The line is being drawn on assertions that rape victims are somewhat responsible for their attacks yet contributory negligence is a viable defense. Braving trial, rape victims face their attackers. This happens after rape kits are collected, police probe for supporting details, and lawyers rehash witness accounts and analyze character for facts. Seeking a rape conviction does not come easy for the victim as their personality, habits, and life choices go under the microscope.
Contributory negligence reduces accountability on the defendant for such reasons as the injured plaintiff failing to act prudently. This has no relation to the “cry wolf” expression. Using contributory negligence as a defense, the defendant admits his/her involvement in a crime committed against the plaintiff. However, blame is shifted from one party to both.
This is happening to a 24-year-old Pennsylvania state prison employee who is suing the state Department of Corrections, her former supervisor, the block manager, and the former superintendent for their role in her rape. Omar Best, an inmate at the state prison where she works, allegedly attacked and raped her.
Best has a history of sexual assault and related offenses. Nonetheless, the Senior Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania maintains that the victim contributed to her attack. Details on the specific contents of that file have not been released. However, Best’s offenses are a matter of public record and were detailed in the lawsuit.
The suit accounts Best’s previous convictions in sex-related offenses. In 1996, Best faced charges of attempted rape and plead guilty to indecent assault. In 2010, DNA evidence connected him to the 1999 abduction and rape of an 18-year old Pennsylvanian woman. Best was given a 7-15 year prison sentence in that case. The next year, he plead guilty to rape and robbery, for which a 15-year prison sentence was issued.
While imprisoned at Graterford, Best was transferred to a state prison after assaulting a female assistant. The victim worked in Rockview in Bellefonte, PA, the prison to which Best was transferred.
The victim had worked as a typist at Rockview in a secure office with no inmate contact, but her offices were relocated to Block C. At this location, with the exception of the copy room, there were no locked doors between the offices and cell blocks. Omar Best had unsupervised access to the offices of the female employees.
A week prior to the attack, the victim twice complained to her boss that she did not feel safe in her office with Best present. The lawsuit claims the victim was promised Best would not have access to her office any longer.
Then on July 25, as she was in her office taking out trash, the victim was caught up from behind and choked by Best. She passed out. The distress whistle she had blown went unheard.
The case went to trail and Best was convicted. However, in response to the lawsuit, the Senior Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania determined that the victim “acted in a manner which in whole or in part contributed to the events.”
What the victim did or did not do would not negate the fact that she complained prior to the incident, continued working under the assumption that her safety and security were not compromised, was incapacitated by her attacker and attempted to seek help during the assault. Nevertheless, the rape victim was accused of contributory negligence that led to her being attacked and sexually assaulted.
The attorney general’s office made a statement denying knowledge of the use of this defense in the senior deputy’s filing. The statement also mentions her disappointment in her lack of knowledge about the case and she expressed sadness over the implications of the filing.
The senior deputy’s actions are being described as a “deplorable” act of “victim shaming” for its lack of sensitivity towards the victim suffering.
Similar sentiments were expressed after Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced to prison for 30 days business teacher Stacey Rambold for repeatedly raping 14-year-old Billing Senior High School student, Cherice Moralez. Having come forward, Moralez was ostracized by peers and her grades suffered. After it appeared the court minimized the crime against her, the teen committed suicide by gunshot.
Rambold, who taught at the school, has been accused of repeatedly raping the teen in his office, car, and at his home in 2007. Prior to his alleged first attack on Moralez, he had been reprimanded for suspicious conduct with students on several occasions but was never removed from his position of authority.
In defense of the 30-day sentence Rambold was given, presiding Judge G. Todd Baugh said 14-year-old Moralez appeared older than her age and that she appeared to be in control of the situation. Moralez’s mother describes her daughter as tough, determined, and strong-willed. But the victim was 35 years his junior, not to mention there were obvious differences in their physical attributes.
Contributory negligence suggests shared responsibility. Moralez, at 14 years of age, was not in a position to have contributed to the crime committed against her. Victims remain silent for many reasons. Moralez had at least two: her attacker was a teacher at her school and his prior actions held no substantial consequences to him. Had he been removed, the opportunity to attack the teen may never have presented itself. After reassigning Rambold’s case to Judge Randal Spaulding, a new prison sentence of 10 years was issued.
Opinion By Charice Long