If you haven’t already heard about the Cowlitz County Rape Trial debacle then you are obscenely lucky, while I only came across the article while perusing a few of my favorite online news sources, the online discussion surrounding the case has left me feeling more than a little queasy. Normally this particular fiasco wouldn’t have even caught my attention if the circus surrounding the trial had not been zeroed in on by many women’s rights activists most of whom are expressing a fair amount of misplaced outrage over the whole ordeal.
The basic story is this:
In October 2012, a woman was held against her will, taped naked to a chair and sexually assaulted. This week, Cowlitz County prosecutors had the same woman arrested to help prove the case against her alleged captors.
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.
The woman was held overnight and forced to appear in court the next day, which many people have been screaming at the top of their lungs is a form of victim punishment. Unfortunately, the actual information that has been given out to the public on this case has been scanty at best, but this is what we do know:
- The woman in question has been refusing to arrive to scheduled meetings with the court to work on her case.
- She has agreed to press charges against her kidnappers/rapist and has allowed the D.A. to go forward with a trial, which has already progressed far enough that her ex-boyfriend (who orchestrated the rape) has been offered and accepted a plea bargain.
- Despite being arrested, the woman in question was not charged with a crime.
- The court has been unable to contact the woman since her last detainment.
Don’t get me wrong, the irony of holding a woman against her will to testify against two men who held her against her will is not lost on me. However, I don’t think the Cowlitz County police department is some evil patriarchal bastion of female dis-empowerment and rape culture. I think these are a group of people who are trying very hard to put a rapist and rapist-enabler behind bars.
What everyone seems to forget is this: this is a rape case, she is the victim, and while I am deeply sorry that she had to experience such a horrible event, after her attack she did go to the police and at some point in time did agree to press charges against her attackers. These events have consequences, the men who allegedly attacked her are going to go to trial (that thing with the guy in the frilly black robe and angry people who are in the only place they would rather not miss work to visit, and in order for a case to go to trial, both sides of the courtroom must be able to present both an argument and counter-argument regarding the trial at hand. Unfortunately this usually means that the victim will need to be available to the court officials and lawyers in order to proceed with their case.
While her ex-boyfriend is willing to testify in a plea bargain, the lady kind of needs to be available to the court for the case to testify as a witness (I’m assuming there are very few witnesses available for this case other than the rapist, the ex, the woman, and the owners of the house she ran to for help.). This involves a lot of time on the lawyers parts, they have to prepare the witness (i.e. HER) and interview her and go over the facts of the case so that it can be argued in court. She is probably expected to be in the courtroom herself at some point. This is so common-sense that I honestly can’t understand how people are crying over the fact that she even has to go to court in the first place. It is a pretty big part of our judicial system. There is a pretty important rule of being able to face your accuser, which is a right that even asshole-scum-of-the-earth rapists are entitled to.
As far as detaining the woman against her will being a punishment for even going forward with a rape case in the first place, detaining a person of interest in regarding a court case isn’t anything new or even noteworthy, there are these things called subpoenas that are used quite often and whose sole purpose is to be used to compel testimony (the person being detained can still plead the 5th when on the witness stand mind you), but it is still a demand that someone show the frick up or get thrown in prison. (They are also used all the friggin’ time! It is also worth noting, that just like a warrant, a judge or clerk of the court has to issue it.) Quite frankly, if she was missing enough meetings and holding up the case enough, I’m surprised that she was never arrested for obstructing legal proceedings. But that is another point entirely.
While I really do want to have sympathy for the woman, I can’t help but get more than a little angry, there are so many women who are victims of sexual assault who are bullied by both police and lawyers to drop their cases and silenced, and here is a case where attorneys are actually trying to get the damn case to court and this woman can’t even show up for pre-trial meetings? No wonder people in positions of power think rape cases are a total joke.