After raping a developmentally disabled black teenager with a coat hanger in Idaho, John RK Howard (originally from Texas) will not spend a single day in prison. The unnamed victim was seventeen years old and was Howard’s teammate on the Dietrich High School football team when the assault took place in the locker room. Howard will serve 3 years probation and 300 hours of community service.
The victim describe his assault with these words:
“Pain that I have never felt took over my body. I screamed, but afterwards, I kept it to myself.”
Since the rape in 2015 he has made multiple suicide attempts and resides in an assisted living facility.
Prosecutors say that they have sufficient evidence to prove that Howard kicked a coat hanger into the victim’s rectum after another teammate placed it there. However, Howard submitted an Alford plea, a guilty plea that admits the prosecutors have the necessary evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime but maintains that the defendant is innocent.
The case is full of disturbing details that highlight the justice system’s willingness to overlook racism and sexual assault.
Despite the initial charges filed against Howard alleging rape, District Judge Randy J Stoker insisted that the forced penetration the victim suffered should not be considered forcible penetration with an object. The charges were changed to felony injury to a child, a less serious crime.
Stoker made these extraordinary remarks denying public accusations of rape and sexual assault:
“This is not a rape case. This is not a sex case. This started out as penetration with a foreign object … Whatever happened in that locker room was not sexual. It wasn’t appropriate. There’s nothing in this record that supports anything close to the sexual allegation against this young man.”
Idaho deputy-Attorney General Casey Hemmer backed Stoker up, saying:
“Based on continuing investigation throughout this case — interviewing of witnesses, speaking with the victim and getting a better picture of what happened in this case — the state believes this is the appropriate charge. It was egregious behavior, it caused this victim a lot of suffering, but it is not, in my view, a sex crime, which is why the state has amended this charge. We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender, but he still needs to be held accountable.”
Just because the young men committing the assault did not themselves have sexual feelings or motivations does not absolve them of rape.
The FBI defines rape as:
Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.
The victim was anally penetrated with an object. That constitutes rape.
There is a reluctance for many to admit that rape extends beyond a woman being pulled into an alleyway and forced to the ground. Rape with objects and rape suffered by men are marginalized. In keeping with the misguided perception that rape must include being held to the ground, Howard’s defense attorney dismissed suggestions of rape, saying,
“[The victim] was not pinned down while a hanger was forcibly inserted in his rectum.” As if this somehow makes a difference.
In addition to the horrific mistreatment of the victim’s rape, the courts also chose to overlook the clear racial element in the crime.
In the months preceding the rape, the victim was racially bullied by Howard and other white teammates. Howard taught him to sing a pro-KKK song that the victim did not understand, which disparaged Latinos, Jews, LGBT+ persons, and blacks, and included the line, “Moon man, moon man, can’t you see, spics and niggers need to hang from trees.” The song, in a disturbing sign of what was to come, also glorified anal rape.
The victim said in deposition, “[Howard would] be like, ‘You stupid nigger,’ and stuff like that … Once, I told him I didn’t like it … It hurt, you know.”
The football team – even the coaches – called the black victim racially charged nicknames including “chicken,” “grape soda,” “watermelon,” and “Kool-aid.”
The case is a clear reminder that our criminal justice system is failing many victims. Howard received unfair charges that did not adequately describe the crime he committed and the courts neglected to address the racial attacks he made against his victim.
Howard should have suffered the full consequences of the law as the felon sex offender that he is. Instead, his victim is left to suffer yet another case of systemic injustice.
Marisa completed her undergraduate degree in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin with a double major in creative writing and media studies. She is an advocate of progressive policies and focuses her interests on gender equality and preventing sexual and domestic violence.