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

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Juvenile Justice secretary meets with Capitol protesters, Tallahasee.com

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters listened to the personal stories of several activists who have resided in Gov. Rick Scott’s office since Tuesday of last week.

While the group, mostly comprised of members of social activists the Dream Defenders, is adamant about working to abolish Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, they also have a developed focus on other laws that they say adversely affect the youth in the state.

They had the chance to outline what they would like to see from Walters in her capacity as the DJJ secretary.

Protesters are also working to remove zero tolerance laws where youth are suspended from school for minor offenses and stopping the school to prison pipeline that they say often push youth into prison with adults.

 

Governor directs juvenile justice chief to meet with protesters, Miami Herald

Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with his juvenile justice secretary, Wansley Walters, and directed her to meet with a group of student protesters who occupy part of the state Capitol for a sixth straight day
in opposition to Florida’s self-defense law.

Scott met with Walters at DJJ’s Tallahassee offices on Monday morning and they emerged to speak to reporters afterward in a hastily-called media availability.

Scott  met with the protesters last Thursday night in his office and rejected their request that he call a special legislative session to repeal the self-defense law, known as “stand your ground.” The law is widely perceived to be at the heart of George Zimmerman’s decisions on the night he fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, during an encounter in Sanford in February 2012. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder.

“I believe in our stand your ground and our self-defense laws in our state,” Scott said. “But I appreciate the fact that they expressed their concerns.” The governor reiterated his suggestion that the young protesters should focus their concerns on state legislators who passed the self-defense law in 2005.

 

Michigan juvenile lifers: Joint hearing scheduled on proposed changes to unconstitutional state law, MLive

LANSING, MI — State lawmakers are expected to hear testimony next month on proposed changes to Michigan’s “juvenile lifer” law, which was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a year ago.

Chairs of the House Criminal Justice and Senate Judiciary committees have scheduled a joint session on August 14 for testimony — but not a vote — on bipartisan legislation to update state law in response to the ruling.

Michigan law gives prosecutors broad authority to seek adult charges against minors convicted of certain crimes, including first-degree murder. If convicted, those minors face mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision released in June of 2012, said that such mandatory sentences amount to an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment that fail to acknowledge the potential for character and cognitive development in young people.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than a quarter of offenders in West Virginia’s juvenile detention facilities are actually young adults.

State law keeps many juvenile offenders in the custody of the Division of Juvenile Services system until they’re 21 years old. That might need to change, said Denny Dodson, deputy director of the division.

“We either need to change the code or have separate facilities . . .” Dodson said in a recent interview with the Daily Mail.

There’s no policy to keep adult and juvenile offenders separate in the facilities. At one point, advocates said it was good to mix offenders of different ages, Dodson said.

“We took some heat in trying to keep them separate. Obviously, we’re taking some heat for not keeping them separate now.”

A judge recently called the idea into question during a hearing about safety at the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center, a juvenile corrections facility for sexual offenders and others.

 

The Prison Rape Elimination Act Has Been Law for 10 Years; Time to Make It Policy, Takepart.com

Ten years ago this week, Congress unanimously approved the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to end sexual violence behind bars.

The law arrived too late for Rodney Hulin, whose mother, Linda Bruntmyer, testified before Congress in 2002 about the brutal rapes of her son in adult prison and his suicide as a result.

In a grievance letter to prison officials, 16-year-old Rodney wrote, “I have been sexually and physically assaulted several times, by several inmates. I am afraid to go to sleep, to shower, and just about everything else. I am afraid that when I am doing these things, I might die at any minute. Please, sir, help me.”

 

Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Bethlehem Homicide Suspect is First Juvenile Charged in Northhampton County Under New Guidelines, Lehighvalleylive.com

With a 17-year-old suspect in custody, Northampton County authorities are poised to prosecute a juvenile for homicide for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court banned automatic life-without-parole sentences for those under age 18.

Bethlehem police Tuesday arrested Lucas J. Cabassa for allegedly firing a fatal shot into the temple of 25-year-old Joseph Rodriguez about 3:15 a.m. Sunday on South Side.

Investigators say they found Facebook pages suggesting Rodriguez belonged to the Latin Kings but do not believe the shooting at a playground near the 800 block of Argus Court was gang related.

First Assistant District Attorney Terry Houck said first-degree murder charges have not been ruled out against Cabassa. A year ago, that charge would have carried an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole upon conviction.

Girl’s Rape Results in Pregnancy, Reflects Big Problem, USA Today

ELWOOD, Ind. — The young girl has felt the stares and endured the rumors running through this small town.

That uninformed reaction to a pregnancy at 13 is no real surprise. People here see a child having a child and are appalled.

What they don’t know is the back story: The pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault, a fact hidden behind the curtain of privacy that cloaks juvenile court proceedings in Indiana.

Defeated Bill Means New Orleans Juvenile Court Keeps its Six Judges, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

The six judges on the New Orleans juvenile court bench can stop updating their resumes. State legislation proposing to cut their number by two was narrowly defeated Tuesday in a committee vote.

The proposed measure, House Bill 607, was a reaction to a recent recommendation from the state Supreme Court that one juvenile court judge would be sufficient for the city of New Orleans because of reduced workloads. The bill, defeated by a 3-2 Senate committee vote, would have reduced the Orleans Parish juvenile court bench from six judges to four.