NEW YORK — Jennifer Aleman was sexually assaulted for six years, from the time she was 8 years old until she turned 14. It took time and courage for her to come forward, but she would not be rewarded for it.
“By the time I was 16, that’s when I found out that this person got two years probation and I was completely devastated. I remember the moment that I found out, just completely shutting down and crying, and feeling like that was the worst moment of my life,” Aleman said.
Erin Helfert was fulfilling her dreams living and working in Morocco when she was violently assaulted. She was up against a foreign system that wouldn’t allow her an attorney. She went to trial for five years, prosecuting her own attacker in French and Arabic.
“I had to defend myself. I had to fundraise every time I returned to the country. I would often find out I had a hearing within 48 hours prior to having a hearing,” Helfert said.
Both women said they’re not surprised to hear the news Thursday of a case out of Colorado, in which an admitted rapist was sentenced to zero prison time.
Austin Wilkerson, 22, allegedly told friends of his victim that he would take care of her. She had a lot to drink at a college party at the University of Colorado.
Instead, he raped her.
“I can tell you that as a prosecutor I’ve seen the impact that it has on the survivors of these crimes and they hope that there is a punitive component considered by the courts,” Caryn Datz, a Colorado prosecutor, said.
When University of Stanford student Brock Turner was sentenced to six months of prison time in June for raping a fellow student, public outcry was rampant.
Now, that same wave appears to be cresting again.
When asked how they would address the judges who have delivered the sentences in these cases, Helfert challenged them head on.
“How dare you for not taking the extreme violent nature of these crimes into consideration? How dare you for silencing yet another victim and therefore frightening or terrifying further victims in the future from coming forward? This the exact reason why women or men are terrified to prosecute,” she said.
"And they’ve just done it all over again."
According to the Colorado Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, the judge in Austin Wilkerson’s case stated that he wanted to see if Wilkerson could be rehabilitated.
Rape in Colorado carries a prison sentence of four to 12 years. Wilkerson will spend nights in jail for two years and will be able to leave on work or school release during the day.
It’s a shockingly lenient sentence in the eyes of survivors like Jennifer Aleman.
“You know if something violent like this happens and there is no justice, it just makes me feel very unsafe."