A Massachusetts high school senior was sentenced to two years of probation last week after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting two of his classmates while they were unconscious, reports MassLive. David Becker, an 18-year-old athlete, reportedly digitally penetrated his victims after they passed out from drinking at a house party in April.
Instead of handing down the prosecutors' recommendation of two years in prison, Palmer District Court Judge Thomas Estes ordered Becker's case continued without a finding for two years. This means no conviction will appear on Becker's record and he will not have to register as a sex offender as long as he remains drug and alcohol-free, submits to an evaluation for sex offender treatment, and stays away from the two young women he assaulted.
"We all made mistakes when we were 17, 18, 19 years old, and we shouldn't be branded for life with a felony offense and branded a sex offender," Becker's attorney, Thomas Rooke, told MassLive. "Putting this kid in jail for two years would have destroyed this kid's life."
According to court documents obtained by local news media, both victims woke up at different points in the night to find Becker touching them after they fell asleep together in an upstairs bedroom. One victim said she felt him insert a finger into her vagina; she immediately went downstairs to sleep on a couch. She told police that Becker sent her a text message shortly afterward: "Very sorry about last night I was very much in the wrong and was an embarrassment… I understand if I'm not your favorite person right now. Just wanted you to know that I really am sorry." She responded by telling him not to worry about it, but told police she didn't know what else to say.
Becker admitted to police that he touched the young woman, but said he thought it was okay because she didn't stop him.
The second victim also reported feeling someone fondle her and insert a finger into her vagina. She said she pushed the hand away each time and fell back asleep. Becker told police he did not touch her.
Becker had been charged with two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault. Neither of the young women attended the sentencing hearing, and Judge Estes has offered no comment on his decision.
Becker's case is the latest example of a white male student avoiding prison time after being charged with a serious sex crime. Earlier this month, former University of Colorado student Austin Wilkerson received 20 years of probation and two years in a work-release program after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. In June, Stanford swimmer Brock Turner received six months jail time for raping a young woman behind a dumpster, and a former Indiana University student, John Enochs, was sentenced to one day in jail and one year of probation for rape.
Irene Mata is an associate professor of women's and gender studies at Wellesley College. She tells Broadly that women's agency over their own bodies has long been ignored by the law. Just a few decades ago, she says, marital rape wasn't a prosecutable offense.
Even though the legal system has changed, Mata says "we still have lingering notions of us not having complete autonomy over our bodies."
Mata argues that the lenient sentences young men have received in recent months reveal an inability to empathize with survivors. "The legal system hasn't caught up," she says. "Even if they don't see themselves in these young [defendants], they definitely identify much more closely with those clean-cut, wealthy white men than they do with these victimized women."
Rooke, Becker's attorney, told the court that the avoidance of prison time will allow his client the opportunity "to go onto the next step of his life, which is a college experience. In fact, Becker's probation was set up so that he could attend school in Ohio. On Monday, however, the University of Ohio tweeted that Becker would not be enrolled as a student this year.