Understanding the Rape Victim Experience Continues to Evade Legal Institutions

This month, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has faced some tough scrutiny over her decision to to jail a mentally ill rape victim in an effort to insure her testimony against her rapist. Three issues come to mind when considering the facts surrounding this decision. First, the fact that jail appears to be the only available option to keep an innocent, vulnerable individual safe should be a real concern for everyone in society. Second, there appears to be a fundamental lack of empathy by the DA’s office regarding the victim in this case. It is possible the victim’s mental illness is at the core of lack of empathy, as fear and misunderstanding of mental illness tend to cause people to objectify people with mental illness and treat them less humanely. Finally, despite the post-Cosby conversation about rape victims, there remains a suspiciousness and mistrust of rape victims’ intentions and motives. Just last week, Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky asked for a transfer from criminal to civil court duty following outcries by activists who thought the 6-month sentence he imposed on a rapist was too lenient. The victim in this case was unconscious and the rapist was chased down by observers indicating that he knew what he was doing was wrong. In each of these cases, pinpointing where the disconnect lies in the institutional understanding of the rape victim experience is multifaceted, culturally, and historically informed. However, the media’s efforts to bring these stories to the public for scrutiny is a step in the right direction.