The state of Maryland is no longer pursuing sexual assault charges against two teenagers who were accused of dragging a 14-year-old girl into the bathroom of Rockville High School and raping her.
The accused students, 18-year-old Henry Sanchez Milian and 17-year-old Jose Montano, are reportedly immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally. That made them people of great interest for foes of illegal immigration: Right-leaning pundits cited the pair as evidence that our schools were threatened by armies of illegal immigrant rapists. #RockvilleRape was a popular topic on Fox News, where one guest said "they're raping and killing our people, and that's why Trump won." Breitbart continuously played up the gruesome details, noting that "the suspects allegedly forced a girl to perform oral sex on them in a bathroom stall while they raped and sodomized her, despite her crying out in pain, begging them to stop, police said."
Now the case against the two teens has collapsed. According to The Washington Post:
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said at a press conference that "the original charges cannot be sustained and prosecution is untenable" because of "substantial inconsistencies" from witnesses.
McCarthy, who was joined by the county's top leaders, said the decision to dismiss the charges followed an extensive investigation that included additional interviews and a review of medical records, school security videos, and phone and computer records.
"As prosecutors we always go where the evidence takes us…regardless of public opinion or political pressures," McCarthy said, without taking questions from reporters.
This is a fairly stunning outcome, given the tone of previous reporting on the subject, which suggested the evidence was overwhelming. But sexual assault disputes are often more complicated than they first appear, which is why I cautioned that the teenagers shouldn't be deported without substantial due process.
The notion that immigrants commit more violence than other groups is false, and it would have remained false, even if these two teenagers had been guilty. But given that they are not guilty—as far as investigators can tell—right-wing pundits should be eating crow.
Of course, they will need to save a plate for the believe-all-victims crowd, whose narrative is also undermined by the outcome in this case. We are frequently told by victims' advocacy groups that no one ever lies about being raped, and when accusations are made, we should automatically trust the accuser. In truth, we don't have very reliable numbers for how many reported rapes are false. The available data suggests that they are uncommon, not that they never happen.
The Rockville rape case—which should now be known as the Rockville rape retraction, I suppose—is a reminder of why due process and the presumption of innocence are such important things. They are checks against presuming the worst about people who confirm our biases, whether those biases work against immigrants or just men accused of rape in general.
Two other notes. Just because the evidence suggests the sex was consensual does not mean it was appropriate. These were not college students in a dormitory; they were high school students in a public restroom. The school has every right to punish everyone involved.
Further, the behavior may be criminal even if it was technically consensual, given the ages of the people involved. The age of consent in Maryland is 16, however, people between the ages of 14 and 16 can legally consent to sex as long as the other party is not more than four years older. Since the state is dropping the sexual assault charges, it appears to be the case that both boys fall within that window.
The teens are still being charged with possession of child pornography because they had inappropriate pictures of the 14-year-old girl on their cell phones. She apparently sent the photos to Montano, who then shared them with Milian. That's bad behavior on his part, but it doesn't make sense—to me, at least—to prosecute consensual sexting between teenagers, even in cases like this one, where the age gap is egregious. (See my previous reporting on absurd witch hunts against teens for consensual sexting.)