Friday, March 14, 2008

The Perils Of Reporting Rape Harm More Than The Rape Victim

From The Daily Page comes a stomach-churning story:

For the second time in less than a week, the [Wisconsin] state Department of Corrections has done a 180-degree turn regarding a Madison woman who courageously came forward to report a sexual assault. The second about-face resulted in the rape victim, 52-year-old Lorraine Cook, being led from a courtroom today in handcuffs. [...]

On Jan. 3, Cook was attacked by a male acquaintance, resulting in her arm being broken near the shoulder in several places. Afraid of being discovered, she used an alias when she sought emergency room treatment. Five days later, she was brutally raped by another male acquaintance in his vehicle; after fleeing the scene, she decided that he posed a danger to the community that outweighed her own fears about being discovered. [...]

Why did the DOC twice change its mind? Fortunately, there is no need to speculate. A Post-It note attached to a filing with the court from DOC probation and parole agent Verla Barnes states: “Judge Martin -- This appeal letter was withdrawn on 3/7/08 by Regional Office due to media coverage of the case. I was directed by my supervisor, Leann Moberly, to appeal decision.”

I want all rape victims -- even those who have a history of violence or other trouble with the law such as going AWOL from a halfway house -- to be able to report their rapes without feeling like only they will be punished.

Because this woman knew the man she reported some people will say that she got what she deserved. I say BS. However, even if this assessment were true -- which it isn't -- for the sake of general public safety, we cannot afford to give rapists the impression that the criminal justice system will ignore or swallow up certain rape victims if they report being raped.

It is dangerous for all of us when rapists are allowed to find ways to satisfy their taste for rape with no fear of accountability. That creates the impression that some people are disposable. Once that happens then the criminal may begin to find reasons why other people are disposable -- people the criminal justice system views as truly innocent victims.

This explains why some rapists who have paying jobs at hospitals and nursing homes sexually assault patients who are unable to speak. Those who supported the beginning of this dangerous path will likely exclaim, "Oh, where did a monster like this come from?"

This dynamic is at work with what some people call the media's obsession with pretty dead white girls.

Unfortunately, most of the people who only see rapists when they can be viewed as stereotypical monsters will reject an honest answer. Putting part or all of the blame on some rape victims is acceptable to them, but putting part of the blame on those who help create or support the attitudes and systems which rapists feed off of is not.

While this alleged rape victim in this case was swallowed up, her alleged rapist who has no permanent address was released and may have skipped town. This might make women in Madison, Wisconsin slightly safer, but this man now has a new pool of potential victims. Or potential "alleged" victims.

Continuing with processes which allows rapists to feel that the law enables their violence -- as long as they pick the proper victims or situations -- is dangerous to all of us. Certain issues definitely complicate the criminal justice system's choices, but the right answer for public safety isn't to simply shrug those complications away.

Circuit Court Judge James Martin who ordered Cook held seems to be suffering from tunnel vision by viewing 2 rapes and a broken arm as little more than a "my dog ate my homework" excuse. This is understandable because of the number of excuses which offenders come up with in order to dodge accountability.

This case is a prime example of why the larger systems need to address all aspects of cases such as this so that those with tunnel vision won't be allowed to inadvertently create a bigger problem than the one they are solving.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:27 AM   3 comments links to this post

3 Comments:

At March 14, 2008 12:57 PM, Anonymous paul maurice martin said...

I've never understood how, in some people's minds, the perceived immorality of the woman gets mixed up with the crime of the woman being raped. It's... primitive. Like something a charicature of a caveman maybe couldn't wrap his mind around. (I like to think most actual cavemen would have known better.)

I mean, I don't care if the woman who got raped is a thief, sexually promiscuous, engages in prostitution, abuses her children - whatever. Obviously all of that is problematic behavior, but how on earth it gives permission to anyone to rape her is beyond me.

 
At March 14, 2008 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I reading the article wrong, or was she arrested for violating her probation, which the police noticed after she reported the rape?

According to the article, she had hit her partner in the head with a frying pan and was convicted of substantial battery. Part of the condition of her probation seems to be that she had no contact with her partner and that she completed a stay at a halfway house.

She left the halfway house, was rearrested, served two more months in jail, went back to the halfway house, and then ran away from it again to live with the woman she wasn't supposed to have any contact with. While living with her, she was assaulted, raped, reported the crime, and was arrested for violating the terms of her probation. Now people are saying that she shouldn't have been arrested.

I can see the argument both ways.

On one hand, society needs to protect its members, and that includes encouraging its members to report crimes, especially violent crimes. Victims who are currently afoul of the law will hesitate to report violent crimes if they fear being arrested.

On the other hand, she is living with the woman she had hurt before, a woman she wasn't supposed to have contact with, someone she had hit with a frying pan in the head and was currently on probation for. I can see why the police would desire to arrest her if they knew of her location.

I guess it boils down to what is the lesser evil. In this case, is it better to forget her actions and let her live with her victim in order to catch a rapist and another violent offender?

Either answer to that question makes me uncomfortable.

 
At March 14, 2008 7:14 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, I don't see the situation as being limited to 2 choices where someone's violence must be given a free pass. Cook's parole violation doesn't need to be ignored, neither does her past act of violence, to have a court response which doesn't actively drive some rape victims away from reporting.

This is where a systemic view comes in. How can the criminal justice system deal with all involved which respects the safety of everyone? That isn't a question which can be effectively answered by the seat of the pants.

 

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