Last week, while I was making my daily rounds of my favorite news sites, I stumbled across a Buzzfeed article about 15-year-old Daisy Coleman of Albany, Mo. Daisy’s story struck me immediately. A few paragraphs in, I found a link to a longer feature piece in the Kansas City Star by Dugan Arnett on what soon became known as the Maryville rape case.
Arnett’s story begins with a smoldering house in Maryville, Mo., the house that was once occupied by Melinda Coleman and her four children. Melinda moved her family to Maryville from Albany three years ago to leave behind the painful memories of her husband’s death and to give her three sons, Charlie, Logan, and Tristan, and daughter, Daisy, a clean slate. Arnett reported that the Colemans had an easy adjustment to Maryville. Daisy in particular had joined her high school’s cheerleading squad and a local dance team. Everything was going well until one bitingly cold night in January 2012.
According to allegations made by Daisy, who was 14 at the time, on the night of January 7, she and her friend Paige Parkhurst, then 13, were having a sleepover at the Colemans and drinking from a stash in Daisy’s closet. Daisy had been texting senior football player Matthew Barnett, grandson of former Missouri Rep. Rex Barnett, for a few months, and that night in particular, he asked the girls to come to his house for a party. Daisy and Paige snuck out of Daisy’s room and into Barnett’s car. He drove the teens to his house and brought them into his basement. From there, a teenage boy took Paige into a basement bedroom and Daisy says she was given a large glass of clear liquid – and that’s the last thing she can remember.
The next morning, Melinda Coleman heard scratching on her front door. Figuring the dogs had gotten out, she opened it up to find her daughter in sweatpants and a T-shirt. Her hair was frozen. Temperatures in Maryville the night before had dipped into the low 20s. When she brought her inside and put her in a warm bath, she noticed marks on her daughter’s body consistent with sexual assault. She asked Daisy what happened to her. Daisy started to cry.
Arnett details the results of the horrific incident: how Daisy and Paige filed charges against their attackers that were later dropped, how the town of Maryville bullied and shamed the girls in an ugly instance of victim blaming, how Melinda Coleman was fired from her job in the months following the incident, and finally, how the bullying got so bad that Melinda was forced to move her family back to Albany. Daisy attempted suicide twice after she was allegedly raped.
For over a year, the case was forgotten to all but its victims. But last week, the Kansas City Star’s seven-month investigation was released, and it ignited an Internet firestorm calling for justice. The self-proclaimed “Hactivist” group, Anonymous, began a crusade against the town of Maryville and the alleged rapists in Daisy and Paige’s case. Using the Twitter hashtag #Justice4Daisy, the organization raised awareness about Daisy’s case and sparked outrage about how it was handled by the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Office.
Many notable media outlets, including CNN, picked up the story as it gained attention nationwide. On October 15, Anonymous reported that Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder had called for a grand jury in Daisy’s case. The case is making headway following an incredible outpouring of support for Daisy and Paige from several Internet communities.
This story has captivated me for many reasons. First, the Kansas City Star article by Arnett was tremendously well-written, researched, and detailed. If the article had been half as good, I believe the case would’ve gotten about half as much coverage. Because Arnett’s telling of the events read like a finely-crafted novel, the sense of injustice and grief surrounding the case built as the story went on. Once I was finished reading, I sent the article to the people closest to me because it affected me that much. As I said in a tweet on the day I read it, I can only hope to one day write a story that affects people like Arnett’s affected me. In my opinion, one of the best things about journalism is that it has the power to drive people to action and to justice.
Second, these tragic events have become far too common in small communities across the country. People deny the existence of rape culture, yet it is perpetuated daily without the knowledge of its supporters. In the Maryville case, Daisy was called brutal names and constantly told that she “deserved it.” In Steubenville, a group of teenage boys made a video laughing hysterically about the girl they saw raped, commenting that she was “deader than Trayvon.” How can these things still be happening in 2013?
Third, Daisy’s story itself just breaks my heart. In a case where a young girl was allegedly raped – brutally – while she was completely intoxicated and then left to die in the cold, I cannot fathom that no one was brought to justice. Rape is one of the most serious crimes an individual can commit against another, yet it is leniently punished in many states across the country. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 54 percent – that’s over half – of sexual assaults go unreported and 97 percent of rapists will not spend a single day in jail. It’s statistics like these that the public needs to be aware of. This is why Daisy’s case is so important. As much as I want justice for Daisy, I want justice for every other victim of sexual assault whose story may not be spread nationally. For every victim afraid to speak out. For every victim who, like Daisy, was shamed into believing that what happened to her was somehow her fault.
I want justice for victims. All victims. But for now, Daisy Coleman is a good place to start.