Kansas woman convening own grand jury after prosecutor refuses to file sexual assault charges

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LINDSBORG, Kan. (WDAF) — A Kansas college student is taking matters into her own hands after a prosecutor declined to file sexual assault charges after she said she was attacked.

Madison Smith said that in February 2018 on the Bethany College campus in Lindsborg, Kansas, Jared Stolzenberg began strangling her during consensual sex. Smith said he also forced her to perform oral sex and tried to sodomize her.

“Your brain just responds a certain way when you’re in that situation, and I froze. I did what I had to do to get out of there alive,” Smith said.

She told her parents, who called police and took her to the hospital for an exam. A few weeks later they met with McPherson County Attorney Gregory Benefiel.

“The county attorney re-victimized my daughter the first meeting that she had with him. He told her that it was immature sex and not rape or any other sex crime,” said Mandy Smith, Madison’s mother.

Benefiel charged Stolzenberg with battery but not sexual assault, so Smith took matters into her own hands at the recommendation of a former detective. She decided to convene a grand jury herself.

“They decided that they were ready to try to do the work because it is very difficult to do and takes a lot of time, and our system wears out victims and survivors and survivor victims,” said former detective Justin Boardman.

Kansas is one of six states — including New Mexico, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada and Oklahoma — that allows citizens to convene their own grand juries under an 1887 law. It requires a certain number of signatures on a petition in support of the case. Smith, who needed 212, collected 329.

Julie Donelon, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, said it’s important to understand consent for sexual acts can be taken away at any time.

“Consent is for a specific action,” Donelon said. “So if that action changes, people have the right to change their mind and to, you know, you no longer have consent in those circumstances.”

No matter the outcome of the grand jury, Smith hopes to inspire other survivors to keep fighting for justice.

“Even if my stuff doesn’t work out the way we’re hoping, it’s got to change the status quo for everybody,” Smith said.

The grand jury will convene on Sept. 29 to discuss whether there’s enough evidence for a sexual assault charge.

Benefiel didn’t return calls from WDAF for comment.

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