17-Year-Old Imprisoned for Failing To Testify Against Her Alleged Rapist

Update 4/17/12: After more than three weeks in juvenile detention, the victim has been released with a GPS ankle bracelet. She is scheduled to appear in court on April 23.

In Sacramento, a county judge has taken “victim-blaming” to a whole new level, ordering that a rape victim be jailed while awaiting the trial of her rapist.

The 17-year-old had failed to appear for two previous court dates to testify against Frank William Rackley, 37, who is accused of abducting and raping her and is believed to be a serial rapist. Judge Lawrence Brown claimed to be “terribly sorry” about the position the young woman is in, but his sympathy didn’t stop him from ordering that she remain in a juvenile detention center until April 23, Rackley’s next trial date.

Rape trials are notoriously traumatic for victims; frequently, the attempts to discredit a rape victim’s credibility and character leads her to feel that she is actually the one on trial. Victims’ fear of further violations they will receive at the hands of the justice system—from inappropriate and irrelevant questions about their sexual histories to accusations that they are simply lying—is undoubtedly one of the many reasons why rape is already one of the most underreported crimes, with only 46 percent reported to police and only a small fraction of those ultimately going to trial. And it is highly likely that fear is precisely what prevented this young victim from showing up for two previous court dates. But rather than striving to create an environment in which she could testify comfortably and safely, Judge Brown decided to take punitive action against her instead.

It is difficult to imagine the victims of any other crimes being made to feel that they are at fault for their own victimization. Imagine a lawyer claiming that a person was “asking” to be robbed because he lived in an attractive home. Or a judge deciding that because an individual had previously allowed friends to borrow his car, he had no right to complain when his car was stolen. Yet this kind of victim-blaming is commonplace when women come forward to report sexual violence and find themselves facing interrogations about their attire, sexual histories and behavior.

It is reasonable for judges and prosecutors to be concerned about women refusing to testify against rapists; such testimony is obviously vital in bringing perpetrators of sexual violence to justice. But if we wish to give more victims the courage to come forward, the solution is certainly not to threaten them with incarceration. The only way more survivors of sexual violence will be empowered to seek justice is if we create a culture and a legal system that do not engage in victim shaming. Women need to be able to speak out about sexual violence without fear that she’ll be blamed, ridiculed and disbelieved. A culture in which victims are silenced by fear and shame is one in which sexual violence can continue to occur with impunity. By imprisoning a victim, Judge Brown has done nothing to encourage women to testify against perpetrators of sexual violence. Instead, he has added the threat of jail time to the list of reasons why women might be too frightened to report sexual assault in the first place.

Photo from Flickr user mikecogh via Creative Commons 3.0.

Comments

  1. I don’t find this so unreasonable. She has failed to show up twice. It’s a waste of time and the taxpayer’s money. What would keep her from not showing up a third or fourth time? Also, your “blaming the victim” argument is irrelevant in this article. You’re comparing the “you asked for it because of your clothes, actions, etc.” argument to her being put in juvenile detention. The judge never implied that she did something to deserve this, you’re bringing in other arguments that do not really fit the context of this case.

    • If her failure to appear is a result of trauma, which it undoubtedly is, then it’s immoral to blame her. Seriously, the fact that victim discrediting and victim blaming happening in courts isn’t questionable, nor is the fact that a failure to appear is a result of trauma. Besides, SHE wasn’t the one on trial. She was a VICTIM that was TOO AFRAID to go to court, which is a double victimization.

      If you don’t find it unreasonable to throw a 17 year old girl in jail because she was traumatized and afraid, you aren’t that much more terrible than anyone that told her she had it coming. And the fact that you don’t understand how victim blaming COMPLETELY comes into this dynamic shows that you clearly haven’t been a victim of sexual assault, and are most likely a man that hasn’t been judged for choice of dress.

      • The girl wasn’t jailed because she was traumatized, she was jailed because it’s a big probability that if she doesn’t testify, a possible serial rapist could be free to walk, and thus put God knows how many more victims under his belt (no pun intended). No one is blaming the victim for her being raped, they’re just doing what’s obviously necessary to put this guy behind bars.

