Sean Clauson

The following letter was submitted as an op-ed to The Valley News and The Dartmouth. It has not been published.


I sat in court for the entirety of the Dartmouth rape trial and departed feeling dismayed and dirty. Physical rape, I felt, had been followed by its judicial equivalent.

The outpouring of joy from the defendant’s friends and family was palpable. I cannot share their conviction in his innocence but it was a relief to see stressed onlookers from at least one side of the courtroom walk away smiling.

The same cannot be said for the victim and her friends and family. In my view, she endured two assaults, one private, one public, and one wonders which rape was worse. This is the first ever Dartmouth rape trial, I am told, and having just experienced it I understand why there haven’t been others.

We heard every microscopic detail about the plaintiff: her grades, hobbies, pets, what she found funny, her comings and goings, dancing and drinking habits, who her friends were, what online photos she posted, tweets, texts, Facebook entries, and she recounted the prolonged sexual assault in sobbing detail. We heard lawyers claiming it was the ‘activist feminist agenda’ of the victim’s friend that ‘made her report the rape’. We heard lawyers claiming that enlarged photos of the victim’s genitals and anus showed redness rather than bruising. We heard enough to understand that she was the one on trial here, not him.

The defendant never took the stand and over the course of the eight-days we learned next to nothing about him. We learned that he played rugby, was not a friend of the victim, was unknown to her friends, had never sent the victim so much as a text, tweet, or email, was wasted on booze the night of the assault, and that he sent one apologetic email to the victim after realizing that things might be about to get dicey.

Throughout the trial, we learned nothing else and he remains a stranger to everyone in that courtroom who didn’t already know him, including the jury.

We do know that just before the rape occurred, the defendant was pounding on a dorm room door at around 3am. The male occupant woke, opened the door, and the defendant greeted him with a drunken string of F bombs, wanting to know what the F the occupant was doing in his (the defendant’s) F-ing room. The occupant’s testimony was never printed in The Valley News but he testified that he was so taken aback by the defendant’s violent drunken demeanor that he was mentally preparing to grab his chair and strike the defendant with it. However, the defendant suddenly realized the room wasn’t his; it was 205 rather than 305. He was drunk, he was on the wrong floor, and he was violently angry.

If one believes the victim’s story, the accused then proceeded down the same hallway, entered the victim’s nearby room, and raped her as she slept. She awoke to a string of horrific though apparently whispered curses coming from a dark figure who was holding her legs and raping her.

Unfortunately she froze. Unfortunately a female friend asleep in the same bed was too zonked on alcohol and prescription meds to awaken. Unfortunately a roommate studying eight feet away behind a dividing wall never apparently realized that she was hearing non-consensual sex. This roommate, on the stand, came across as the most confused, stressed, timid, and monosyllabic witness I’ve ever seen. I felt awful for her. The only words she apparently remembers hearing through the wall before going to bed were “don’t push me”.

Some say the facts don’t add up, that justice was served because the details are too bizarre and disjointed to be believed. Some say that once the victim awoke and realized she was being penetrated and berated, she should have fought back and screamed, instead of freezing. To those who offer such opinions without having seen the actual trial, I suggest your thoughts hold little value.

Splendid lawyering by the defense kept repeating the mantra that nothing whatsoever made any sense and judging by their meager 4-hours of deliberation the jury agreed. To my eyes and ears, however, everything made sense; she was raped.

On day eight, the defense closed by proposing a brand new theory that enjoyed not a shred of supporting evidence, claiming that the victim may have met the defendant outside her room and invited him in to have sex beside her sleeping friend. This despite the roommate’s testimony that she had heard the victim and her female friend go to sleep earlier. I found the defense’s closing to be sickening but 12 jurors found it convincing.

During the trial, a bailiff remarked to me that the evidentiary threshold of the legal system is setup in such a way as to allow ten rapists to go free if it means preventing even one falsely accused rapist from going to jail. With that in mind, I now understand why this was the first and likely the last Dartmouth rape trial.

Sean Clauson
Local Hanover Resident