The Steubenville rape case attracted national attention last year because of how extraordinary — and terrible — that story was: A young girl was victimized first by her teenaged rapists, and then by the town itself, which engaged in the worst kind of victim-blaming and rushed to the defense of her attackers, who were athletes for the town’s pride and glory, the high school football team.
But in the months since that case first came to light, national attention has turned to more and more cases like Steubenville’s. Just this weekend, another, eerily similar story emerged — this time in the town of Maryville, Missouri.
The Kansas City Star published on Sunday their remarkable, seven-month investigation into an eerily similar story that unfolded last year in the small, northwestern Missouri town of Maryville. In this case, though, the rape victim never got to see her horror story go to trial — and the family’s terror hasn’t ended; they’ve even had their house burned down.
Fourteen-year-old Daisy and her 13-year-old friend were both high school freshman in January 2012, when they were invited to a house party by a senior star of the Maryville football team. Once there, the older girl was given a large glass filled with alcohol and urged by a room full of some of the school’s most popular athletes to drink it. She did, and they handed her a second glass.
The following morning, Daisy’s mother discovered her daughter, alone on her front lawn in sub-freezing temperatures, weeping. She helped Daisy into the bathtub after finding her outside, where she noticed reddish, irritated areas around her daughter’s genitalia and buttocks.
Daisy’s mom also found the 13-year-old friend was upstairs in Daisy’s room, also “confused.” Both girls were taken to a hospital. On Daisy’s body, a doctor found small vaginal tears emblematic of someone who has just had sex. The 13-year-old, who remembered the night’s events, told investigators she was forced to have sex, despite saying “no” over and over again.
Eyewitnesses who spoke with the Star, including Daisy’s 13-year-old friend, recall seeing Daisy being carried — crying — by some of the older boys out of the house into a car.
It didn’t take long for police to round up Barnett and other partiers for questioning. Barnett, a 17-year-old defensive end for the Maryville High School football team, admitted to having sex with Daisy but said it was consensual. Jordan Zech, a teammate and standout wrestler for Maryville, admitted to recording some of the encounter on another friend’s iPhone.
Within days, both were arrested in the case. Barnett was facing a felony sexual assault charge and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. Zech was also charged, for sexual exploitation of a minor.
But like Steubenville before it, the town of Maryville revolted against the facts in the case.
Days after the incident became public knowledge, students at the high school began attacking Daisy and her family. On social media, fellow Maryville students began threatening Daisy, tweeting that she would “get whats comin.” Daisy’s older brother Charlie, who was himself an athlete for Maryville, was booed by his own classmates during a wrestling meet. Her mother, a veterinarian, was fired from her job two weeks after the incident without so much as an explanation, only later learning that her boss feared that her presence “was putting stress” on her other employees.
Meanwhile, members of the community rallied behind Barnett and the other perpetrators. In March, just over two months after the alleged rape took place, the most serious charges of sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor were dropped without an explanation.
Daisy’s family moved away to avoid the threats and harassment they faced since her story first came to light. But the trouble didn’t end. Six months ago, their old house burned down mysteriously.
If the story sounds at all familiar, it’s because it almost mirrors the case in Steubenville, Ohio. Like Steubenville, the perpetrators were members of the high school’s immensely successful football team. Like Steubenville, the town of Maryville rallied behind the alleged rapists and ostracized the victim. And like Steubenville, the events in Maryville are quickly becoming a national story.
In some ways, though, the Maryville case is actually worse. Barnett, aside from being a celebrated athlete, also happens to be the grandson of a prominent Missouri state senator. Less than a week before the charges against Barnett and Zech were dropped, Daisy’s mother got a phone call from a friend who warned that “ favors were being called in and that the charges would be dropped.”
The Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice, who was responsible for the case against Barnett and Zech, also has political ties to Rex Barnett, the grandfather of Matt Barnett. When the mother of the victim sought an explanation from Rice as to why he dropped the charges against both boys, he ignored her phone calls. The Star finally tracked down Rice months later and asked the same question, and — in his office, where a picture of Rex Barnett hangs — he told the paper simply that it was due to a lack of evidence. He went on to dismiss the events of that night as the act of “incorrigible teenagers.”
The video that Zech admitted to filming on an iPhone has never surfaced, not even to police. And Missouri state law dictates that in cases where the charges are dropped, all of the records pertaining to the case — interviews with eyewitnesses, tests done on bedsheets, the results of rape kits — are sealed.
Even if Maryville didn’t learn anything from the Steubenville case, the media has an opportunity to show that they have. As rape cases have emerged in the national spotlight, news outlets from ABC News to Yahoo have been quick to portray the accused rapists as the real victims, denied of promising futures, or an opportunity to play in a few high school football games.
The Raw Story reported on Monday that Anonymous, the hackivist organization that involved itself in the Steubenville rape case, has launched #OpMaryville, an effort to hold the alleged perpetrators — and those responsible for their prosecution — accountable. After Steubenville came to light, a similar group of Anonymous operatives threatened to publish personal information about the football players at the center of the rape investigation unless they offered a public apology. In a letter posted online, the group stated its demand for an investigation into why the charges were dropped and what — if any — role the suspect’s political connections played in the handling of the case.