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Another College Rapist Is Avoiding Prison Time

Austin James Wilkerson raped a "half-conscious" woman after pretending he was going to look after the "fucking bitch," as he later described her. Somehow, he's avoiding prison.

by Allie Conti
Aug 11 2016, 4:30pm

On March 15, 2014, Austin James Wilkerson took it upon himself to look after a half-conscious girl who'd been drinking at a St. Patrick's Day party. Or at least, that's what he told one of the girl's friends. The 22-year-old made a show of giving the woman water and checking her pulse in front of his own roommate. Later, he would go on to penetrate her and ejaculate on her stomach when she "wasn't very responsive," as the Guardian reports he initially told investigators.

Wilkerson went so far as to reach out to the girl's friend after the incident, who responded by thanking him for being a Good Samaritan.

Wilkerson was eventually convicted of sexual assault in May and faced a sentence of four to 12 years in prison, but received none. Instead, he was given two years of "work release"—school during the day and county jail at night—along with at least 20 years of probation. The case bears an eerie resemblance to that of Brock Turner, the former star swimmer at Stanford who was convicted of raping a woman behind a dumpster and whose punishment of six months in jail sparked an international controversy and a campaign to unseat the presiding judge.

After the party that night, Wilkerson began telling friends he "fingered a passed out girl" and "let his hands wander." He also told university investigators he made multiple passes at her, referring to the now-21-year-old victim as a "fucking bitch." At trial, he changed his story to say that the victim engaged with him passionately. Finally, during sentencing—and unlike Turner—he admitted raping her and apologized for the pain he'd caused.

Despite the many lies that preceded his confession, the judge—echoing the one presiding over the Turner case—expressed concern for Wilkerson and said he wasn't sure prison would rehabilitate him. In January, the same Boulder, Colorado, court gave a former Air Force cadet who was convicted of rape just six months in county jail.

The reason for these paltry sentences is that rape isn't subject to mandatory minimum sentencing, according to John Wilkinson, an attorney at the legal group AEquitas, which helps prosecutors build sexual assault cases. Every state has suggestions for what penalties sexual assault should carry––the four to 12 years in the Colorado case. But then there's a pre-sentence investigation during which the office of probation looks into the offender to see if he or she has issues of substance abuse or a prior record, among other things. After that, the judge gets a recommendation, which includes a victim-impact statement.

"Those guidelines are discretionary, although judges typically follow them," Wilkinson told VICE. "Typically the question in these cases is how long [the rapist] is going to serve—not if they're going to serve. It makes you wanna find out what the judge heard or found out. Based on how this case went down, it looks like [Wilkinson] had a scheme or a plan in place, which would raise a huge red flag for me."

Sometimes when there's a jarring ruling in a sexual assault case, it's a result of patchwork laws that leave loopholes for offenders to wiggle through. But in this case, Wilkinson suspects it probably boils down to human error––the all-too-common tendency to blame the victim, or to assume that a consequence of getting drunk is sometimes getting raped.

"Somebody's gotta have a final say, and in our system, it's judges," he told me. "Sometimes we have great ones, sometimes just really good ones, sometimes we have ones who get things wrong, and other times there are ones who have a blind spot for violence against women. Judges are people, too––it's just like any other profession."

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