We’ve not come Far Enough when it comes to asserting Sexual Assault ClaimsPosted: July 9, 2011
I first became an advocate for stronger rape laws and prosecution when I was in high school. It was nothing personal for me. My neighbor was a member of Junior League of Omaha. The organization had just started one of the country’s first rape victim support lines. She asked me to volunteer and I went through what passed as training back in the mid 70s to spend an evening a week answering the phone. I was prepared for little more than making referrals to a list of approved sources but frequently got a little more than I bargained for. I realized there was a need to change the way we approached sexual assaults. When I got into university, I helped the University Women’s Action Group by teaching young women–mostly in sororities–on how to be safe on campus as well as how to do limited self defense. We also worked hard at moving sex crimes out of the property crimes divisions of local police departments, getting more police women to respond to rape reports, and changing the Nebraska Rape laws so that a perpetrator could be charged with the crime without the women having to come up with two to three witnesses. We also moved to block defense lawyers from putting rape victims on trial by using their personal history against them. I had one friend that was raped on campus that was afraid to report her assault because she had been smoking pot. She felt that the police would think she was asking for it by being stoned and alone in the library. When I look back at those times, I realize that our criminal justice system has made some progress. When I read recent headlines, I realize that we have not yet come far enough.
Three recent high profile sexual assault cases look to end with a very old fashioned problem. It still seems that being a less than perfect human being means that you ask for it. The first of these cases is that of Jamie Leigh Jones who had accused KBR of perpetuating a climate of sexual abuse of women and some of its employees of rape. A Houston jury just decided her sexual assault was ‘consensual’ . The verdict appears mostly based on Jones’ credibility due to a history of depression and her past experiences while her accused rapist’s criminal history of violence against women was suppressed.
Now 26, Jones said she was drugged with the date rape drug Rohypnol and brutally raped in 2005, while working at KBR facility Camp Hope in Iraq. She also told jurors that after the incident, she was imprisoned in a shipping container and prevented from calling family for help, and later had to go through reconstructive surgery on her chest and psychiatric counseling for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But jurors in the case against the Houston, Texas-based company decided in the end that Jones’s sexual encounter was consentual, rendering other charges moot.
An attorney for Jones did not comment on a possible appeal, but said that he respected the jury’s decision considering the evidence they were allowed to see.
“We do think it’s a shame that Jamie’s entire personal history was dragged before the jury,” attorney Todd Kelly told the Chronicle, “when her rapist’s criminal history, including violence against women, was suppressed from them.”
Jamie’s case was championed earlier by Minnesota Senator Al Franken ensuring her right to a jury trial when KBR was trying to force her into arbitration. The details of her assault are particularly disturbing as well as the behavior of KBR to avoid the charges. None of this appeared to impact the jury, however.
With the high-profile victim looking on in the Senate chamber in 2009, Franken won passage of a measure in her name ensuring that military contractors couldn’t force victims of sexual assault into arbitration, as opposed to suing.
Jones got her day in court, and on Friday, a federal jury deciding her civil suit in Houston decided she was not raped, vindicating a company that charged she had exaggerated or made up her story, in part for fame, publicity and a book deal.
The jury also rejected Jones’ claims of fraud against KBR, which she said had failed to enforce its policies against sexual harassment or protect her from the alleged attack by the company’s contract workers in Iraq.
Jones’ suit was aimed at KBR, its former parent company Halliburton, and KBR firefighter Charles Bortz, who she claimed led the attack while she worked for KBR in 2005.
Bortz claimed he had consensual sex with Jones. He was not criminally charged and has filed a countersuit against her, according to the Associated Press.
The other high profile case that seems on the ropes due to past history of the accuser–in this case over possibly lying to get asylum in the U.S. and knowing a few criminals–is that of the maid whose charges brought about the resignation of IMF head Dominic Strauss-Kahn and tanked his chances of being nominated as a candidate for the president of France. Not only is the prosecution’s case said to be falling apart due to her associations and questions about her asylum case, she was held up in a NY Post story as a prostitute with no evidence provided. She is now suing the paper for slander. That case probably hinges on her credibility also.
The hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her wants her day in court, her lawyer has said.
She still could get it, even if prosecutors decide to drop the criminal case amid what they say are doubts about her trustworthiness.
Regardless of what happens in the criminal case, the woman could pursue her claim in a civil lawsuit, a route taken successfully by some after high-profile criminal cases ended without a conviction. While the housekeeper’s credibility would still be a significant issue, different legal standards for civil and criminal cases could give her claims — which Strauss-Kahn denies — a greater chance of prevailing in civil court.
A civil case can offer the prospect of money and establishing that wrongdoing, if not a crime, was committed. And for some people, bringing their own cases gives them more of a sense of control, instead of putting themselves in prosecutors’ hands.
“The civil suit represents the only avenue for the alleged victim herself to achieve justice,” says L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta-based attorney who represented a woman who accused NBA star Kobe Bryant of raping her in a Colorado hotel room. Bryant said the sex was consensual. The criminal case was dropped after the woman told prosecutors she couldn’t take part in a trial, but she sued Bryant and reached a confidential settlement that bars Wood from talking about the case itself.
What is most interesting in these cases that are considered “he said, she said” is that the women’s personal history is still the overwhelmingly important criteria for witness credibility, while the man’s personal history is not considered as relevant or as important to his credibility as the perpetrator of assault. Ms Jone’s case was particularly violent. You would think that prior history of the accused would be germane. Charles David Bortz was arrested in October 2006 for Battery in Okaloosa County Florida. Dominic Strauss-Kahn is well known as a womanizer and has had at least one woman claim that he sexually assaulted her in the past. One accuser has refiled charges against him.
Does this mean that we’re now back in the day when you have to be the ‘perfect victim’ in order to get fair treatment in a rape case?
Maybe not much has changed after all, despite 30 years of evolving sex crime laws. Lawyers can no longer badger a woman on the stand with questions about what kind of panties she wore or how many times she’d had sex before — questions that were routine in rape trials I covered years ago.
But the personal life of a rape victim is still considered fair game in too many cases, particularly when the issue is whether the sex act was by consent or involved force or threats of violence.
I understand the reluctance of prosecutors in the Strauss-Kahn case to go forward. Their office was stung in May by the unexpected acquittal in a high-profile case of two New York City cops accused of raping a drunken women after helping her into her apartment.
Jurors told the New York Times they didn’t buy the cops’ story that they had done nothing more than “snuggle” with the inebriated woman. But they didn’t feel they could convict on the word of a woman with no DNA evidence and gaps in her liquor-clouded memories.
Yes, that’s the third high profile case. The oh-so-cuddle worthy officers of New York’s finest.
A jury acquitted two New York police officers on Thursday of charges that they raped a drunken woman after helping her into her apartment while on patrol.
The woman had described snippets of a harrowing night in which the officers, called to help her because she was extremely intoxicated, instead abused her. They insisted no rape occurred, with one allowing only that he snuggled with her while she wore nothing but a bra.
Does this also mean that women should be prepared to use the video camera portion of their phones at all times so they have the perfect out cry witness? We have three high profile cases where we see nearly three identical outcomes based on the old idea of she asked for it because she …
Just when you think we’ve solved an issue with the way society treats women, we take some giant leaps backwards again. It’s beyond depressing. This will have what I believe is an intended result of discouraging rape victims of seeking justice against their attackers. Yup, we all ask for it. Beware ladies.