Where Is the Justice for Juvenile Sexual Assault Victims?

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Approximately 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18.  Further, 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.  After reviewing a couple recent cases, it is easy to see why sexual assaults are not routinely reported to the police.

For example, a Texas high-school senior, Rachel Bradshaw-Bean, was allegedly raped in a band room and after reporting the incident to her band director and principal, was forced to leave her school and attend a disciplinary school with the alleged rapist.  After an initial investigation including a medical evaluation which found Rachel had lacerations consistent with rape, the school determined the claims could not be substantiated, charged the young woman with “public lewdness,” and placed her in disciplinary alternative education program alongside her alleged attacker.  Removing Rachel from her high school and placing her in disciplinary school jeopardized her chances of graduating on time, and placed her in the same school, and possibly the same classes, as her alleged attacker.  Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union and their Texas affiliate began assisting Rachel and her family.

Sandra Park, a senior attorney with the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union explained that a series of mistakes occurred.  First, when Rachel reported the sexual assault to the band director immediately after the incident, he told her to work it out with the perpetrator, which is not what a rape victim should have to do.  Next, after reporting the incident to the principal, the principal appropriately reported the sexual assault to law enforcement, but the school prematurely ended its investigation.  Similarly, the police quickly closed its case after investigating only one day and charged Rachel with public lewdness, which is questionable because a rape kit supported her story.  Lastly, the school disciplined Rachel and sent her to an alternative education program, which Park describes as “a serious flaw and mistake by the school.”

Subsequently, the ACLU worked to get Rachel transferred back into a regular high school so she could graduate on time, and filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the federal Department of Education alleging the school had violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education.  In the summer of 2012, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled that Rachel’s Title IX rights had been violated.  In regard to sexual assaults on school campuses, Sandra Park stated, “[I]t’s vitally important that school administrators and police really understand their obligations to respond to the violence and not turn around and penalize the victim like they did in Rachel’s case.”

Although Rachel’s case ended positively, the Rusk County District Attorney Michael Jimerson stated that in Rachel’s interview with the forensic specialist, she had used language that “implied consensual sex instead of forcible rape.”  Likewise, a case in Louisiana last year alleged that an incarcerated 14-year-old consented to be raped by a corrections officer.  In that case, a Louisiana parish stated it should not liable for the rape of a 14-year-old girl in a juvenile detention center because the victim “consented” to be sexually assaulted by a 40-year-old guard at the facility.  It was argued that the guard could not have sexual relations with the victim inside the detention center without cooperation from her because the guard did not use force, violence, or intimidation when engaging in sexual relations.

Carolyn McNabb, an Louisiana attorney and child advocate, criticized the parish’s victim-blaming in a letter to parish attorneys:  “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.”  Additionally, Marci Hamilton, a nationally recognized sex crime victim advocate and professor at Benjamin Cardozo Law School in New York, (and former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), criticized the parish’s argument stating, “The defense has no basis in law.”  Further, “She is a victim of statutory rape.  The age of consent in Louisiana is 17.  The defense is also offensive to sex assault victims everywhere.”

The guard, Angelo Vickers, finally pled guilty to molestation of a juvenile and is serving a 7-year sentence.  Although the Texas and Louisiana victims were able to find some justice through the courts, too often victims of sexual assault are blamed and/or face retaliation for reporting the crime.  Further, rapists are often punished minimally or not at all.  On college campuses, young males have been found guilty of violating the sexual assault policies, but are only forced to undergo counseling or issued a no-contact order, which may still allow them to be in the same classes as their victim.  Moreover, a 2005 Department of Justice study found that only 56% of prison employees who were clearly caught sexually abusing inmates were referred for prosecution, and many are released on low bonds or given negligible sentences on the grounds that their victims were in prison.  Which leave one to wonder if there is any justice for juvenile sexual assault victims.  We would like to hear your opinions on this issue; please post your thoughts below.

 

For more information:

http://m.democracynow.org/stories/14120

www.salon.com/2013/08/07/louisiana_parish_claims_incarcerated_14_year_old_consented_to_be_raped_by_her_corrections_officer

http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/crime/lawyers-want-louisiana-court-consider-14-year-old-consented-rape#

 

Photo Credit: sakhorn via Shutterstock

Tracey Toll

About Tracey Toll

Tracey Toll is a second year student at the University of Houston Law Center. She attended undergraduate school at Butler University and received a B.F.A., cum laude, with High Honors in Dance Performance. After graduating, Tracey performed with Ballet Austin for three years. During that time, she participated in Ballet Austin’s program in which dancers performed and taught movement to at-risk children at schools throughout the Austin area. After leaving Ballet Austin, Tracey worked as a paralegal practicing insurance defense and product liability defense, which led to her interest in attending law school. Since starting law school, Tracey has interned for two federal judges at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and she spent the past summer working as a Summer Associate with a law firm specializing in civil litigation in areas such as products liability, commercial litigation, labor and employment, and insurance coverage. Additionally, she is a member of the Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy. Tracey looks forward to the opportunity to work in the area of children’s rights and to advocate for children.

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