I wish I could say that you read that title wrong. I wish I could say that we, the United States, were not tossing our survivors of sexual assault into prisons. Sadly, we are. Get ready to scream, throw things, or dive head-first into what you have left of your Girl Scout cookies, because you’re going to need it.
A seventeen year old girl in Sacramento, California is being held in the Sacramento County Juvenile Hall to ensure that she misses no more court dates, where she is scheduled to testify against her attacker. The girl, who remains anonymous, apparently has a history of missing court dates. Logically, they decided to retraumatize a rape survivor by locking her up. Aren’t we punishing the wrong person here? The girl failed to appear at the original court date in February, and the date was rescheduled for the 23rd of April, ten days from now. She has been in custody since March 27th. Presumably she has a history of running away, and is currently in California’s foster care system. Her lawyer tried unsuccessfully to simply have her fitted with a GPS tracking bracelet, assuring the judge that she would make her court date. The judge remained unconvinced and ordered her into custody.
So now what we have is a teenage girl, already traumatized from her assault, once more having her liberty stripped from her. Only this time, it isn’t a serial rapist, but a court of law designed to protect victims. Yes, I see where the judge is coming from here. Like with a lot of things in feminism, I understand the opposing side’s reasoning. I just think they’re wrong. The alleged rapist, Fred William Rackley, is accused of committing several rapes throughout the area, and is by all definitions a dangerous predator. We want him off the streets and in prison where he belongs. But is the best way to ensure that happens really locking up a teenage girl? I realize that she’s run away from her foster home three times. I get that. From what I understand of the foster care system, it isn’t exactly uncommon, and there are a whole host of reasons she may have had for doing that. I refuse to judge this girl from that. I don’t care whether she was running away because she’s a rebellious teenager or because she was being abused; the legitimacy of her actions mean nothing to me. So yes, I see that she might be viewed as a risk. Despite that, and even taking into account how necessary it is to put a serial rapist behind bars, I do not support jailing a child just so you can be sure she does what you want.
Retraumatizing survivors is a major issue in our justice system. It isn’t any wonder so few survivors come forward about their assaults, much less file a police report or seek to go to trial. Honestly, I might reconsider filing charges myself if I knew that there was a chance I would be tossed in the pokey if some almighty judge thought I might run for it. Blaming the victim is absolutely the problem here. By taking advantage of this girl’s status as a ward of the state, they are essentially blaming her if this man does not go to prison. She probably has a very good reason for not wanting to testify. Facing one’s attacker in court is no small matter, and would be difficult even with a great support network. What is going to happen to this child when they’re done with her? Will she get adequate counseling and support? Or will they toss her right back to one of the foster families she ran away from?