was never found, even though Coleman's brother says it was circulated at school to embarrass her. A few weeks later, the sexual-assault charges were dismissed, amid Steubenville-ish rumors of a cover-up. (Barnett’s family is prominent in the state, but denies interference.) Meanwhile, Daisy’s classmates voiced their support for Barnett on social media (“F— yeah. That’s what you get for bein a skank : )”) and offline. “At a dance competition,” the Star reports, “a girl arrived wearing a homemade shirt: Matt 1, Daisy 0.”

Maryville only truly departs from Steubenville in what happened next. Charges dropped, Barnett went off to college as planned; Daisy is in therapy, in and out of the hospital, and has attempted suicide. Daisy's mother was fired from her veterinary-clinic job because the possibility that she would press civil charges was “putting stress on everybody in here,” according to her former boss. The Colemans eventually moved out of town. Within a few weeks, their former home was burned down under mysterious circumstances.

A parent of one of the bystanders at the party told the Star that the boys are owed an apology, presumably for all the media scrutiny. And there has been no shortage of thoughtful, humanizing, and necessary stories about the toll the false accusations made by an overeager Internet mob took on innocent people in Steubenville. But with each uncannily similar case, my capacity for nuance gets a little more depleted.