Thursday, August 5, 2010

How many ways can a falsely accused teenage boy be victimized? Meet Damon Hadley

We dip into the archives to briefly spotlight the case of Damon Hadley who landed himself in the news and on national television a couple of years ago. (That's Damon and his Mom in the picture.)  Damon seems like a perfectly normal kid, a good kid, in fact. In no manner does he fit my notions of a bad guy or, heaven forbid, a criminal.

Damon didn't deserve what happened to him, and by my count, he was victimized three times for doing nothing more than average 17-year-old guys do all the time: Damon had first time, consensual sex with his slightly younger girlfriend.  Mind you, this is not an endorsement of teenage sex, it's a recognition that it is common.

How was Damon victimized? (1) Damon was victimized by his 15-1/2-year-old girlfriend, who lied that he raped her because she feared getting in trouble for having consensual sex; (2) Damon was victimized by his girlfriend's father, who assaulted him outside school when he learned his daughter had been "raped," and later publicly professed that he wished he had done worse even after he found out his daughter lied; and (3) Damon was victimized by an absurd law that branded 17-year-old boys who dared to have sex with their 15-1/2-year-old girlfriends as "criminals" who should be sent to prison for a year.

How's that for a brief, illicit romp in the sheets?  The frightening thing about Damon's experience is that it is so terribly common. Every aspect of this story rears its ugly head in our newspapers on a regular basis.

To briefly summarize: one September school day, Damon and the girl he was secretly dating (her parents didn't allow her to date -- red flag number one) skipped out of school and went to his house for consensual sex. It was his first time. "[Having sex is] something that she brought up before I did, so I thought it was something she wanted to do," said Damon. In fact, she later admitted it was entirely consensual. But it was still illegal -- for him alone, of course -- because she wasn't yet 16. “I didn’t know there was a certain age you had to be to have sex,” Damon later admitted.  Most boys probably don't.  Never mind that girls mature faster than boys in every way. The boy is the predator who should have his life destroyed for doing something his equally mature girlfriend initiated.

Later that day, Damon and his girlfriend tried to sneak back into school. School officials separated them, and questioned them. It was then that the girl accused Damon of forcing himself on her, but Damon didn't know that just yet. He was to find out quickly. That afternoon, as school was letting out, Damon saw his girlfriend’s father and brother waiting in a car outside school. The two jumped out and ran toward him.  “I didn’t move at all, I just froze,” Damon said. “I didn’t know what to do. Her dad hit me. I was on the ground, I just remember him standing on top of me and hitting me. He kept saying, ‘Did you (have sex with) my daughter?’” As the father hit Damon, his son stood behind him watching. Damon's mouth filled with blood. Some students walked by; others stopped to stare.  (Would they have walked by or stopped to stare if a girl was being beaten by an adult male?)  Eventually, one of Damon’s friends took him to the school nurse’s office.  Damon learned that his girlfriend had accused him of rape. She later admitted lying, saying she made up the false report because she was scared. Damon told police the girl's parents did not allow her to date.

The girl's father admitted without regret that he hit Damon, and, in fact, he publicly stated he wished he had done worse. Here is what the father said even after he found out his daughter lied about Damon forcing himself on her:  "So I hit him. Do I regret what I did? No. Would I do it differently? Yes, I would, I would." And what would he do differently? "Now? Take that kid, stick him in the car, tie a rope around his neck and go as fast as I could up and down the highways, every single highway there is," he said.  Nice man. The father was charged with simple assault for his attack on Damon.

So, up to this point, Damon was twice victimized: once by his girlfriend, and once by his girlfriend's father. Hadn't he suffered enough for doing what teenage boys do on a regular basis every single day of the week?  The law enforcement apparatus didn't think so.  Damon was arrested and charged with misdemeanor sexual assault, which carried up to a year behind bars, because the girl was not 16, the age of consent.

Eventually, the girl's father was sentenced to 12 months in jail and Damon was sentenced to three months. Both sentences were suspended on condition of good behavior.  Thankfully, Damon was not placed on a sex offender's list. 

The girl's father was later charged in an unrelated incident with aggravated felonious sexual assault, sexual assault and providing alcohol to minors. I will not talk about "poetic justice" because I do not know if he was guilty of the crimes charged, or if he, himself, was the victim of a false accusation. I suppose the latter would be poetic justice of some sort, but I never wish a false rape claim on anyone.

So, who do you think was the only one to emerge from this ordeal unscathed?  The girlfriend, of course.  Some demanded that she be charged with filing a false police report. The problem was, she didn't make a false police report. She lied to her mother, and her mother called the police, so technically, the girl didn't make a false police report. 

The Lessons

Teenage boys need to understand the dangerous world they live in.  Rape lies are common and the poison they emit takes many forms.  When a girl claims her boyfriend raped her, the male members of her family typically go insane.  And when one of them beats up the boy, people will walk by and let it happen -- because, after all, he's just a boy. So if you are a young man having sex with a girl who might think she needs to cover it up from a parent, please know that too many girls will not hesitate to throw you under the bus and cry "rape" to save her skin.

And boys need to be taught the law about the age of consent.  Every state has its own laws, and boys need to know what their state says.  As it is, we are allowing our sons to be branded as criminals for doing what boys always do -- even though no sane person thinks it's criminal.

In addition, the law needs to be changed in several respects. First, anyone who tells a rape lie to someone with the reasonable expectation that such other person will make a police report should be criminally charged. (But don't hold your breath waiting for that change. Heaven forbid we should discourage rape liars from coming forward.)

Second, the legislative efforts in various states to de-criminalize consensual sex between teens within several years of each other should move faster. No state should send a 17-year-old boy to prison for having sex with his slightly younger girlfriend.

The biggest lesson: you young men need to know that your penises are viewed by pretty much everyone as dangerous weapons, more deadly than firearms.  You will be looked upon as a suspect for all sorts of things merely because you are packing one of those things.  And because you're a suspect, it's damn easy to make people believe you did something awful even when you didn't. 

You all need to know that now, before it's too late.