Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler took the time to sift through the 41-year-old case of Kathy Shelton, who said she was raped when she was 12 years old by a then-41-year-old man.
Ordinarily, I'd expect the Post to take Shelton's claims at face value (and to be fair, Kessler does call her a rape victim, as her attacker, Thomas Taylor, agreed to a plea bargain). The Post would be accused of "victim-blaming" if it dared point out an accuser's changing story, even if it ultimately seemed sympathetic to her.
But Shelton is different because she has told the press that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton "took me through hell" and has appeared with GOP nominee Donald Trump.
This earns Shelton extra scrutiny. Kessler points out that she didn't know until 2007 that Clinton was the defense attorney in her case, that she may or may not have been misquoted about harboring no ill will toward Clinton and that she said she had a psychiatric exam but court records say she didn't.
These aren't the "smoking gun" contradictions I would usually consider evidence of an untruthful accuser (and again, Kessler is not saying she is untruthful). Shelton could have hated a random, unnamed defense attorney until she found out it was Clinton, who by that point had become a household name. That would have been pretty devastating for a victim, to find out that a former first lady, U.S. senator and, at the time, presidential candidate was responsible for allowing your rapist to walk free.
In 2007, Shelton apparently told Glenn Thrush, who was then a reporter for Newsday, that she felt Clinton "was just doing her job" by representing Taylor. Seven years later, in 2014, she told the Daily Beast she was misquoted and that "Hillary Clinton took me through hell." She could have been upset with an unnamed defense attorney, as I wrote above. Or she could have never thought about the other people involved in the case until she was shown an affidavit from Clinton claiming Shelton "is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and to engage in fantasizing" and "has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body."
Clinton merely said in the affidavit that she had "been informed" of these things about Shelton, but offered no source or proof. Shelton told Thrush in 2007 that she was shocked by the affidavit because "it's not true" and she had "never said anybody attacked my body before, never in my life."
As Kessler points out, Shelton may not have gotten as angry as she now is toward Clinton until 2014, when audio of Clinton laughing about her case was revealed by the Washington Free Beacon. In the audio, Clinton laughs multiple times about the case, including when discussing the accidental destruction of DNA evidence. For the record, the reporter interviewing Clinton in the audio says she was not laughing at Shelton, but at how the case was handled.
But here's where Kessler really takes apart her story. Since Shelton has come out to discuss the case, she has said she was forced — by Clinton — to take multiple lie detector tests and a psychiatric evaluation. As part of the affidavit I mentioned earlier, Clinton had requested a psychiatric examination, but according to court documents mentioned by Kessler, the request was denied.
Kessler notes that a GoFundMe website set up to raise money for Shelton has been revised to remove mention of the polygraph tests, which did actually occur (though Kessler says there isn't evidence that Clinton set those up), and the psychiatric evaluation, which apparently did not occur.
An alternate explanation for Shelton's confusion might be that she took the polygraphs and continued to have interviews with people involved in the case, and after seeing the affidavit, assumed one of those interviews was a psychiatric evaluation. Just a thought.
But here's where I take issue with the article, and it's nothing against Kessler. I would usually be fine with true statements about the nature of the defense in criminal cases, even in cases of rape. Pointing out inconsistencies or how Shelton may have been a less than reliable witness (she wouldn't admit to having a crush on a boy closer to her age who was there the night of the rape, which led to inconsistencies in her statement) is necessary in these cases.
The problem here is that the Washington Post, just last year, hosted a forum with victims' advocates — including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — that included no due process advocates, to essentially argue for lower due process for accused students on college campuses based on the current assumption that accusers don't lie and must be listened to and believed. I get that campus adjudications are different from criminal adjudications, which is a huge problem, considering the accusations are of sexual assault.
I doubt Kessler will get any grief from victims' advocates about this article, and that's part of the problem. It seems that her story is getting scrutinized because Shelton's ire is against Hillary Clinton, and because she's appearing with Donald Trump.
Ashe Schow is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.