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Matt Bevin did not suddenly become a civil libertarian

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Matt Bevin, everyone:

Before he left office, former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin pardoned not one, but several men convicted of sexually abusing minors.

And on Thursday, he defended one of these pardons by sharing intimate details about a child’s anatomy.

Bevin pardoned Micah Schoettle, now 41, who had been convicted of raping a 9-year-old girl. The reason for the pardon, Bevin said, is that the girl’s hymen was intact.

“If you have been repeatedly sexually violated as a small child by an adult, there are going to be repercussions of that physically and medically,” Bevin said in a local radio interview, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

But experts say that an intact hymen is in no way evidence that a child has not been raped; one study found that just over 2 percent of survivors in child rape cases had visible damage to the hymen, the Courier Journal reports. Moreover, the former governor was publicly talking about a minor’s sexual organs as a way to discredit her testimony about her sexual assault. 

Bevin was already facing heavy criticism for the hundreds of pardons he issued in the last days of his term, including at least two other men convicted of sexual abuse of children. The pardons are part of a complex legacy on criminal justice issues, including an effort to reduce the number of people incarcerated in Kentucky, as Vox’s Casey Quinlan explains. But in the case of Schoettle’s pardon, Bevin appears to have misunderstood the law and science of sexual abuse — and his words play into stigma and misinformation around hymens and sexual activity that could keep survivors from coming forward about their assaults.

I’ve seen some galaxy-brained takes about how critiques of Bevin’s use of the pardon power is undermining the cause of criminal justice reform, but they are completely wrongheaded. Actual criminal justice reform is systematic. It doesn’t operate by having some kook release a tiny percentage of the state’s prison population for arbitrary and in some cases bad or corrupt reasons. Indeed, mandating extremely harsh sentences and then not applying them to selected individuals who are well-connected or who relevant decision-makers take a shine to is critical to the maintenance of mass incarceration. And when a misogynist creep decidedness to pardon some violent sex offenders while leaving the sentences of countless people who are serving lengthy sentences for much less serious offenses in prison it doesn’t undermine the cause of criminal justice reform to criticize his actions.

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