I am a proud feminist. I relished the opportunity to spend two years earning a graduate degree at an east coast women’s college, and I spent several years of my life coaching and teaching young women. I am frustrated by the inequities women still face in 2010, and I am angered by the number of women and girls who are victimized and abused each year.
I say all this to preface what I’m about to write.
In 2002, Jordan Holm, a Northfield, Minn., native who grew up wrestling with my brothers, got into serious trouble. He was straight-A student, a full scholarship athlete at the University of Northern Iowa, and a young man who placed great importance on his family and his faith. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a young woman who he’d never met accused him of performing non-consensual oral sex on her at a college party. Believing that justice would be served, he never imagined that his word—and the lack of physical evidence—wouldn’t count for anything. In 2003, a judge found him guilty of sexual assault, and he was sent to prison. Boom—end of college.
Jordan could have been freed years sooner had he been willing to go through a sex offender treatment program, but this would have meant admitting guilt—something Jordan was not, and is not, willing to do. So this past spring, Jordan was finally released at age 28.
As an outsider looking in, my heart has broken for the Holm family throughout this ordeal. I can’t know for certain what happened at that party eight years ago. Jordan’s account of what happened is nothing like the account of the young woman who accused him. This isn’t a case where the two parties argued over whether the sex act was consensual or not. No—they argued over whether it happened at all. In the end, it was a “he said, she said” case in which the character of the two parties was not taken into account.
Many people who I respect—including my dad—have stood behind Jordan since Day One. I have known his family for roughly twenty years, and I really can’t fathom the idea that Jordan is guilty of this crime—a crime which is truly disgusting. I am proud that our justice system penalizes those who are convicted of such crimes in a very serious manner, but after watching this case for the last eight years, I worry about the potential for the wrong people to get dragged into that hell. People have been wrongfully accused of all manner of crimes since the beginning of time. It’s not like this is a new phenomenon.
As a sister, daughter, wife, mother, and auntie to five little boys, the possibility that a young man could wrongfully end up behind bars scares the hell out of me. Of course I want any person who violates a woman to be punished, and of course I want to believe every woman who says she’s been victimized. But this case hits way too close to home—this could have been one of my brothers—and when I look at the details of the case, they don’t add up.
Not only did Jordan spend the last seven years in prison, but he must also register as a sex offender for the next ten years. This young man’s life has been irreversibly altered, but what’s truly inspiring to me is that through it all, he maintained not only his innocence, but also his faith and his dignity. And, just days after being released from prison, Jordan entered and won a regional wrestling championship. Some have called him an Olympic hopeful for 2012, and he very recently moved out west to train and pursue that dream.
Jordan’s situation has weighed on my heart lately, and I wanted to help in some small way, but as I thought about sharing this story, I couldn’t help but wonder if others might see me as a bad feminist for questioning the word of a fellow woman. Jordan’s accuser has her own story, and at the very least, she had one really rough weekend eight years ago. In fact, she’d been thrown out of a bar just before the alleged incident. According to Jordan’s website, “The woman was thrown out of a bar earlier that same day for causing a scene and throwing punches at her boyfriend. She was upset because her boyfriend hadn’t become jealous of her open flirting with an ex-boyfriend who was also at the bar. Her boyfriend was allowed to stay. (Transcript 26-27, 222-224)”
Jordan and his family are still fighting to get him exonerated. If you’d like to learn more about Jordan and his case, visit the website that his family created, FreeJordan.org. This topic is understandably hard for many people, but as my dad says, “[it's] pretty touchy stuff, but people need to stand up if they believe in things.”
I later wrote three follow-up posts based on an interview with Jordan, starting with “Talking Truth with Jordan Holm.”
I Want to Know
- Can you even imagine if this happened to your brother, father, son, boyfriend, or husband?
- How can we ever know what really happened in a “he said, she said” (or he-he or she-she, for that matter) case?
- Do feminists have a responsibility to assume that a woman’s word is always trustworthy when it comes to abuse or assault?