Newsflash: Cheerleader Denied Justice (Again)

In a Texas case I wrote about on the Ms. Blog in October, Hillaire S. was 16-years-old in October 2008 when she was taken into a dark room at a house party by four high school athletes, one of whom raped her while another held her down. When three students in the hall heard Hillaire’s cries of “stop,” they broke through the locked door as the athletes fled through a window, breaking it in the process. The rapist, Rakheem Bolton, fled into the woods without his clothes, then returned to demand them and threatened to kill everyone at the house.

Three months after the rape, a grand jury chose not to indict Bolton or his accomplice, Christian Rountree. In private interviews I learned that Bolton’s family pastor was on the jury, and that his cousin, Thomas Tyler, is also a powerful member of the city council, under the employ of District Attorney David Sheffield, who presented the case.

Later in the year, another grand jury indicted the perpetrators, and Bolton pled guilty to simple assault in September 2010. Bolton was let back on the campus of Silsbee High School between the conflicting grand jury rulings, just in time for basketball playoffs. Hillaire refused to cheer for Bolton when he approached the free-throw line. The cheer she refused to say? “Two, four, six, eight, ten, come on Rakheem, put it in.”

Superintendent Richard Bain and other school administrators kicked her off the squad for refusing to cheer for her rapist, so Hillaire’s parents sued the school for violating her right to free speech. An appeals court dismissed her case, finding that, as a cheerleader, she was a “mouthpiece through which the school could disseminate speech–namely, support for its athletic teams.” They also found that Hillaire’s refusal to cheer for her rapist “constituted substantial interference with the work of the school,” even though her protest was silent. Hillaire’s attorney, Laurence Watts, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on December 23, 2010, but Monday the court decided not to hear the case. On top of that, Hillaire’s family is now obligated to pay the school $35,000 for legal expenses incurred.

While it’s not surprising that the Supreme Court didn’t call the case up, considering that they hear only a small fraction of cases that are petitioned, the callousness and potential unconstitutionality of the lower court ruling should have caused the justices to at least consider it. Craig, Hillaire’s outspoken father, has said that his daughter was raped, then “raped again by the school district, and raped by the D.A., and raped by the appeals court.” Now he can add the Supreme Court to this list.

Caroline Heldman has spent the last seven months researching Hillaire’s case in Silsbee, Texas. A longer story on the case is available here.

Image from Wikimedia



Dr. Caroline Heldman is the Executive Director of The Representation Project, Professor of Politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a Senior Research Advisor for the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. She also co-founded the New Orleans Women’s Shelter, the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum, End Rape on Campus, Faculty Against Rape and End Rape Statute of Limitations. Her books include Rethinking Madame President: Are We Ready for a Woman in the White House?, Protest Politics in the Marketplace: Consumer Activism in the Corporate Age), Women, Power, and Politics: The Fight for Gender Equality in the United States, The New Campus Anti-Rape Movement and Sex and Gender in the 2016 Presidential Election. Her research has been featured in top academic journals like the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Political Psychology and Political Communications; and her work has also been featured in the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast.