Matt Bevin was the Republican governor of the state of Kentucky from 2015 to 2019. He was defeated this year by Democrat Andy Beshear, which was a pretty momentous occasion considering how deeply Republican Kentucky tends to be. It was a very close race, and Bevin declared that rampant voter fraud had occurred and demanded a review of the results. He lost that review and finally conceded to Beshear.
Bevin fucked up a lot during his term, which led to his defeat, but right now he’s making news for what he did as he flounced his way out of the governor’s mansion. He pardoned or commuted the sentences of 428 convicted criminals. To put that into perspective, on average each year a governor in the United States pardons or commutes the sentences of about 40 criminals. So he really went all out. Like, if you are a convict in Kentucky and you are still in prison at this moment today, you are super unlucky. Like, fuck your family for not donating more to the Bevin campaign.
Because that’s the crux, here. When you pardon that many people with that little time to look into their cases, you’re not doing it because they’re all wrongfully convicted. Let it be known that I think the prison industrial complex in the United States is super fucked up — we put way too many people in prison and completely fail to rehabilitate them, and in fact our system is mostly set up so that prisoners just learn to be more efficient, harder-to-catch criminals. The US has the largest percentage of our population in prison in the world. Yep, we’re worse than Russia, by far. For every 100,000 Americans, we put 737 in prison. In Russia that number is 615.
So I have no general problem with governors pardoning prisoners, but Bevin has clearly made it his mission to release people not because, say, they’re a poor black teen who got caught with too much weed, but because they’re rich people who have rich families with a lot of political influence.
One such example is Micah Culver Schoettle, whose mother is the president of a horse farm and who served two terms on the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission and whose stepfather helped found the Bank of Kentucky. Last year, Schoettle was convicted of repeatedly raping a little girl from the age of 9 until she was 12, at which point she told a counselor at her school what was happening. When the trial started the girl was 14, and she spent hours on the stand recounting what Schoettle did to her. A judge found that the case was solid and sentenced Schoettle to 23 years in prison.
After less than a year, Matt Bevin commuted his sentence. When reporters asked him why, he replied “Her hymen was intact. There’s no way that girl was raped. She made it up.”
Let’s be clear: the hymen is in no way a “freshness seal” that shows if a vagina has been tampered with. I will now read directly from a review written by doctors and researchers published in the journal Reproductive Health earlier this year:
“It is well recognized that similarities exist between naturally occurring variations and hymenal changes resulting from injury [12, 25, 32]. Even in children with suspected sexual abuse, the majority will have normal or nonspecific findings. Unless there are extensive laceration(s), hymenal injuries heal rapidly and usually leave no evidence of any previous injury .
“A significant body of scientific evidence demonstrates that the vast majority of children who have been sexually abused, including with vaginal and anal penetration, have normal ano-genital examinations [12, 25, 33–37]. A study of 2384 children indicated that only 4% of children referred for a medical examination with a history of sexual abuse had abnormalities on physical exam. Similarly, a survey of pediatric child abuse rape cases indicated that only 2.1% of subjects examined had visible lesions on the hymen .
“Studies of sexual assault survivors also provide evidence that the hymen may not incur noticeable damage as a result of forced penetration. In one study, only 19% of victims between the ages of 14 and 19?years – who identified as not having had prior sexual intercourse before the alleged sexual assault – had acute hymenal tears [37–39]. Another study involving a greater range of ages of women alleging sexual assault found that only 9.1% had hymenal perforation . The authors of this study concluded that a substantial proportion of women, regardless of prior sexual experience, would not have visible genital injuries following forced vaginal penetration.
“Therefore a “normal” examination of the genitals and anus neither confirms nor rules out sexual abuse.”
Got it? So Matt Bevin, speaking in the face of medical facts that contradict him, called a 14-year old girl who spent HOURS describing her sexual abuse in a courtroom a liar. And that’s not all, because he went on to reveal publicly for the first time the exact relationship between the little girl and the pedophile, effectively destroying her anonymity.
The negative results of this are too many to count. The prosecutors of the case, who Bevin never consulted before issuing his commutation, spent years investigating and charging Schoettle, and they actually made this a landmark case. In the vast majority of child sex abuse cases, there are no other witnesses or evidence than the child’s word, so they used scientific analyses that showed that abused children display a pattern of behavior that points to the victim’s honesty. When the victim was 9, she was suicidal and started acting out in school. She waited years to tell anyone. Her behaviors were textbook descriptions of child sex abuse and the court agreed. Prosecutors from around the country were studying that case to see how it may apply to other cases. It’s huge. Schoettle was appealing, and if higher courts upheld the ruling then it would become a landmark case for other prosecutions.
And now Bevin has thrown that in the garbage, along with the heroic effort of a 14-year old girl who had the courage to stand in front of her rapist and tell the world her story. She did it because she was scared he would rape her little sister next and she wanted to stop him. But she can’t, because of Bevin. She’s still a teenager and her rapist was back at home before anyone had even told her or her family that Bevin released him.
That girl thought she might finally be safe but now her family is thinking of moving to get away from her rapist. She will always look over her shoulder, for the rest of her life.She told her mother, “It figures. They always get away with it.” That’s what other victims will see and know. That’s what we tell rape victims every day in a million different ways and that’s what Bevin has announced to the world. Think of that the next time the media blames a victim for not coming forward.