Counselor Rapes 3 Girls, Merely Sentenced To Probation

Illustration for article titled Counselor Rapes 3 Girls, Merely Sentenced To Probation

A New York City juvenile justice counselor raped at least three teenagers in his custody. His sentence? Probation. Meanwhile, one of his victims was sentenced to 12 months on a minor charge. How could something like this happen?

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Tony Simmons is also known to have raped at 13-year-old in a holding area, as well as a 15-year-old who was sodomized behind a locker, which The New York Daily News says was "stocked with condoms and cookies."

His third victim was Ashley, who posed for the picture above (she said "I'm only scared of one man, and he already knows what I look like," and declined to give her last name, which she changed with marriage.) She was fifteen, on her way into court and being escorted by Simmons, when he took her to the basement and raped her. He placed finger over his lips to demand her silence.

She said, "I knew I was just raped. I knew it wasn't supposed to happen. I didn't think anybody would believe me."

Her 12-month sentence, she told The Daily News, was for filing a false report by telling the police she did not know the person who had attacked her on the way to school.

Ashley had hope that her attacker would be apprehended, and even named her child after the prosecutor, but he only managed to get probation for Simmons — from a female judge, no less — despite the fact that the original charges carried a maximum sentence of eight years. Why?

Partly, it's a systemic problem. As Lindsay Beyerstein points out,

[Prosecutor Amir] Vonsover faced a strategic dilemma. If he offered a plea deal that carried serious jail time, Simmons and his lawyer might have preferred to take their chances in court. Vonsover probably agreed to a watered-down punishment because he wasn't sure he could get a conviction of the case went to trial.

That might have been a good call on Vonsover's part. Realistically, a jury might not have believed a black teen prisoner accusing a white court officer of rape with no witnesses and (as far as I can tell from media reports) no physical evidence. Simmons could easily have walked. He might even have gotten his job back. If Vonsover hadn't struck some kind of plea deal, Simmons could still be out there raping girls.

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There is strangely little reporting on this topic besides The Daily News, though the district attorney has lambasted the verdict, calling it "an egregious breach of the public's trust. While a judge has the responsibility to decide what he or she thinks is a fair sentence, in our view today's sentence of probation is outrageously lenient given the admitted conduct."

Also of that opinion is New York City's branch of NOW, which has started a petition on the victims' behalf, asking, "If we cannot deliver justice for these three teen victims who were assaulted on the premises of the Manhattan Family Court building by an employee assigned to protect them, how can we expect justice for any women victims of violence?"

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Teen Gets 12-Month Sentence For Minor Offense - And Thug Gets Probation For Raping Her [NYDN]
Demand Justice for 3 Teen Girls Sexually Assaulted in NYC Courthouse [IPetitions]
Former Court Official Confesses to Rape of Teen Prisoner, Gets Probation [Big Think]

Image via The Daily News

DISCUSSION

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Snacktastic Part III: the Return of the Spatula

Ask any kid who has stayed in detention. Sometimes the people who work in juvenile detention centers are worse than the kids. Many people know I've worked in the juvenile justice system for years—I've met more than a few people raped and brutally assaulted by staff people. I've also met staff people and counselors raped and brutally assaulted by their clients. Besides the specifics of the case, there are deeper questions about the way we view incarceration in this country. Obviously, I can't go into it all.

Unless you are willing to change the paradigm of detention facility and prisons, this kind of abuse is going to keep happening. Dehumanized populations, like kids in detention and prisoners, get brutalized on a regular basis. I used to have a guy who worked for 40 years at a detention center speak about his work. He'd bring some of his kids with him and they'd talk about how little brute force and exploitation there was at his facility compared to others b/c he actually believed in an ethic of rehabilitation rather than brutal incarceration. I worked in a prison unit that decided to stop restraints unless in the most extreme situations and the incidents of violence went down to almost zero. Unless you've worked in a prison unit or any facility where restraints and other physical punishments are used, it's hard to understand the emotional and physical toll it takes on everyone and it's hard to understand why there is often a culture that both protects and encourages this kind of violence. I'll say on my end, I find this kind of culture nightmare fuel and do anything I can to try to change that culture, which I have to some extent. But it's hard to do that. There is too much brutality in the system as a whole.

I hope people will view this in context of a general expanding penal system that is deeply dehumanizing and used as an answer for every social ill. And I hope people will think about it even when considering the punishment of people they personally find distasteful. The amount and type of imprisonment that happens in this country is worse than is publicized in the media and needs to change.

And finally, the answer to this problem of violence against girls in the juvenile justice system isn't only prosecution and jailing their assaulters. I think that's the kind of problem solving that has led us to this point where we are constantly caught in a cycle of revenge and punishment. We need to look at the system. It's a big issue. We need to come up with more solutions than jail.