Genarlow Wilson, the teenage boy who was sentenced to ten years in prison for consensual1 oral sex with another teenager (at the time, he was 17 and the girl was 15, which is “aggravated child molestation” according to Georgia law), had his sentence thrown out by a judge who called his sentence “a grave miscarriage of justice.” But the Attorney General of Georgia has appealed, meaning that for now Wilson remains in prison.
Wilson’s long minimum sentence stems from the fact that Georgia’s laws, at the time of Wilson’s conviction, called for a harsh 10-year minimum sentence for “aggravated child molestation” (which includes oral sex). If Wilson had had coital sex with the 15-year-old, rather than getting a blow job, he would have been sentenced to one year instead of ten years. I suspect the harsher penalties for non-coital sex were based on the association of non-coital sex with homosexuality; so although Wilson is being punished for straight sex, he may be a victim of homophobia.
It’s also hard not to suspect that the system would have found a way to be more merciful — or the Attorney General would have given this appeal a pass — if Wilson weren’t Black.
One last disturbing note about this case: Wilson was also acquitted of raping a different girl at the same party. Of course it’s impossible to be 100% certain, but from what ABC reported, it sounds to me like Wilson probably is a rapist, despite the acquittal.
In a portion of a tape obtained by “Primetime,” Wilson, then 17 and an honor student and star athlete who was homecoming king, is seen having intercourse with a 17-year-old girl, who was seen earlier on the bathroom floor. During the sex act, she appears to be sleepy or intoxicated but never asks Wilson to stop. Later on in the tape, she is seen being pulled off the bed.
Other portions of the tape show a second girl, who was 15 and later said she did not drink that night. She was recorded having oral sex with several boys in succession, including Wilson.
The following morning, Wilson got a phone call that would change his life. He learned from a friend that the 17-year-old had gone to the police to report that she’d been raped.
“I was, like, ‘What? When was this happening? Did this happen at the same party I was at?’” Wilson said. “It was shocking to me.”
Authorities believed the 17-year-old alleged rape victim and said she was too intoxicated to consent to any sexual acts, which is what Georgia law requires, otherwise these acts can be considered rape.
Wilson maintained his innocence. “I know that it was consensual,” he told “Primetime.” “I wouldn’t went on with the acts if it wasn’t consensual. I’m not that kind of person. No means no.”
Five of the boys accepted plea deals, but Wilson — the only one without a police record — held out. [...] Jurors voted to acquit Wilson of raping the 17-year-old.
“I mean it wasn’t even an hour,” said jury forewoman Marie Manigault. “We immediately saw the tape for what it was. We went back and saw it again and saw what actually happened and everybody immediately said not guilty.”
Notice that Wilson’s defense — that he understands that “no means no” — is exactly the kind of thinking that leads a lot of date rapists to think their rapes of semi-conscious victims are justified. “She didn’t say no,” in their minds, is enough to make the event “not rape”; that she actively say yes is not required, in this view.
Unfortunately, that belief is held not just by a lot of date-rapists, but by a lot of people everywhere, which is (perhaps) why the jury found acquitting Wilson of rape so easy. My view is that when someone is nearly asleep during sex with a half-dozen boys and men, and when she’s so out of it that she has to be pulled off the bed (presumably because she wasn’t able to get up by herself), and then she says that she didn’t consent — that’s rape.
EDITED TO ADD: Just to be clear, folks, I am in no way claiming that punishing Wilson for consensual sex is okay because in a separate incident he probably raped someone. Obviously, I don’t want the law to work that way. Sorry if my post was unclear on this point.