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Why would you even think to put a rape victim in jail?

I am outraged.

The 25-year-old rape victim, frightened and long-suffering from mental illness, agreed in December to testify against the Houston man who brutally assaulted her in 2013.

She hoped to put him behind bars for life.

But that decision landed her in the Harris County jail for more than a month over the Christmas holiday – terrified, helpless and hopeless, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in Houston.

The woman, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had a mental breakdown on the witness stand and then was jailed by Harris County prosecutors who feared she wouldn’t come back to court.

“They didn’t care. They got what they wanted,” the woman’s mother said Wednesday about the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “She was collateral damage and they didn’t care what happened to her.”

News about the case shocked Houston’s defense attorneys and advocates for rape victims.

“That is beyond ludicrous,” said Lavinia Masters, a sexual assault victims advocate. “I’m amazed that a judge would allow that. You’re further victimizing a victim.”

District Attorney Devon Anderson said the woman, who was homeless when she was raped, was going through a “life-threatening mental health crisis” and told prosecutors she was not going to return to testify.

“If nothing was done to prevent the victim from leaving Harris County in the middle of trial, a serial rapist would have gone free – and her life would have been at risk while homeless on the street,” Anderson said in a video statement. “This was an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation. There were no apparent alternatives that would ensure both the victim’s safety and her appearance in trial.”

She defended the prosecutor named in the lawsuit, Nicholas Socias, and said any claim that her office does not support crime victims is “outrageous.”

[…]

Jailing a witness to ensure they testify is an unusual move in Harris County, especially when the witness is not also facing criminal charges. Over the past two decades, there have been a smattering of published accounts of rape victims being jailed across the country.

Officials with the Houston Area Women’s Center said respecting the dignity of survivors and providing full support are paramount.

“We have no direct knowledge of this particular case, but are concerned that sexual assault is already under-reported and that this may further deter survivors from coming forward,” said Rebecca White, the center’s chief executive officer.

I can’t even begin to imagine the thought process that led to the conclusion that jailing this poor women was a good idea. I mean, I know that the Harris County Jail is called the largest mental health facility in the country, but that doesn’t make it a hospital, and it doesn’t make it an acceptable place to try and treat someone who doesn’t belong in jail. This was just monumentally bad judgment, and Kim Ogg is right to call for an independent investigation of what happened. For shame.

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5 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    There has to be an alternative to jail time…however she had to testify. We can complain but what is the answer? Also who was the Judge? That is the question that is left out of the article right? Why don’t we look deeper into solving the problem rather do a political rant and use the rape victims tragedy to further our political goals.

  2. mollusk says:

    Towards the end of the piece, Jane Doe’s lawyer says he has no beef with the judge because she was apparently relying on what the prosecuting attorneys were telling her.

    “Prosecutors told the woman’s mother that she would get the best care available. They did not tell her they had gotten a court order to jail her as a material witness.

    “The woman’s mother thought she would return to the family’s Houston-area home to wait to go back to court. But when she was released from the hospital on Dec. 18, an armed investigator with the district attorney’s office handcuffed her and took her to the Harris County Jail.

    “Booking records suggested she was a suspect of sexual assault and not a witness, according to (Jane Doe’s) lawsuit.

    […]

    During a subsequent breakdown episode, “she apparently took a swing and caught a female jailer in the face. That jailer returned the punch, giving the woman a black eye. She was then charged with assaulting a jailer, a felony that remained pending until after she testified.

    “The judge who signed the order to jail the woman as a witness had the assault charge moved to another court, writing that she was sympathetic to the young woman.

    “This defendant testified as a complaining witness in a jury trial before me. I have a great deal of sympathy for this individual,” state District Judge Stacey Bond wrote on the transfer order. “It would be improper for me to oversee her case. I would feel terrible about punishing her.”

    “The charge was dropped after she testified.”

    ————–

    Devon Anderson may well be a far better DA than Chuck Rosenthal, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear. She likely wasn’t consulted on the prosecutor’s decisions, but she still runs that office and sets its compass.

  3. byron schirmbeck says:

    Devon Anderson has been a terrible DA. Absolutely terrible. And it doesn’t matter if you lean left or right, she’s done plenty to piss you off. This latest example of what happens on her watch is more proof she is unqualified for the position and should resign right away.

  4. […] byron schirmbeck on Why would you even think to put a rape victim in jail? […]

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