By STEPHEN D. FOSTER JR.
An ongoing civil suit seeking damages against a prison guard and the Terrebonne Parish juvenile detention facility in Louisiana where he worked has sunk to a new low. Attorneys defending the Parish and facility are actually making the argument that a 14-year-old girl is responsible for being repeatedly raped by the prison guard in question.
ThinkProgress reports that the emotionally traumatized now 20-year-old woman is suing the facility and the Parish for not protecting her from former guard Angelo Vickers, who is now serving a seven-year sentence for molestation.
In an effort to shield the Parish and facility from liability in the case, lawyers are employing an outrageous argument. They claim the then 14-year-old girl wanted to be raped repeatedly by her 40-year-old prison guard/rapist.
Needless to say, child advocates and victims advocates are outraged that an attorney representing the local government would make such a claim, even though Louisiana law clearly states that anyone under the age of 17 cannot consent to sex. This ‘blaming the victim’ strategy resulted in child advocate and attorney, Carolyn McNabb, to fire off a letter to attorney Alexander Crighton, asking him to strike the accusation from the court record and drop the defense tactic entirely.
“To say that a 14-year-old mentally and emotionally distressed girl with a history of having been abused and neglected as a child should be found at fault for consenting to be raped by a male guard while in confinement at the hands of my local government, which is charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe, not only sets the cause of children’s advocacy back a hundred years, but I believe the parish government commits ‘documentary’ sexual assault against the child by taking this position in a public record,” McNabb wrote.
According to ThinkProgress, the detention center has a sordid history of enabling prison guards to prey upon their young and defenseless victims.
The Terrebonne juvenile prison was exposed by a Department of Justice investigation in 2010 for arbitrarily putting children in isolation cells and leaving guards unsupervised. Several staffers were fired and even indicted for exchanging candy, fruit, time on the telephone, and other favors in return for sex with the underage inmates.
Unfortunately, blaming and punishing rape victims for their own assaults is running rampant in our society. For years, Republicans in and out of Congress have attempted to redefine rape to make it harder for victims to come forward. In their minds, a rape is a forced act that leaves physical evidence such as bruising, tearing, scratches, etc., but that is not always the case. Rapists often use weapons and intimidation in order to force their victims to submit to the assault. Afraid for their lives, many victims will choose not to fight back so as to survive the assault. Many women are also violated after being drugged or having too much to drink, making it easier for a rapist to violate the victim without leaving physical marks. In short, it is wrong to assume that it’s only rape when there is physical evidence of force.
Some in the GOP are also under the notion that women can’t get pregnant through rape, and therefore dismiss victims who seek abortions. The fact is, rape victims have higher pregnancy rates than other women.
Clearly, a 14-year-old girl in isolation would be an easy target for a predator and she would be terrified of retribution from her attacker if she were to resist, especially if her attacker is a guard. The facility is absolutely responsible for the safety of minors placed under their watch. It is totally unacceptable to blame the victim for the crime committed by the rapist and such a tactic is despicable to use in a court of law or anywhere else for that matter.
For too long, a war has been waged against the victims of rape and the only ones who benefit from such a war are the rapists themselves. Blaming the victim is a shameful exercise that gives rapists the ability to escape justice and resume targeting other women. Such a tactic serves to make rape more difficult to prove and will absolutely cause many women to decide against reporting their assaults to avoid being blamed for something that is not their fault.