No, your honor. A convicted Utah rapist isn't a great man. He's a criminal

Sunday , April 16, 2017 - 4:30 AM

STANDARD-EXAMINER EDITORIAL BOARD

After a Utah jury found a former Mormon bishop guilty of rape and 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse, the judge called him a good man.

An “extraordinarily good man.”

A “great” man.

No, your honor. He isn’t.

He’s a rapist. A sexual predator. A criminal.

He abused two women.

And you just held him up as a model of moral conduct.

  • RELATED: “Utah judge at rape sentencing: Ex-Mormon bishop a 'good man'”

No wonder Utah finds it so difficult to address the horror of sexual violence.

Julia Kirby lived at Keith Robert Vallejo’s house when she attended Brigham Young University in 2013. She’s related to the former LDS bishop.

Kirby, now 23, said Vallejo repeatedly groped her. Another woman also said she was abused at Vallejos’ home in 2014, when she was 17. After a Provo jury convicted Vallejos in late March, Judge Thomas Low allowed him to remain free on bail until his April 12 sentencing.

That in itself shows how insignificant Low considers sexual violence — he allowed a convicted rapist to go home, as if he’d done nothing wrong.

Then, at last week’s sentencing, Low clearly expressed his sympathy for Vallejo, who could spend the rest of his life in prison.

"The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man.... But great men sometimes do bad things," Low said.

That enraged Kirby.

"He only cared about the person he was convicting, and I think that is really kind of despicable," Kirby, who gave The Associated Press permission to publish her name.

She plans to file a complaint against Low and wants him removed from the bench.

No one who extols rapists as great and extraordinary should be deciding cases in Utah.

Especially in Utah.

Because the overwhelmingly male Utah Legislature didn’t consider sexual assault a significant crime, it allowed a backlog of 2,700 rape kits to build up at the state crime lab. In Northern Utah, some of the kits dated back to the 1990s.

It took Rep. Angela Romero, a Salt Lake City Democrat, to get House Bill 200 passed in the 2017 Legislature. HB 200 requires all rape kits to undergo testing at the state crime lab.

Finally, after decades of indifference, Utah lawmakers acknowledged rape as a legitimate crime — a crime demanding the immediate and full attention of law enforcement.

And just like that, Low undercut the state’s evolving view of sexual violence by expressing admiration for a rapist.

A third of Utah women experience sexual violence, the state health department reports. Far too often, that’s rape; according to a 2006 survey, 12 percent of Utah women said they’d been raped or someone tried to rape them.

Utah, a state of 3 million people, ranks ninth in the U.S. in rapes — in 2015, the rate was 54.9 per 100,000 residents, the FBI reported.

All of this comes at a cost. A report by the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault concluded sexual violence ripped nearly $5 billion out of the state economy in 2011 alone.

Yet until now, few cared. We turned the other way as Utah built a culture that allowed sexual violence to flourish.

Judge Thomas Low is part of that culture, and he perpetuates it when he extols a rapist as a great and good man.

He needs to resign so Utah can get on with the fight against sexual violence.

And if he refuses, voters need to remove him from the bench.

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