OPINION: Alleged Sexual Assault at Lisbon High Has Me at a Loss
I desperately wish I knew how to handle stories such as Lisbon High Schooler Kirsten Kalesnick's.
This story has been in the headlines for days but to get you up to speed here's the story in her own words, and I'll warn you, it's not easy to read:
Students rallied in support of Kirsten and to encourage the school to make changes. You can read about that from the Times Record here.
Here are two things I believe to my core:
1. This entire alleged situation is heartbreaking. Devastating. Awful. It makes me sick. For anyone to experience such a trauma breaks my heart to the core. Trauma is sticky. It can manifest differently for different people but it's still present, oftentimes for years. And to have to go through that during your senior year of high school, a time that should be so exciting and joyful, adds another element of utter heartbreak I feel for Kirsten.
2. Innocent until proven guilty is one of the most important elements of our justice system. The sad reality is that reputations and lives have been ruined by false accusations of various crimes.
Here are two things I feel:
1. I feel like Kirsten is telling the truth. I believe her. Truly, I do. And because I believe her...
2. I want her rapist to be expelled from school immediately and go behind bars.
However, and this is the biggest, ugliest, most uncomfortable, however, ever, just because I feel this way does not mean my feelings should impact due process which this alleged rapist deserves, like it or not. And I don't like it, not for him. But to be consistent in what I value, I have to hold to that. If we can't stick to our values when it's difficult, why have them in the first place? I can't pick and choose.
I wonder how we can strike a balance here. I want Kirsten to feel safe and enjoy her last months of high school. I also want to avoid the dangerous precedent of guilty until proven innocent (except in certain circumstances involving children) to avoid ruining someone's life over a grudge or utter cruelty.
Sexual assault is not a weapon and to use it as such is abhorrent. Now let me be clear, I AM NOT SAYING THAT'S WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE, but, even in rare circumstances, it does happen. I can't ignore that.
So I think, perhaps the punishment against false accusers should be harsh in order to prevent false accusations from happening in the future?
Then I worry that this will keep victims from coming forward, and that's no good.
I think the accused is still entitled to his education at this time. I think Kirsten is entitled to feel safe in her school. These two things simply cannot coexist and therein lies the dilemma. Should one student be isolated with a tutor? It's certainly not "fair" but I am at a loss of what the appropriate course of action should be.
I want to believe alleged victims and often do. I want to believe them every time because I want to believe that no one in their right mind would lie about something so horrific. So traumatic.
In my gut, I want to grab a pitchfork and stand outside the school. But what would I demand without compromising something I believe?
So here I am reading the reports, bewildered over what to recommend. How to reconcile the things I feel, the things I know, and the things I believe. How to be consistent.
Is it even possible?