        • Lets put this into perspective. You were raped violently. You have the unforgettable image of this person taking advantage of you, hurting you, shaming you, and taking away a huge part of you in the most disgusting way. You feel disgusting and humiliated and so alone. This person took away her sense of pride; her sense of safety. SHE IS ONLY 17YEARS OLD. It is 100% understandable that she would be too afraid to show up to court. Being incarcerated is the last thing that should happen to her. Maybe fine her for the time lost but she is a 17 year old girl who should be given time to attempt to understand and overcome the absolutely horrific thing that happen to her and god forbid we spend a little more tax dollars to help her

    • Have you been raped before? From your response, No! Opening up about the details of a rape case is a lot easier said than done. Try gaining some empathy and understanding basic psychology before throwing around ridiculous accusations, and even going for the lowest blow about “Wasting tax payers money”! Dealing with traumatic cases like rape are not always straight forward, open book, case closed trials like what you see in the movies! These are very difficult cases, and the tax dollars are being well spent to handle these cases in the best way the system can. No victim of any crime, especially one as psychologically traumatizing as rape, should be put in jail out of fear! This is a very disturbing situation and how dare you defend her being imprisoned! You are a sick bastard and I will go ahead and speak for the victim here and say “F*ck You”!

    • Opening up about the details of a rape case is a lot easier said than done. Try gaining some empathy and understanding basic psychology before throwing around ridiculous accusations, and even going for the lowest blow about “Wasting tax payers money”! Dealing with traumatic cases like rape are not always straight forward, open book, case closed trials, like what you see in the movies! These are very difficult cases, and no victim of crime as psychologically traumatizing as rape, should be put in jail out of fear of testifying! This is a very disturbing situation and how dare you defend her being imprisoned!

  2. Harry Osell says:

    The man she is being held to testify against is a dangerous serial rapist .if she skipps court as she had done he is set free to prey on women.

    • Your mom's chest hair says:

      She shouldn’t have to face him in court. Why can’t she do it from another room?

      • The Supreme Court has repeatedly decided that the Constitution expressly provides for the accused to confront their accuser(s), supporting witnesses, and evidence in person without any kind separation, partition, screen, etc. this naturally would include testimony given from another room. You can’t do it. She has to do it in open court or not at all: and this rapists ability to do hangs in the balance.

  3. Roscoe Pound says:

    Ms. Becker Stevens:

    Let’s operate on the assumption that rape is a heinous crime and that in order to have a just and safe society, rapists must be fully prosecuted and incarcerated.

    By missing TWO hearing dates, this 17 year old girl has put her suspected rapist in a position to get away with his crime so that he is free to rape again. And again and again if the prosecution’s theory that he is a serial rapist is correct. The prosecution and the judge acted appropriately in having the material witness warrant issued in order to ensure that the teenager is at the next hearing as she is supposed to be.

    In the alternative, the girl could go home and deal with the rape in whatever ways she is able to, and the charges could be dropped against the man who allegedly raped her. He would be free to rape again and again and again, and, if your statistics are to be believed, he would get away with another rape or two before a subsequent victim had the courage to step forward and report the crime to the police. If that is your position (which, if I may say so, is very progressive and feminist of you – how better to bravely flex your girl muscles for yourself and for all of womankind than to dare a serial rapist to go toe-to-toe with you once these charges are dropped and he’s free again to prowl?) you are misguided.

    • It is appalling to put a victim in front of their attacker/rapist when that victim obvious does not want to relive the experience. When a rape case is brought to trial, the victim is often asked humiliating questions about their sexual history, their dating history, what they were wearing, nearly everything under the sun the defense can use to prove to the jury that the victim does not fit the “Good Virginal/Married Woman” trope. It is not something you just “flex your girl muscles” and do. It can be a highly traumatic experience, and not every victim wants to go bravely charging into a court battle where they will be judged and ripped apart just for the chance this man can go to jail when the prosecution could just as easily use her written statement to supplement the DNA evidence they have.

      You are also forgetting that she is 17. She is still, technically and legally, A CHILD.

      I just read the original Sacramento article (found here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/04/07/4397080/alleged-rape-victim-must-stay.html ).

      Under California’s Code of Civil Procedure she is NOT REQUIRED to testify.

