It Took 8 Years, a Facebook Confession, and an AP Story to Get Pennsylvania Authorities to Treat Rape Like a Crime

For survivors of sexual assault, Shannon Keeler's story is familiar

It Took 8 Years, a Facebook Confession, and an AP Story to Get Pennsylvania Authorities to Treat Rape Like a Crime
Image:Matt Rourke (AP)

In 2013, Shannon Keeler says a friend walked her home from a party near Gettysburg College because a man was frightening her. At her dorm, the man allegedly attempted to pay that friend $20 to leave Keeler alone, seized an opportunity to force his way into his room, and attacked her while she texted friends for help. Witnesses verified seeing the man, also a student, in the dorm. And though police had all of those witnesses’ accounts, it still took the man’s confession via Facebook message and a story by the Associated Press to get a warrant for the alleged assailant’s arrest, eight years after the crime.

As horrific as this scenario sounds, for survivors of sexual assault, it’s not an uncommon one. Rape remains an incredibly unreported crime, in part because survivors are often concerned that they will be dismissed like Keeler was. But of those that do get reported, just a fraction lead to an arrest, according to RAINN, which estimates just 50 arrests per 310 sexual assault reports.

In Keeler’s case, she acted immediately, filing a report with Gettysburg police and enduring an invasive rape kit, which police and the district attorney at the time (who is now a judge) then proceeded to ignore for the better part of a decade. Keeler recently told the AP that two years after her attack, just as the statute of limitations for a civil suit expired, she was informed by the district attorney that the criminal case was being dropped because “alcohol was involved.” Her Title IX complaint also went nowhere after her alleged attacker withdrew from college.

But in 2019, her alleged attacker, Ian Cleary, sent her a series of Facebook messages, including one that flat out stated “So I raped you.” Due to Facebook’s message filtering settings, Keeler didn’t notice the messages until 2020, when she again attempted to bring evidence to the new district attorney with the help of a lawyer, though the charges remained in limbo until Keeler went to the press and got the AP to report the story.

“You have to look at what evidence do you have: can it be corroborated, whether it fits in with the statute of limitations, what is the likelihood of success at trial? All of those types of things,” District Attorney Brian Sinnett told the AP, despite having that from multiple witnesses the night of the alleged sexual assault and from the accused assailant himself and being well within that statute.

Yet five weeks after Keeler managed to make him look like an asshole in the press, Sinnett finally agrees, at last issuing a warrant for Ian Clearly, who has not been arrested.

While Keeler has had some small recompense in knowing that the legal system has now done the absolute least they can do to pretend as if American police, prosecutors, or judges actually believe that rape is a crime, she correctly acknowledges that her rape never should have happened in the first place and when it did, the criminal justice system should have recognized from the start that she was the victim and not the suspect:

“While I am moved to tears by this result, which I have waited for (for) over seven years, I am mindful that this moment came because I went public with my story, which no survivor should have to do in order to obtain justice,” Keeler said in a statement to People.

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