Prosecutors Arrest Alleged Rape Victim to Make Her Cooperate in Their Case. They Made the Right Call.

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Feb. 25 2014 1:15 PM

Prosecutors Arrest Alleged Rape Victim to Make Her Cooperate in Their Case. They Made the Right Call.

84611044
Being sensitive to victims is not always compatible with convicting their abusers

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It's an upsetting story that's burning up the feminist blogosphere: A woman in Cowlitz County, Wash., who was allegedly kidnapped by her ex-boyfriend and forced by him to perform oral sex on another man, has been subjected to arrest and detainment by prosecutors, who were worried she would keep missing meetings and basically destroy the case. According to the local paper:

The 43-year-old woman—the victim and prime witness in the case—has not been charged with any crime. She just wasn’t showing up for pre-trial meetings with prosecutors, despite promising to do so several times.
So earlier this month they obtained a judge’s order for a material witness warrant.
It’s a little-used procedure under state law that allows police to arrest a witness of a crime to ensure they show up for court. Chief Criminal Deputy James Smith said such warrants are rare and requested only “as a last resort.”
Advertisement

The woman, who is homeless and who appears to have lied to prosecutors about staying with her parents, has spent one night in jail under the authority of the material witness warrant. Rebecca Rose of Jezebel is livid:

Let's call this what this is—this was a solution to save work for lawyers. Because with this move, they don't have to be bothered with a lot of pesky victim outreach. And don't tell me "well they probably tried to give her counseling and outreach." Well guess what? It clearly wasn't enough, because she was still terrified to continue with meeting with lawyers and being faced with sitting a courtroom and having to tell her story.

Rose’s outrage is understandable, but it seems naive to believe that all you need to work with victims of domestic assault is more outreach. (The charges are against the second man, but the boyfriend is the one who instigated the kidnapping, suggesting that the domestic violence framework is in play here.) Victims have minds of their own, and sometimes no amount of victim outreach or counseling will change their minds. 

The victim's refusal to cooperate is a problem endemic to the prosecution of domestic violence, as I wrote in September. In Queens, N.Y., law enforcement reports that victims recant their testimony in 9 out of 10 cases. It's not necessarily, as Rose suggests, simply because they are so traumatized by the violence itself that rehashing it with prosecutors feels too overwhelming. Research shows that a victim’s refusal to cooperate with a prosecution is more about her relationship to the abuser. In this particular case, the victim has a long-standing history with one of her attackers, which suggests that she probably doesn't see this in the same way that someone kidnapped and assaulted by complete strangers would. While there are some interventions that can help reduce the problem of victims who recant out of these complex feelings, there's no silver bullet of counseling that will get all victims to see things the way prosecutors want them to.

The sad, unavoidable truth is that we have to decide what's more important to us: putting abusive men in jail or letting their victims opt out of cooperating with the prosecution as they see fit. Always erring on the side of victim sensitivity means putting some very bad men back out on the streets, where they will likely attack someone else. If that's the price that you feel is worth paying, OK, but it's also understandable that prosecutors might try to do everything within their power to convict a guy who likes tying women to chairs and assaulting them. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 20 2014 1:50 PM Why We Shouldn’t Be Too Sure About the Supposed Deal to Return the Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 20 2014 3:12 PM Terror Next Door Prudie advises a letter writer whose husband is dangerously, violently obsessed with the neighbors.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.