No felony: Victim wants tougher penalty for crotch invasion
Caitlln Mahoney was walking out of a Charlottesville nightclub last fall when she made an unpleasant discovery: a man's hand up under her skirt. In court May 31, a judge convicted the perpetrator of sexual battery, but the victim says she's speaking out in hopes that courts will consider getting tougher on such crimes.
Mahoney, a 2009 UVA grad who was in town for homecoming on October 17, testified that she was leaving the after-hours Club 216 on Market Street when she heard a man trying to get her attention. She ignored him and continued walking toward the street.
"Someone reached up under my skirt and grabbed my genitalia," Mahoney told Judge Edward Hogshire, describing how she felt a palm-up hand and then felt another squeeze, this time to her buttocks.
"You don't do that to people," the 24-year-old Mahoney said she yelled at the man as she shoved him away. A police officer working private security for the Club intervened and handcuffed Antoine Rashard Anderson and charged the 29-year-old Gordonsville resident with sexual battery– as well as public intoxication, a charge he's encountered five other times, according to city court records.
Mahoney, however, made a case to the prosecutor that the contact was way too intimate for a mere misdemeanor and got the groping charge upgraded to a Class 4 felony: attempted object penetration.
Mahoney says a recent study of female UVA undergraduates found that 34 percent had experienced unwelcome sexual contact– including her own sister. Mahoney contends that only felony charges will make men understand that such assaults must stop.
As the officer was dealing with Anderson outside Club 216, Mahoney testified, the alleged perp was lucid enough to concoct an alibi: "He looked me directly in the eye and said, 'We're friends, right?'"
Defense attorney Nick Reppucci called his client's behavior "boorish" and "crude" but said it wasn't a felony. Judge Hogshire agreed, and found Anderson guilty of sexual battery. He'll be sentenced July 7 on the Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries up to 12 months in prison and/or a $2,500 fine. Mahoney thinks he got off easy.
"I think the main problem is with the statute that puts sexual battery on par with littering and reckless driving," she says. "Does he need help to see if he has an alcohol problem or a sexual problem with women? He can't get that with a misdemeanor."
A Class 4 felony carries a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of 10.
"I feel if I hadn't been as assertive about protecting myself," says Mahoney, "this could have been worse."