      Not only that, but she’s been attacked in Juvie:
      Franco said the girl has been “revictimized” while in juvenile hall, once getting pepper-sprayed by authorities who were trying to quell a fight between two other girls. The lawyer said her client has been denied contact visits with her mother. The witness also injured her ankle and nearly passed out after being “forced” to participate in a physical education class, Franco said.

      So essentially, she’s being imprisoned despite never having committed a crime. In this case, the judge has sent out a message to all victims that even if the state laws do not require them to testify, and they commit no crime by refusing to do so, that they may still be imprisoned if they report their abuse and it is brought to court.

    • BarbieDoll says:

      You write – “Let’s operate on the assumption that rape is a heinous crime ”

      OK Roscoe, bend over, let’s have at you and see if rape is a heinous crime.

  4. It’s not a surprise that the three people criticizing Ms. Stevens’ article are three men. It’s easy for you to sit at your desk, in front of your computer, comfortably removed from any threat even remotely close to that of rape, and say what a victim’s responsibilities are to the system that is failing her. But the point of the matter is this young girl has experienced something you can’t even fathom. You, nor any judge, has the right to force her in front of her violator. The legal system was built in a vacuum, and continues to violate the rights of rape victims because it doesn’t acknowledge the special circumstances of the issue. The point of a judge is to make judgements based on circumstance. In this circumstance, bringing a rape victim in front of her violator is not conducive to the pursuit of justice. Imagine being able to bring a murder victim back to life and force them in front of their accused killer. How comfortable do you think they would be in that court room? That should be deemed cruel and unusual punishment. So yes, maybe the girl is breaking the letter of the law. But the letter of the law is flawed. The judge, however, is breaking the spirit of the law, which is to protect victims, and that spirit is not flawed. He is punishing a victim for a technicality. So who is really wrong here? Next time you let someone off for a technicality, or ask for someone to bend the rules for you, think about this case and ask yourself why your circumstances merit special treatment and this young girl’s circumstances don’t.

    • Thank you! I agree 100%!

    • I can not believe that you would completely and utterly marginalize the numerous victims of male rape and sexual abuse with this dismissive comment. The first two commenters were trying to provide a possible reason for this detainment beyond ‘this is clearly a case of wanton victim-shaming; clearly the judge is a malicious fool.’ This is a delicate issue, but this man should clearly be brought to trial and her testimony could provide the evidence to send him away. I am reminded of the recent Pulitzer Prize winning article out of Seattle about a very similar story in regards to the testimony of a rape/murder victim/witness. Don’t just close your eyes to an opinion because it’s male.

      • There is NO excuse. And come on. Do you really think any of those men Andrew was referring to have been the victims of a rape?

        • First, I won’t assume to know what it’s like to be raped. I haven’t been. However, there are some key things to consider in this situation.

          If everyone wants to talk about the girl’s feelings, then we certainly can. Here’s the real issue: When this 17-year-old girl was raped, she did the courageous thing and told someone about it. Whether she contacted authorities directly or used the help of a friend, she did. She FELT that this was the honorable, right thing to do and when you consider the justice needed to be taken on the perpetrator and the deterrence to future crimes it would also create, it was. However, like it or not, the girl gained some responsibility when she did this.

          Regardless of her feelings from thence forth, she had put it on herself to be a part of the justice against this man; one cannot simply call for help and then deny it when it gets there.

          Now she’s running away from the investigation and trial that SHE SPARKED. And this is hurtful to the case for two reasons: the first is what someone already said; trials are serious matters, cannot be treated lightly and even in misdemeanor cases, skipping them can mean jail time. The second is that she has already begun to hurt her own testimony by being irresponsible in the case. It doesn’t matter who the judge and the jury are – they are going to take less pity on a girl who will give attention to this problem and then be too scared to follow through with it.

          • You have to take some things into consideration. 1) In some states, you can report a crime but refuse to press charges. If she did and this case was brought up by someone else, then she did not spark it. 2) Even if you refuse to press charges, in some circumstance the DEA can bring it to trial anyway. I do not know the laws for the state of California, but I do know from personal experience that other states have done the latter.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Wow, the men on these comments are despicable. Often times more work is put toward the victim having an out of court statement as testament to crime. This is easier on the victim. She’s been raped, brutally raped. You can’t truly understand the feeling. No one is in her court not even the commentators here, and that’s a sad reflection of what this article is speaking about. Most people are not inherently brave. She had to be brave to report it, she had to got the traumatizing tale over and over and over again. Only it wasn’t a tale, it happened to her, and her alone. When she relives those moments, its nothing but misery. When he relives those moments, it’s with power and intense hedonistic satisfaction. Why should she suffer for all to see? She’s 17, probably supposed to have prom sometime soon, and all anyone can talk about is how she needs to put her mutilated soul on stand, in front of the very person who did. Screw you guys, you. have. no. right.

