How can anyone still wonder why women (or men) are so reluctant to report cases of sexual assault or rape after hearing/reading about the Pennsylvania Attorney General who recently cast part of the blame of a brutal rape on the victim because she failed to lock the door to her office? Even worse, the Attorney General victimizing the young woman is a woman herself.
In July 2013, a state employee at one of Pennsylvania’s state prisons was raped by an inmate who gained access to her office. The 24-year-old typist who worked at the Rockview State Correctional Institute in Bellfonte, PA was knocked unconscious and raped for 27 minutes by inmate Omar Best. Best had a track record of preying on women, including a prior rape and attempted rape confessions when he was transferred to Rockview.
The employee has filed a suit against the state’s department of corrections as well as the management of the prison where she worked. Although the Attorney General’s Office prosecuted Best for the rape, Attorney General Kathleen Kane is now alleging the victim contributed in whole or in part to the attack.
“Some or all of the damages plaintiff have alleged are in part, or substantially due, to the acts of third parties other than the answering defendants,” she wrote in court filings, according to the Centre Daily Times. “And/or plaintiff acted in a manner which in whole or in part contributed to the events which led to the damages plaintiff has alleged in her complaint.”
The victim said she had repeatedly told supervisors that inmates were moving freely in the hallways and near the stairs near her office and “that she was uncomfortable when Best entered her office,” Philly.com reported. Her superintendent, Marirosa Lamas, who moved the clerk’s office from a secure floor to one with a cell block, was terminated from her job. Yet Kane is pursuing the “contributory negligence” defense because, the lawsuit states, “There were no locked doors between the offices and cell blocks, including Block C where (the victim) worked, except for the copy room.”
After extensive backlash, Attorney General Kane is now saying she was not aware the contributory negligence language was included in the initial filing. “This initial filing should not necessarily be interpreted as meaning this defense will be pursued throughout the entire case,” the statement read, asserting that “Kane was not aware her senior deputy included that defense in his filing.”
Wow, contributory negligence to a contributory negligence defense. No wonder people believe the legal system is flawed. Unfortunately, this is but one of the cases where women are treated as part of the problem instead of victims in rape cases.
The most frustrating and disturbing issue regarding this incident is our criminal justice system that simply refuses to take many sexual assault cases seriously. According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, contributory negligence arguments are common, and the state’s attorneys have to explore all possible defense as representatives of the prison.
Does anyone in the court system realize it is exactly this kind of victim shaming that perpetuates a society where 60% of rape cases are not reported and 97% of rapists will never spends so much as even one day in jail? Even if the victim is courageous enough to report her case, the legal system may very well say, “This is your fault,” instead of protecting her.
Just think about the judge from Montana who sentenced a 14-year-old girl’s rapist to 30 days in prison because, the judge said, the victim behaved “older than her chronological age” and she was “as much as in control” of the situation as her adult male rapist.
This conveys that women cannot rely on the justice system or lawmakers to protect them, strongly suggesting that “rape culture” extends beyond the streets and is more insidiously, systemically rooted in the institutional structures of society. All too often the criminal justice system ends up re-traumatizing the victims of sexual assault, something that dissuades many of them from attempting to press charges in the first place.
According to a 2000 study conducted by the Department of Justice, many women do not report their rapes because they do not believe the police will respond seriously enough, or because they are afraid of being met with hostility. That cannot be chalked up simply to paranoia – there is increasing evidence that, since trauma may lead victims to behave erratically, police officers are likely to assume that women are lying about being assaulted.
Even when rape cases do make it through the system, there’s no guarantee they will lead to much punishment. There was an Alabama judge who routinely gave convicted rapists probation until there was a loud public outcry that forced him to reverse some of those decisions. A Texas judge once had the poor judgment to sentence a rapist to volunteer at a rape crisis center.
This approach to rape cases ultimately sends the message that sexual assault is a crime that is not taken seriously in this country. Some advocates argue that combating a broader victim-blaming rape culture must start with making additional reforms to the way that law enforcement handle these incidents. Perhaps the best way to start is for society to understand that RAPE is RAPE!