A Kansas woman who used 134-year-old state law to convene a civil grand jury After a prosecutor refused to file rape charges against a man he accused of assault, on Wednesday said she was furious but not surprised the jury did not charge in the case.
Madison Smith, 23, of McPherson, gathered hundreds of signatures to list for a grand jury after she was slapped and strangled during a sexual encounter in her dorm room by a fellow student at Bethany College in February 2018. student, Jared Stolzenberg, was sentenced. Two years’ probation after pleading guilty to aggravated battery.
The grand jury convened on October 18, and Smith was informed of its decision on Tuesday.
Smith said the grand jury’s refusal to bring charges of rape reinforces society’s reluctance to deal honestly and fairly with sexual assault victims.
“I was furious that people didn’t see rape for it and refused to be educated about it,” Smith said. “I was also annoyed that I had to take so many steps that the victims didn’t have to, and it still didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”
Defense attorney Brent Boyer said Wednesday that he did not represent Stolzenberg for some time and declined to comment on the grand jury’s decision.
Kansas is one of six states that allow citizens to petition for grand jury, using a law passed in 1887. Smith’s case is believed to have been used for the first time by someone making a sexual assault claim.
Smith said that her encounter with Stolzenberg was consensual until he began slapping and strangling her, where she began to lose consciousness and feared he was going to kill her. She said that she could not withdraw the consent verbally as she was suffocating.
When McPherson County Attorney Gregory Benifil refused to file rape charges, Smith used Kansas law to call her his grand jury. She stood on the side of the road and told her story to strangers collecting hundreds of signatures on petitions. And he did this twice after the first petition was rejected due to technicalities.
Despite the grand jury’s decision, Smith said she had no regrets about making her case public and hoped it would lead to a change in the treatment of sexual assault victims by law enforcement officers and society in general.
“I’m just sick and tired of being silent about people being raped,” she said. “I wanted to bring awareness not only to my case but to the fact that victims of rape and sexual assault do not get justice or treatment.”
Benifel did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the grand jury’s decision. In an interview in May, he said sex crimes are “extremely challenging to prosecute” because jurors are “looking for that CSI type of evidence.”
He said he believed both he and Smith were seeking “truth and justice”, but had differing views on what would happen in this case.
Smith’s mother, Mandy, who works at Bethany College in Lindsborg, about 70 miles (112.65 kilometers) north of Wichita, said she is proud of her daughter’s determination to stand up for herself and shine a light on how sexual assault victims are treated by the legal system.
Mandy Smith said, “She was not treated with any sympathy or respect.” “Prosecutors don’t quite understand how to do their job in a trauma-informed way and that’s a big part of the problem in these cases … This case should help get the consent education out there. It’s going to be everywhere.” It should and it is not.”
Justin Boardman, a retired detective who trains police and prosecutors to investigate sex crimes, said law enforcement officers and prosecutors are often “speaking a different language” than sexual assault victims, mainly because Because of cultural prejudices about crimes.
He said law enforcement officers and the public often question why victims don’t scream, or fight back, or why victims sometimes struggle or cry to tell their stories. All of those responses are related to how the brain reacts to trauma, he said, and there is “a huge gap in miscommunication” between victims and law enforcement.
Madison Smith, who graduated in May and is working as a medical assistant when applying to nursing schools, said she was encouraged by the support she received from family, friends and strangers during the process.
“We rolled the bat as hard as we could and unfortunately we missed,” he said. “I just wanted to know that I tried to do everything I could.”