A rape victim in Cowlitz County, Washington was arrested last week, to help prosecutors prove their case against her alleged assailants.
According to TDN.com, the woman was arrested as a way of making sure she shows up for her court dates:
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."
TDN.com's Barbara LaBoe sums up it perfectly: "In this case, it had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will."
Here's what prosecutors say happened to her, the night she was kidnapped and raped in 2012:
The woman was forcibly marched into [Donald Howard] McElfish's living quarters by her ex-boyfriend Brandt Lyle Jensen. She was ordered to undress and Jensen — armed with a knife — taped her to a chair. Jensen told the woman to perform sexual favors for McElfish to pay off a supposed debt, implying she'd be hurt if she didn't. Jensen left the room and McElfish attempted to have sexual intercourse with her. She later was able to escape and ran naked through the woods to a nearby home for help.
Jensen has signed a plea deal with prosecutors to testify against McElfish. He's pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault, but has not yet been sentenced.
The woman had not been showing up for pre-trial meetings to discuss the trial. So, prosecutors issued a warrant for her arrest. She spent a night in jail. Again, let's reiterate: Prosecutors took a woman who they believe was raped and kidnapped—and locked her up in jail. Because she had a difficult time making meetings.
Apparently she is homeless as well, which means they're punishing her not just for being a rape victim, but for being a poor one without a permanent residence:
Deputy Prosecutor Amie Hunter told Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning Wednesday that the woman often sleeps on various friends' couches and thus can't be easily reached. The woman, though, insisted to Warning that she was now staying with her parents in rural Cowlitz County. Warning let the woman go with an order to appear weekly at the Hall of Justice. She must appear more often if prosecutors request her to do so, he said. And, she must stay put at her parents' home until the trial starts.
"Do you understand?" Warning asked. "If the prosecutors try to contact you and you're not there, there will be another warrant out for you, and you'll be going back to jail. And this time you're not getting let out."
Do you understand that you're threatening to imprison up a woman who was raped and kidnapped, Judge Warning?
Sometimes there are stories you write about that (honestly) you sit on the fence when it comes to your opinion. Sometimes there are stories you write that make you want to jump up and down, screaming so everyone knows how you feel. Then sometimes you have to write about a woman who was arrested after she was raped and kidnapped because she wasn't cooperating enough with court officials to their liking. And then you just sit and try and figure out what the hell is wrong with the world.
There's a sensitivity chip missing in the brains of each and every person involved with this decision. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the devastating impact of sexual assault that victims often have a hard time going through the process involved in bringing a rape charge to trial. Of course she didn't want to go to your "pre-trial meetings." Of course she doesn't want to sit and room and discuss—relive—the trauma that happened to her that night.
There's better ways to deal with this, prosecutors.
The fact that this seemed like a good idea should be evidence enough of what it is, exactly, when we talk about "rape culture." But I know that it won't be, because for every one story like this we hear, there's 100 excuses for why this is OK, or why this isn't such a big deal or how we're all just blowing things out of proportion.
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.
Don't even torture yourself by imagining the kind of damage this story will have on victims of rape in the future in that county. We should be trying to make this process easier and less painful for victims of rape. Prosecutors and judges shouldn't be threatening to lock them up if they don't handle the grueling toll of being someone who comes forward with a rape accusation well enough to fit some bureaucratic process.
Congratulations, prosecutors of Cowlitz County. You've officially re-victimized the victim you were supposed to be helping. I don't know that there's much more I can say to you besides that.
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