Nicholas Fifield is a recent high school graduate charged with sexually assaulting a mentally ill resident of a group home. 

But according to The Des Moines Register, he's a tennis star being convicted of having sex. 

"Valley High School tennis ace takes plea deal in sex case," read the August 11 headline.

The very first paragraph of the article confirms that this was not, in fact, a “sex case,” but a felony sexual abuse case.

Later paragraphs reveal the disturbing facts of the case:

“Authorities said [Fifield] met the 18-year-old woman through an online dating site and gained permission from her parents and staff at the Des Moines group home to take her to the movies on Dec. 5.

Instead, he took her to his Windsor Heights home and forced her to perform sex acts though she said “no” many times, according to a police report and criminal complaint.”

The Register also reports that the victim suffers from at least seven different mental disorders, including autism, dissociative identity disorder, and a language disorder that makes communication difficult. Even if she had not told Fifield “no,” repeatedly, these disorders would have precluded her from legally giving consent.

The case previously caused a stir at Fifield’s high school, where the “tennis ace” was permitted to play out his season.

Fifield — who also happens to be the son of Valley High School tennis coach Jay Fifeld — was suspended from a single meet after the charge was filed, according to parents at the school. Parents told the Register they had seen similar punishments for students caught drinking, or even for questioning a coach’s decision-making.

“Anybody who has a daughter should be appalled by this,” Valley High School parent Steve O’Meara told the Register. “Our public universities suspend and remove such athletes from teams and competition.”

Under the school’s code of conduct, students charged with a misdemeanor or felony cannot participate in school-sanctioned extracurricular activities — unless the administration reinstates their eligibility.

The school did not respond to Revelist’s request for comment.

But the light punishment didn’t stop there.

On the day his criminal trial was set to begin, Fifield entered an Alford plea for a lesser crime — assault with intent to commit serious injury. An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt, but an acknowledgment that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict.

The 18-year-old previously faced a maximum of 10 years in prison, but not anymore. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone told the Register that his office will recommend probation, rather than jail time, for the offender.

“We are trying to resolve it in a way that’s good for all,” Sarcone told the Register.
Prison would not do this kid any good.

In a follow-up interview with Revelist, Sarcone confirmed his office would recommend no jail time for the “kid,” but declined to further expand on his reasoning.

The case parallels other, recent sexual assault cases in which the young, male defendants saw their sentences drastically lightened.

Earlier this summer, a judge infamously sentenced former Stanford student Brock Turner to only six months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Explaining his sentencing, Judge Aaron Persky claimed, "a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him."

Just this month, 22-year-old Austin James Wilkerson received no jail time for raping an intoxicated woman he pretended to be caring for. The judge — who said he "struggled" with whether or not to jail the convicted rapist — ultimately sentenced him to a minimum of 20 years on probation.

Wilkerson's victim responded powerfully to the sentencing, in a statement that seems to resonate across all three cases:

"In conclusion, the rapist CHOSE to ruin his life," she said in a prepared statement. "But like the sexual assault itself, my life has been ruined without my consent."

Correction 9/22:

The use of the word "rape" in the fifth-to-last paragraph of this article incorrectly implied that Fifield had been charged with rape. It has been changed to "sexual assault."