Madison Smith claims that consensual sex with a friend turned into a horrific assault in his dorm room. When prosecutors declined to bring rape charges, Smith took matters into her own hands, calling on a 134-year-old state law and collecting hundreds of signatures to form her own grand jury.
Her attacker, Jared Stolzenburg, initially plead guilty to aggravated battery, and received only two years' probation. That wasn't enough for Smith.
"This happens nationwide, worldwide that victims and survivors are minimized by the prosecutors who don't believe them," she said, "And that is not OK because rape culture is so prevalent, and we need to get rid of it, and one of the ways to do that is to get our stories out there."
Kansas is one of six states that allows private citizens to petition for their own grand juries. The 1887 law is mostly used by anti-abortion activists to investigate abortion clinics, but has also been used to go after adult bookstores. Smith's case, however, will most likely be the first time the law is used in a case of sexual assault. According to Kathy Ray of the Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, "This case has a lot of issues within the criminal justice system, and sometimes victims feel they have no other choice but to go public."
While the process of gathering signatures wasn't easy for Smith, who spent hours upon hours explaining her story to strangers, clipboard in hand, the reactions from some of her signers was profound.
Some of the strangers she approached snatched the pen from her hands just a few minutes after she began speaking, hugging her and whispering into her ear so others nearby couldn't hear that they had been sexually assaulted in the past themselves.
"They were very thankful that I was fighting, just fighting the justice system and trying to make a change in the world because they were too scared to fight back," she recalled.
Justice was hard won. In the initial case, McPherson County Attorney Gregory Benefiel told Smith's own mother that the case was "challenging" because Smith didn't verbally withdraw her consent. She couldn't do so because Stolzenburg was strangling her.
"I really thought that he was going to kill me, and the only way I was going to leave that room was in a body bag," said Smith, who is working at a nursing home before she begins to study nursing in the fall.
"He would strangle me for 20 or 30 seconds at a time, and I would begin to lose consciousness," she said.
Julie Germann, the former Minnesota prosecutor who reviewed the 134-year-old law for Smith's case, had a few sharp words to add.
"This idea that because she consented then anything that follows is acceptable, that is a very dangerous precedent to set," said Germann, who consults and teaches about sexual assault.
Jared Stolzenburg, Madison Smith's attacker, was heard by a court service worker saying he "does feel sorry for the victim," but that he should have communicated better.