  6. Rockerbabe says:

    Rape victims do not owe anyone anything. Any more than rape victims who do not report the violence against them owe anyone anything. To imprison a 17 year old victim of a sex crime, is a crime in an of itself. I think the men involved are just salivating at the prospect of public humiliation of a young woman so much so that the torture has begun in earnest. I do not think the judge would be doing this, if he had a daughter so injured. This isn’t justice, it is torture.

  7. Edward yeah another man says:

    I fully understand this is an incredibly difficult issue for the girl is question, and that being locked up after being victimized will only make her feel worse. This is all understandable. But, here it is, for these people to do their jobs and put this guy away (serial rapists mind you) before he walks out the door and finds at least 2 more women before its gets reported again (based on a slightly less than 50% report rate) this girl needs to appear in court. I also believe missing your court date is something well known to get you in trouble, had some friends in high school who had a warrant or two out on them for just such a thing. Without 100% knowing the entire situation and length of all parties involved to attempt to cooperate with the victim it can’t be known what the best possible solution is. Yes the first 3 comments are harsh and lacking empathy, though at the same time they understand a job must be done. A rapist must be taken off the streets.

  8. It’s freaking awesome that the first three commentors are men showing us exactly WHY people like this girl do things like fail to show up. (Thank you, Andrew for breaking that trend) As long as there are people like these men out there to tell victims how they should feel and what they should do after going through one of the most traumatic experiences a human can face (and one they’ve never feared and are statistically highly unlikely to face, something that should make them MORE compassionate, not less so) women, girls,and the few men who DO go through this will face so much MORE trauma that not showing up to court, even to help condemn violent criminals, will continue to seem like a safer option than sitting through hours of interrogation from a hostile defense set on re-traumatizing the victims. Why to continue the cycle, guys! Lord knows none of us want to leave the 1800s behind! (Cue the women who have internalized the message of cruelty to defend these bullies…)

  9. Actually, I am a 19 year-old girl. I do understand the threat of rape and being attacked, but I still believe she should be held until the next court date. She has agreed to testify, and she has also skipped out on court twice.

    • The question is why the hell is she in juvenile hall? She is now wearing a GPS ankle bracelet and is OUT of juvie. I read about this in the Sacramento Bee and have become increasingly horrified by this story.

      There are solutions available that don’t involve imprisoning victims – and traumatizing them even further in the process – just to ‘catch’ a real criminal. This case and the judges and lawyers who agreed to imprison this young women, ‘for her own good’ indicates a sincere lack of compassion and understanding for the victim. Anyone with an interest in her safety would find a solution she and the courts can agree upon.

    • No one ever said she agreed to testify. She was probably subpoenaed. She didn’t “skip out” for a day at the mall. She’s traumatized and terrified. If we gave a shit about rape victims we’d have a system that didn’t force them to testify in front of their attackers.

  10. I believe if you have never been raped then you cannot fathom how difficult it is to go through a lengthy trial, the trauma and a rape kit on top of that. I wish she would have showed up to put that bastard in jail, but I also understand why she did not and I believe she should not have been incarcerated. Hasn’t this girl been through enough mental trauma? This is going to spark something big.

  11. If the argument being made is the prosecution cannot prosecute without the victim, who is also a witness, being in the courtroom, then I’d dare say no murder trials take place in front of this judge. If the victim/witness isn’t there, evidently the prosecution is ill equipped to try the case on their own. Incarcerating the victim in not the answer to social justice.

  12. There is no excuse to actually put her in JAIL for not testifying. No one’s saying she shouldn’t testify. We’re saying that the solution, if she can’t, isn’t to punish her, but to help her.

  13. Yes I am Female says:

    Hmmm. She is a minor. I understand doing things in the interest of the public but couldn’t they have found a way to get the man indicted without having her attend the trial. I am not a legal expert but I feel that there is something wrong here. But how about the fact that the man will be free to rape other women?

