I traveled to Silsbee, Texas five times in the past six months, with conservative blogger Brandon Darby, to investigate why, despite the volume of evidence, a grand jury did not indict two football players accused of raping a high school cheerleader (who was later kicked off the squad for refusing to cheer for one of them). The case is a troubling example of what many victims experience when they dare to report their rape and proceed with a prosecution. In this post, I’d like to highlight the community reaction.
Hillaire was found half-clothed and crying under the pool table, saying she’d been raped. She reported that Rakheem Bolton, a star high school football player, raped her while another football player, Christian Rountree, held her down. Three students outside the room heard her cries of “stop” and broke through the door, only to find that three of the four athletes in the room had fled out the window, breaking it in the process.
As Bolton ran off, Stacy Riley, the homeowner, heard him yell:
I didn’t rape no white girl. I wouldn’t use anyone else’s dick to fuck her. I didn’t put my dick up inside her. I don’t know if she has AIDS. I don’t even know that girl.
Bolton would later admit to penetrating Hillaire.
This was not a he said/she said situation and you can read the evidence in more detail in the full report at my blog. Suffice to say: Witness statements from the police report confirm that Hillaire was raped. An inexperienced drinker, Hillaire was exceedingly intoxicated after drinking a beer and six shots and could not legally consent. Before her friends cut her off, Hillaire made out with a guy in the living room and was egged on to kiss a female friend by a group of ogling young men. Bolton and his friends arrived late to the party, and, seeing an intoxicated and flirtatious Hillaire, isolated her in the pool room.
Hillaire spent the early morning hours after the rape at the police station and at a nearby clinic. Of the four guys in the room, Bolton and Rountree were charged with “child sexual assault” (because Hillaire was a minor and they were “of age”) which carries a prison term of two to twenty years.
Hillaire assumed this crime would be fairly prosecuted. Instead, she faced intense mistreatment from her peers, many residents of Silsbee, school officials, public officials prosecuting the case, and the local press. When she returned to school she faced a chilly environment from her peers and school administrators. School officials urged her to take a low profile, and the cheer squad wanted Hillaire to skip homecoming because, according to a fellow cheerleader, “Someone from another city had called and threatened her. If she cheered at another game, they were going to shoot her.” Hillaire went anyway, and some students painted Bolton’s and Rountree’s jersey numbers on their faces to protest their removal from the football team. Students also chanted “free tree” (referring to Rountree) at the homecoming bonfire within earshot of Hillaire.
Many in Silsbee bought the “slut” defense – that Hillaire was to blame for what happened that night because she made out with several people at the party. Describing Hillaire’s sexual behavior at the party, Sarah [name changed], a fellow student and cheerleader, told me that she believe Hillaire was raped and that “a majority of the school felt this way.” Hillaire was called a “slut” several times to her face.
An anonymous letter to Hillaire’s family laid bare the “slut” defense that so many in Silsbee seem to hold:
These boys are nice respectable boys and you can’t tell me that there were no other girls that wanted to be with them so they raped your daughter (please). Just think how you have ruined these children [sic] lives and your daughter gets to carry on and be a cheerleader after drinkingherself and going against your family values… This makes your daughter [sic] reputation look very bad and if you think people will forget, remember we live in Silsbee. Someone will always remember! (Don’t think she won’t be talked about).
A toddler approached Hillaire at a town parade shortly after the rape and called her a “bitch.”
Hillaire’s status as a popular cheerleader at the high school couldn’t compete with the popularity of high school sports that grants the best male players special privileges. The high school stadium seats 7,000—equal to the town’s population—and it’s full on game days. Celebrating high school sports is ingrained in Southeast Texas cultures, so it’s no wonder that many in Silsbee rallied behind Bolton and Rountree. A common argument, articulated to me by one student, is that Bolton wouldn’t rape anyone because “he was popular. A lot of girls wanted to be with him.”
The local paper, The Silsbee Bee, favorably covered the accused, even publishing an article titled, “Sexual Assault Prosecutions Cost County Nearly $20,000.” It was hard to miss the implication that this was money ill spent.
In many ways Hillaire was the perfect victim. She’s pretty, white, and underage; a cheerleader in a football-loving town. She went to the police and the health clinic immediately after her assault. In addition to the physical evidence that was collected, she brought into court the testimony of witnesses and a threat from her rapist. Detective Dennis Hughes, the officer assigned to the case, told Hillaire’s father that, given his four decades of police experience, “This is a slam dunk case. There’s more evidence than we see in most sexual assault cases, and we’ve got lots of witnesses.”
Still, despite all of this, the community turned against her. It’s no wonder that rape victims are reluctant to report their assaults; how much evidence, and how much privilege, does one need to get justice? Three months after the rape, a grand jury dismissed the case. Later Bolton would plea guilty to assault, a misdemeanor.
For more — including ways to help Hillaire and protest her treatment, as well as details about the role of the NAACP and highly suspicious ties between Bolton’s family, the police, and the district attorney – see the unabridged reporting on this story here.