U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled Monday that Kyle Rittenhouse, the Washington Nationals infielder who pleaded guilty to eight charges for the 2014 rape of a 17-year-old Delaware girl, is too young to be considered a victim of the crime for purposes of filing a sex-crime complaint against him.
It’s a controversial rule in the federal rape-law arena, with supporters of the latter position arguing that a child who is a victim of sexual assault is not the same as someone who is falsely accused of similar activity, and that “victim” is generally defined as someone who is physically harmed as a result of an alleged sex offense. Rittenhouse’s attorney, Alfred Dodero, who is considering an appeal, does not appear to agree, stating in court filings that “Child victims of rape do experience physical injuries and significant emotional trauma and distress.”
In court filings and Monday’s ruling, Dodero argued that his client was a “victim” of the crime and should be allowed to submit a victim-impact statement because, as a minor, he was falsely accused of rape. Victim-impact statements aren’t considered reliable “insight” into how a sex crime impacts victims, Hogan ruled, saying “the concerns for privacy of the minor cannot outweigh the important point that a minor is considered a victim of such a crime.”
“This is a person who was 18 years old and had a reasonable belief that he was 18,” the judge said. “This is someone who believed he was 18. He believed he was 17. So, let’s lay this all aside, let’s not talk about now the fact that this is a person who was 18 years old, maybe 18 years old, maybe 18 years old, people say were 17, 16, 17 — forget all of that, let’s focus on now the fact that he was essentially 16 and 17 years old.”
He called it a “logical conclusion” that Rittenhouse “was someone who had not yet fully come into his own, who was still navigating his own sexuality and gender identity” when the crime occurred. His arrest came after former Cardinal Gibbons High School football player and fellow football teammate Jeffrey Traylor confessed that he had coerced Rittenhouse into having sex with him and the underage girl.
“He took somebody that he thought was younger than him and pressured that person into having sex with him, which is considered, while theoretically not prohibited, not to be something that is normal at this age or considered okay,” Hogan said. “To take somebody like that, who at the time was 18, who thought that he was 18, somebody who was still finding his way through his own sexuality and gender identity, and saying take my word, I’m telling you to have sex with me, this is where the exceptional act is taking somebody that you’re told at 18 years old to keep hidden and blackmail that person to have sex with you.”
“You have a young man who is forced to engage in sex with a person that he is not necessarily comfortable with, who is still not aware, who is still trying to figure out who he is and how he feels about that,” the judge said. “You have a young man who then has that young woman, who has not yet become who she is. He does not know her, she has not yet come into her own, so to bring her in this situation, when she doesn’t want to be there, at that point in time when she doesn’t want to be there, it’s irresponsible on both sides.”
The Rittenhouse case marks the fourth time in the past two years that a rape claim involving an athlete has been rejected on the grounds that the athlete was the victim of sexual assault. Two years ago, a federal judge reversed the conviction of Adam McNary, a Washington State receiver, who was convicted in 2014 of raping a 15-year-old girl at his fraternity house at the University of Washington.
Two years before that, the same federal judge, William Yohn, dismissed the rape case against former Baylor University football player Sam Ukwuachu, who was accused of raping a fellow football player.