<em>“The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man; but great men sometimes do bad things.”</em>
—Judge Thomas Low
Say these words out loud:
Rape is bad. Rapists are not good people.
If you were able to enunciate those words emphatically, then you are a better person than Judge Thomas Low.
Judge Low, who presides over district court cases in Utah County, was on the bench for the criminal case against Keith Robert Vallejo. Vallejo was tried and convicted on 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape. Vallejo committed these crimes against young women who were staying at his house. At the time of his crimes, he was Bishop Vallejo, a title he was given when called to the position by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The calling of bishop is a sacred honor for men—women cannot be called—of the Mormon faith. Nearly all spiritual matters relating to Mormons who live in sectioned-off areas known as wards at one point or another passes through the bishop’s office. Mormon bishops can autonomously send hundreds of dollars of food or cut rent checks to church members in need. They can act as marriage counselors. They give comfort to the infirmed. They show up at the homes of members who have lost loved ones.
Bishop Vallejo was entrusted with these solemn duties, and he forced himself on two young women staying at his home. One of these women was related to him through marriage. Bishop Vallejo was tried by a jury of his peers and convicted on 11 counts. Bishop Vallejo is a rapist.
And this leads us into Judge Low’s first jaw-dropping bad decision. Instead of remanding Keith Vallejo (he was removed from his calling immediately after the allegations came to the fore) into custody immediately after he was convicted, Judge Low let him go home to spend time with his family. That is beyond my faculties to understand.
What would happen at Vallejo’s sentencing not only lapped Judge Low’s decision to allow a convicted rapist to have one last Family Home Evening, but it would make national news, as many were aghast at what the judge said.
After justly sentencing Vallejo to life in prison, Judge Low—in what news accounts described as an emotional moment—referred to this convicted rapist as a good man. Then said great men sometimes make mistakes.
There is one issue that as a wordsmith bothers me incessantly. Too many times, people refer to crimes as mistakes. Rape is not a mistake. Rape is a deliberate, malicious act of violence. It is a felony. Rape is, in all ways, bad.
Yelling at your kid for not doing chores when s/he did do them is a mistake. Burning a cake is a mistake. Singing Milli Vanilli songs at Karaoke is a mistake. Calling a convicted rapist whilst sitting on the bench in a courtroom where the rapist’s victims are onlooking is a mistake.
Why do it? According to some reports, Judge Low may have been moved by over 50 letters asking for leniency for Bishop Vallejo.
I want to know who these 50 people are. I want to know the mindset of 50 people that believe a man who was entrusted by two young women to provide them with a safe place to sleep for a night, and committed a vulgar atrocity against these women, was worthy of affixing their name to a letter asking that this man be shown leniency.
And this leads me, finally, to my main assertion. There seems to be a problem with how Utahns, especially those in a place of power, deal with rape.
Consider if you will that the Salt Lake Tribune was just awarded with a Pulitzer Prize—American journalism’s highest honor—for its coverage of the BYU-Provo rape story. In that case, it was learned that female students at BYU were having their names turned over by the Provo Police Department to the BYU Honor Code Office to see if women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted were in violation of BYU’s strict rules regarding non-married women socializing with men.
Abhorrent. Acrid to the senses.
In response to this story, a Deseret News columnist named Hal Boyd suggested that while rape is bad, women could take “preventive measures” by not drinking and keeping men out of their living space.
Yeah, Hal, if a woman wears yoga pants in public, drinks a case of beer a day and invites men into her apartment on a daily basis, that is her choice. No human has to take preventive measures against being a sexual assault victim. Paying lip service to the evils of rape when concurrently utilizing the tool of passive-aggressiveness to suggest that living by BYU’s purportedly high moral standards will keep women away from rape is misogynistic, sociopathic and just flat out ignorant.
Hal Boyd, you are a parasite festering on the backside of a dung beetle.
And let us not overlook my alma mater, Utah State University. A spate of stories involving sexual assaults has shed light on the lack of thorough investigations by the university, Cache Valley police departments and the Cache County Attorney’s Office. It was only after one of the alleged perpetrators turned out to be a former Aggie football player that this story grew legs. Yet, USU is still obfuscating their reaction and hiding documentation that would prove or disprove their assertion that they treat allegations of assault with due diligence.
And due diligence is vastly important. The law should always be dispassionate. An allegation of rape is not a conviction. Innocence should always be presumed until proof to the contrary is manifested. Any other recourse is un-American.
But how do we get to that truth when the first instinct of the police and university officials is apathetic meandering and praying the claimants just go away? How do we convince women to come forward when it appears that rape in Utah is treated more like a nuisance than a serious crime by the police, prosecutors and judges? How do we stop trash like Hal Boyd and his indecent ilk from believing women somehow tempted men into committing a gross violation against them?
How do we change these questions from rhetorical to proactive?
Judge Low, rape is bad. Rapists are not extraordinarily good men. Rape is a crime, not a mistake. And the more people like you, who are in a venerable position of power and influence, continue to exude a level of flummoxed dissonance, then Utah will continue to be a place where women are preyed upon by men who are emboldened by a perverted belief that they can get away with it.