  14. It’s not about potential, future rapes. It’s about THIS teenage girl’s rape. It is not her responsibility to prevent future assaults, it’s the monsters responsibility to stop assaulting people! Stop putting it all on her, and put the blame back where it belongs.

  15. 1) If there is no trial and conviction then he is an ALLEGED rapist and she is a PURPORTED vicitm. If she does not want to testify then release the guy from jail or proceed to trail without the evidence and have him found not guilty. Point. Blank. Period.

    2) While it’s debatable if it’s morally wrong to put the PURPORTED victim in jail, if the Judge ordered her on two prior occasions to be in court at a time (via subpeona or whatnot) then by failing to show up twice the individual has violated a valid court order. While sympathy should be given in how to punish the purported victim for her repeated violation, there needs to be finality in this trial. Either she is going to testify or not. If not, set the man free.

    While I’m fairly liberal I find it remarkable the hypocrisy in some arguments. Many organizations fight for victim’s rights and advocate that this purported victim need not face trauma of testifying. Yet, in not sexual assault cases, I feel that many individuals demand the right to confront witnesses be strictly upheld. Sexual assault cases are unique in some regards but there is no exception to laws regarding confronting witnesses or disobeying a judge’s order.

    Just release the guy if you are going to say she shouldn’t be forced to testify.

  16. Having been a victim of sexual assault myself, I understand the fear this girl is feeling concerning facing the man who raped her.

    Unless you are a victim of rape, or some type of sexual assault, you have no idea the effect this can have on you. It took me YEARS to heal enough to even be around a guy again, and I wasn’t even raped. The emotional scars are very hard to get over, and all the judge did was add to the scars that we’re already there. I understand that they have a case and needed her cooperation, but she IS 17, and the man is 37. Legally she is a child and in cases where a child is raped, I’ve never known them to need the childs testimony. That is a 20 year difference. One being under age. This is statutory rape. He is an adult by 19 years. He knew better. I can’t seem to say this enough, but SHE IS A CHILD!!!! So why is she being punished? Why did they need her testimony? In many cases where this is done with younger children, they are taken into the judges chambers to talk to him alone, so they will not have to face the one who did this to them. The same should apply here since she is legally under age. That being the case, she should not have even been asked to testify against him.

    How many men are falsely accused by children every year and have to live as a sex offender for the rest of their lives because a child claimed they did something? And there is no proof because it was a false accusation, yet the man has to register wherever he goes. So why do they need her to testify? She is a child who claimed he raped her and actually had proof that he did so. What do they need her testifying for? And I am not saying she falsely accused him. I am saying, if people are charged under conditions that are false, then why can’t this man be charged when they have proof without the need for her testimony? Pretty messed up system we have here, if you ask me.

  17. According to California’s Commission on the Status on Women, they helped to pass this legislation: SB 1356 (Yee, 2008) Contempt of Court. This bill prohibits imprisonment of a victim of domestic violence who is found in contempt of court for refusing to testify concerning the domestic violence.

    Soo if she knew the victim she wouldn’t be imprisoned?

  18. This is for the posters who are rationalizing the rape victim’s imprisonment. I am furious that the district attorney and the judge could not have figured out a humane way of treating this rape victim other than locking her up. The law did not require that the judge imprison the 17 year old rape victim, a minor. He imprisoned her at his discretion, but I hope that Mr. Rackley is imprisoned for the rest of his life. The fact that she has been released from imprisonment with a GPS monitor is proof that she did not have to be locked up. Her lawyer is the person who (and you can find her video statement) put forth the request that the rape victim should not be imprisoned, and that an alternate means of insuring her testimony (GPS device) could be used. Notice that she is not against her client testifying. And the right of the accused to be able to confront the victim even in the case of rape is conditional and not absolute. For example, babies, young children and mentally handicapped who may be unable to give testimony have been raped and the DNA evidence obtained. If you rape a baby, a young child or a mentally handicapped person, you do not get a free pass. Also, she is not the only witness in this rape trial. She is only the more credible witness since the other victim is a prostitute. The job of the prosecuting district attorney is to get a conviction, and any other assumption such as the district attorney or the judge considering the psychological state or stress on the victim is just that an assumption. The only logical (if you wish) consideration from the prosecuting attorney is whether the action of locking up the victim would hinder the ability to get testimony from the victim. The rape victim’s imprisonment was badly done and has resulted in very unfavorable (deservedly) national and international publicity. I agree with the other posters who have stated that her imprisonment would probably have a chilling effect on others reporting rape (Pyrrhic victory).

