A McHenry County, an Illinois judge sentenced Oliver Woodstock to 36 years in prison this week for three counts of sexual assault. A jury found Woodstock guilty in February on one count of sexual assault. He entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in March; in exchange for prosecutors dropping five additional cases against him, Woodstock would plead guilty to two additional charges of sexual assault. Prosecutors also agreed not to file any more charges against Woodstock if they uncovered additional victims in video recordings seized from his home.
The Woodstock case is unusual in that the victims were all prostitutes whom Woodstock had paid for services prior to the assault.
Illinois Craigslist Rapist
Woodstock was originally charged with sexually assaulting eight women, each of whom he had met on Craigslist and other online dating sites, with the intent of paying them for sex. Woodstock did, in fact, pay the women. According to trial testimony, what began as a consensual encounter quickly turned ugly.
Two women testified to similar stories at trial. Woodstock picked them up and brought them to his home, where he immediately escorted them to his basement. The women testified that Woodstock threatened to report them to the police as prostitutes, and became violent before escorting them upstairs to his bedroom, where he videotaped the sexual assault. The women could be heard saying “No” on the video recordings, and repeatedly asked Woodstock to stop because he was scaring them. Woodstock could be heard telling the women that he didn’t have to stop because he “paid them.” He also threatened to “hunt them down,” as he had their license plate numbers, if they reported the assault to the police.
Withdrawal of Consent as Defense to Rape
The defense argued that the encounter was a business transaction. The woman was a prostitute who was paid for sex, and thus the encounter was consensual. Because consent is always a defense to rape, Woodstock did not in fact commit sexual assault. Instead – for whatever reason – the woman changed her mind at some point during the encounter and decided to claim it was rape.
In some cases though consent can be withdrawn. In Illinois, consent can even be withdrawn while the sexual act is being committed.
In this case, it was clear from video recordings that the woman had withdrawn her consent to the sexual encounter: she repeatedly asked him to stop, and she indicated that she was afraid of him. In addition, he repeatedly threatened to report the woman to the police for prostitution. (Though not raised in this case, the argument could be made whether that threat was one that should have been taken seriously. Had Woodstock reported the woman to the police for prostitution, he would be placing himself in jeopardy of being charged with solicitation as well).
Had the above been a single isolated incident, the defense may have been able to convince the jury that consent was not withdrawn, but that this was a case of “buyer’s remorse.” But the prosecution had eight different women who testified to similar stories – and because Woodstock had recorded the sexual encounters, it also had the evidence to back the women up. In this case it was the pattern of behavior the videos documented – violence, threats, and each woman asking him to stop – that helped sway the jury that although the encounter started off consensual, that consent was ultimately withdrawn, making the encounter a sexual assault. Continue reading