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Lawyer says teen boys don't have presumption of innocence in rape cases

(WSYX/WTTE)

A Columbus lawyer said teen boys are being victimized by a system that doesn't give them the presumption of innocence in acquaintance rape cases.

Brad Koffel said he's defending more and more cases of sex between teenagers leading to criminal charges. He considers it consensual sex that later becomes "regret" sex.

Everyone agrees that rape is detestable, and sickening, and always wrong. And predators need to be caught and punished.

But according to Koffel, some teenage boys and their families said they're getting caught up in an after-consensual-sex drama that can ruin lives.

The Delgado family has put their home up for sale.

"Yeah, time to move on," says Jodi Delgado.

She knows something sexual happened in the family's basement. Her son said it was consensual. His former girlfriend said it wasn't.

Jodi said she collapsed on the floor when her son was charged with rape.

Anthony Delgado was 17 years old in 2015. He had been seeing the same girl for about eight months. She was 15 at the time. One day in November of 2015, Jodi picked them up after school and brought them home. The teens eventually went to the music room in the basement where Anthony practices bass for his band.

"We're hanging out and we kind of realize 'hey, we're alone.'So one thing leads to another and we do what all teenagers do with their boyfriend/girlfriend. We had consensual sex in my basement," he said.

His former girlfriend said that's not how it went.

"He wants me to go downstairs. Then he locked the door and that was basically like, when it happened," she says.

She said he turned off her phone and threw it across the room.

"He took my clothes off," she said. "I kept telling him 'no' and then he kept trying to do other things and I kept telling him 'no' still."

She said she yelled over and over and over at least 10 times.

"I was yelling at him to stop," she said. "I kept saying no."

Jodi said she heard nothing, and went downstairs right when they were coming out of the bathroom together. She said she lectured them. and the girl begged her not to tell the girl's mother.

"He thought he loved her. I thought I was helping her. And this is where we are now because I chose not to go to her mom and tell her," said Jodi.

The girl said it was Jodi who didn't want to tell anyone.

"She was like, 'you can't tell your mom this. She doesn't need to know. You can't tell anyone'", she said.

The girl's mother was angry.

"You don't keep something like that away from another parent, especially when they're minors," she said.

Two weeks later, Anthony was called into a school office.

"And a man I've never seen before in like black boots comes in and says, 'are you Anthony Delgado?' I'm like 'yeah.' 'Well, I'm detective whatever his name is, uh, I have a warrant for your arrest for rape,'" he said.

Anthony was handcuffed, jailed, and very confused.

"I couldn't believe what was happening. My heart rate was through the roof the entire time. I was shaking. I thought this was a joke. But I'm, like, no seriously I still didn't really grasp, I'm like 'what am I being accused of, arrested for'" he said.

He was accused of raping his girlfriend.

"I know that he did not rape her. Sorry," Jodi said as she fought back tears. "They consented. Not that we are okay with that, but they did, often, what teenagers do."

Koffel said he's defending a lot more of these kinds of cases involving teenagers. Girls say "rape." Boys say "regret."

"She certainly has every right to say no at any point in time; before the sexual activity and during the sexual activity. But not the next day and not the next week. And those are the cases we're talking about," he said.

Rape crisis experts say women don't make up accusations. But a 2010 University of Massachusetts study suggests the prevalence of false allegations is between 2% and 10%. Koffel believes the number's much higher when it involves teenage boyfriends and girlfriends.

"Maybe she wanted to have sex at the time, but woke up the next day and decided 'I wish I hadn't done that,' said Koffel. "And that's really what we're talking about. And to now criminalize the young man because of that is wrong."

In a series of texts to a friend immediately after this incident, Anthony's ex-girlfriend didn't mention "rape." When asked during our interview why she didn't say something right away, the girl replied "I was scared." Then she began to sob.

"Ten days later, not through her own actions, word gets out that they had sex after school and a teacher heard it and I think misinterpreted it and the teacher becomes a mandatory reporter and the next person involved is a detective and now it's just a train that leaves the station picking up speed going downhill," said Koffel.

He said there was a time when a woman who said she was raped wasn't always believed. Today, he said the judicial system is trained not to question a rape victim's claims or motives. And he said defense lawyers are hamstrung because the Rape Shield law prevents them from looking into the accuser at all.

"There needs to be more vetting because the pendulum has gone so far in the opposite direction to the point where we really don't have a presumption of innocence in these cases. The young man does not go to court feeling the presumption of innocence," he said.

And that makes it very difficult for families of the teen boys to go to trial, which Koffel said might be the first and only time the boy would get to tell his story. But he said a guilty verdict would mean prison and having to register as a sex offender for life.

"And it just comes down to is a jury going to believe her, 'why would she make this up?' Versus your client, who's gonna say she consented," he said.

For Anthony, there's no equivocation in what happened.

When asked directly whether he had raped the girl, Anthony responded "Absolutely not. No, it's ridiculous to even...you can ask anyone that actually knows me."

His former girlfriend is just as adamant. She said Anthony raped her.

She said Anthony admitted as much in some text messages. He wrote "I'm sorry I hurt you" and "I do remember you saying 'no'more than a couple times."

Koffel said the texts are misleading. He said a detective helped the girl compose her texts. And he said Anthony's responses were not about rape, but about a specific sexual act that they did not do because she said 'no.'

But as much as the Delgados wanted to fight, they said they couldn't risk a trial.

"So we took a plea," said Jodi. "And so now Anthony is a convicted felon for an abduction charge because he supposedly held her down."

Jodi is angry, on behalf of her son, and other teen boys like him.

"I want people to know there are two sides and these young men are being persecuted simply because they're men," she said. "My son's being charged because he has a penis."

The girl's mom said he was charged because her daughter was courageous.

"And she wanted to press charges because she didn't want him to do what he did to her to anybody else," she said. "The evidence shows that she is telling the truth."

They are satisfied with the plea deal.

"It's something, better than nothing," said her mom.

Her daughter is about to turn 17. She said she's doing better and is considering going into clinical psychology.

Anthony said he's moving on with his life, too. He's getting back into his music and leaving what happened behind.

"An innocent man feels no shame," he said. "He doesn't feel shame for something he hasn't done. So, why am I gonna let this bring me down and cast an enormous weight on the rest of my life? It's not an option," he said.

The legal troubles for the Delgados are not over. The girl's family is suing Jodi for failing to adequately supervise their daughter that day.

There are many resources available for rape victims:

The OhioHealth Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO), which is based in Columbus, the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center which has a list of centers statewide, and RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), which is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization are just some of them.

There are also resources available for families who believe their sons have been wrongfully accused. The most prominent is Save Our Sons.

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