  19. Since I didn’t find a further update on this story, here it is: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/05/03/4461863/girl-17-jailed-as-a-witness-testifies.html

    The young woman testified. Perhaps the reason she didn’t do so at first is that she was working as a prostitute when she was raped. She was also involved in drug dealing.

  20. There are significant problems in the arguments on behalf of the alleged rape victim. One, there is no statement in this blog post or in the Sacramento Bee article, that she was tested for rape. Two, there is no recognition that there are false accusations of rape. Everyone is accepting as fact that the women was raped, but that’s why there are trials and the accused are allowed to face their accusers.

    Then there is the problem of victimizing the accusers in court. Why isn’t the response that defense attorneys should not be allowed to bring in the various lines of questioning meant to destroy an accuser’s credibility?

    Plus, the follow up in the Bee indicates that the young woman was indeed working as a prostitute when Rackley allegedly attacked her and was involved in drug dealing, not to mention this, from the first article:

    “Prosecutors have identified a second victim but think she is a prostitute – creating a potential credibility problem. Rackley has six felony convictions going back to 1992 and was arrested on suspicion of raping two women in 1996 in a case prosecutors dismissed.”

    Additionally, it is an attorney’s job to win the case, so what the alleged victim’s attorney says to the press can not be automatically assumed to be the whole truth (something the commentors here seem to ignore:

    “We’re setting the clock back 20, 30 years,” [the alleged victim's lawyer Lisa] Franco told the judge, “telling women all over the country, you’re going to be put in jail … if you refuse to come forward.”

    But, it is not the alleged victim’s refusal to come forward that brought her to this place, it is coming forward in the first place and then not showing up.

    Mind you, I am not saying that there weren’t better ways to deal with her situation than the judicial system used (and they finally figured out a way to set her free), just that there are assumptions in the blog post and the comments that are unjustified. That doesn’t help rape victims.

    Also, when I was in jail many years ago, I was given the choice of fighting someone (who would have unequivocally brutalized me) or going down on him if he asked me to. I chose the latter (it was pre-AIDS), so I know what it’s like to face that choice.

    Read the follow-up in the Bee. I posted the link in my previous comment.

    • Small follow-up on my previous comment: As to destroying an accuser’s credibility, I should have made clear that doing that is legitimate, just not based on what a person does sexually. Being a prostitute, having a sex life in general, having sex with the accused at some other time–none of these should be relevant to the specific instance in question.

  21. Jessica says:

    I am 17 years old, and I was continuously raped and mentally abused by my uncle from age 9 to 14. I went to trial, and guess what? I was tortured in court for 2 and a half years, repeating the same grisly, awful stories over and over for different cops, attorneys, judges and counselors. I was also badgered by my uncle’s attorney to the point where I broke down in tears and we had to recess for 10 minutes multiple times. I had tried to kill myself years before, and the judge saw the scars on my arms and sent me to a youth shelter, and then a mental hospital in Oklahoma City. I think this girl has every right not to show up. Just because she was a victim of a brutal crime, does NOT mean she should have to do ANYTHING. I chose to because many many people pressured me into it. He’s off the streets now, five life sentences, no possibility of parole. The pain of recounting events should be pressed upon no one, unless they feel as if they need to. Imprisoning her is the lowest thing I’ve heard of, and the damage done to her, I can’t imagine. She had the guts to tell someone, and guess what? They lock her up, when she is no villain. What do you think that does to her head? Really.

  22. I personally think no one should be forced to testify EVER! Your “right to remain silent” should extend anywhere and everywhere. Witness statements (including the victim) don’t prove a court case anyway; they could easily be lying or not recall everything correctly. It should be up to the police to prove a crime, (and the victim, IF and however much they want to) not anyone else who has no business in the matter in less they absolutely want to. Forcing someone to talk or say something against their will otherwise is “cruel and unusual punishment”. Also I’m a guy, if that matters.

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