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ROCKLAND, Maine — A judge has acquitted a 16-year-old male student accused of sexually assaulting a female student on school grounds last year.
The male student, who is from Hope and attends Camden Hills Regional High School, appeared in court Thursday for a daylong trial on charges of sexual assault and unlawful sexual touching. Judge Susan Oram found the teen not guilty on both charges.
After hearing testimony from the male student and the alleged victim, the judge determined that the state had not met the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
District Attorney Natasha Irving said sexual assault cases are typically difficult to prosecute but that doesn’t mean her office won’t try.
“We prosecute these cases because they are extremely important,” Irving said. “I am saddened by the verdict, but I look forward to the day when we as people believe survivors of sexual assault.”
The students are not being named because they are both minors.
The sexual encounter between them occurred May 20, 2019, in a car in the parking lot of Camden Hills Regional High School. A teacher found the female student “sobbing and inconsolable” in the hallway of the school afterward, according to court documents.
The girl testified that she said “no” and asked the male student to stop at least 15 times, according to Irving.
However, the male student told school officials and testified in court Thursday, that she never said no nor asked him to stop. According to the male student’s attorney Laura Shaw, the two students had a long relationship together as friends.
When the district attorney’s office initially reviewed the case, charges were not filed against the male, largely because the victim at that point was not willing to testify. However, after a follow-up review of the case by Irving and willingness on the victim’s part to testify, the decision to prosecute was made.
“I was surprised and also frustrated [that charges were brought against him] because it was really clear to me from the beginning that my client had done nothing wrong,” Shaw said Friday. “There was consent. The alleged victim never said no. Never told him to stop. This is something that they were participating in together.”
Shaw feels the charges were only brought against her client for political reasons.
“There is a tendency in this ‘Me Too’ era for prosecutors to bring these types of charges. But it just caused so much harm in this case,” Shaw said.
But Irving said that if fighting for victims of sexual assault is political, “call me a politician.”
“I feel that in this day and age it’s time to start believing survivors and taking chances [to prosecute these cases,],” she said. “We have to stop saying that cases are a ‘he-said-she-said.’”
A civil lawsuit filed by the male student’s mother against the school district is still ongoing, according to Shaw. In the lawsuit, the mother is asking her son’s suspension following the incident be revoked.