Legal system continues to fail survivors

Women continue to face difficulty in seeking justice for sexual assault at a national level


Shaila Prasad, Contributing Columnist

As an 18-year-old student starting college this year, I was given a lot of advice. I was told how to keep my room clean and appropriately manage my time. But, as a girl, these conversations inevitably transformed into making sure I only take closed drinks at parties and don’t walk home too late at night. Such is part of an acknowledgment that Title IX is not the pillar it was set out to be.

Last week, despite initially facing eight years in prison, 20-year-old Christopher Belter was sentenced to eight years probation. How someone who pleaded guilty to third-degree rape, attempted sexual assault and two counts of second-degree abuse to minors — all within 18 months — can be released without severe consequences is sickening. It speaks to the continued difficulty survivors face in seeking justice at a national level.

The result of Belter’s trial reveals varying concerns. First and foremost is the undoubted influence his background had on his limited sentence.

Belter is a white, heterosexual male from Lewiston, N.Y. He lives in a mansion and goes to Canisius High School, an elite private school in Buffalo. He doesn’t fit the stereotype of a “rapist” that is influenced by racist and classist thinking. 

Due to this misguided perception, rapists like Belter are given sympathy by judges like Matthew J. Murphy III, who victimize these offenders.

I acknowledge Murphy’s decision to decide Belter would be tried as an adult, although Belter’s offenses occurred when he was 16, and thus he faces greater jail time. But, at the end of the day, Belter’s future was prioritized when Murphy said that “incarceration … isn’t appropriate.”

Along with Belter’s probationary sentence, he will be put on the sex offender registry. Murphy remarked that the penalty will be like a “sword hanging over his head.” Many fail to remember that the sex offender registry was initially created to prevent child rapists from reoffending by keeping them away from minors. Belter was 16 when he attacked other 16-year-old girls. How is keeping him from schools and playgrounds going to help prevent future attacks?

Sex offenders are over-registered, which limits the control law enforcement has over the registry. Frequently, law enforcement cannot keep track of sex offenders who move away, especially offenders with high recidivism rates – offenders like Belter. Being on the sex offender registry also means Belter cannot watch pornography, a role which he already violated in the past.

One of the victim’s attorneys — who has been a trial lawyer for over 30 years — stated: “If this individual was not a rich white kid from a privileged background and an influential family, he would be in prison right now.” Unfortunately, this is true and is one of the numerous pitfalls in the Murphy decision.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case because there was great pain,” Murphy said.

I have a deep-seated respect for all religions, but I also feel that religious beliefs should not play a role in upholding the law on which society runs. Such leads to reducing the victim’s trauma to “great pain” and overplayed concerns for a rapist with multiple offenses.

The attorney mentioned above also defended a victim who chose to go by the name “M.M.” On Aug. 25, M.M made a statement describing how she focused on a potted plant in Belter’s room while he raped her on Aug. 2, 2018. He called her a baby for resisting. Murphy believed this statement struck an emotional chord in Belter, but Murphy’s disciplinary actions only played into M.M’s statement.

“That 16-year-old girl trusted a bit too much that justice would have been served,” M.M said, “She had just assumed that all rapists go to jail.”

M.M is only one of many women and girls around the country who are disappointed and terrified by the lack of integrity female rape victims are given. My disappointment extends to Title IX.

Title IX is supposed to assist rape victims, but, has proven to give rapists confidentiality and often doesn’t result in any criminal consequences. Wake Forest University has faced Title IX cases in the past, which has caused chaos within the student body. Frankly, if men and women on campus are under the impression that filing a Title IX complaint will most likely be of no help, isn’t change essential?

So, when M.M threw up in the court bathroom after finding out that Belter, the man who raped her, was walking out of that courtroom a free man, I want you to remember that there are thousands of others like her.

Some women never say anything. Others are too ashamed to publicize their real names, even though the people who should be ashamed are their rapists. Meanwhile, some survivors fight with their names on their sleeves only to live side by side with the same men who scarred them for life.