The 25-year-old rape victim, frightened and long-suffering from mental illness, agreed in December to testify against the Houston man who brutally assaulted her in 2013.
She hoped to put him behind bars for life.
But that decision landed her in the Harris County jail for more than a month over the Christmas holiday – terrified, helpless and hopeless, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in Houston.
The woman, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had a mental breakdown on the witness stand and then was jailed by Harris County prosecutors who feared she wouldn’t come back to court.
“They didn’t care. They got what they wanted,” the woman’s mother said Wednesday about the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “She was collateral damage and they didn’t care what happened to her.”
News about the case shocked Houston’s defense attorneys and advocates for rape victims.
“That is beyond ludicrous,” said Lavinia Masters, a sexual assault victims advocate. “I’m amazed that a judge would allow that. You’re further victimizing a victim.”
District Attorney Devon Anderson said the woman, who was homeless when she was raped, was going through a “life-threatening mental health crisis” and told prosecutors she was not going to return to testify.
“If nothing was done to prevent the victim from leaving Harris County in the middle of trial, a serial rapist would have gone free – and her life would have been at risk while homeless on the street,” Anderson said in a video statement. “This was an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation. There were no apparent alternatives that would ensure both the victim’s safety and her appearance in trial.”
She defended the prosecutor named in the lawsuit, Nicholas Socias, and said any claim that her office does not support crime victims is “outrageous.”
Jailing a witness to ensure they testify is an unusual move in Harris County, especially when the witness is not also facing criminal charges. Over the past two decades, there have been a smattering of published accounts of rape victims being jailed across the country.
Officials with the Houston Area Women’s Center said respecting the dignity of survivors and providing full support are paramount.
“We have no direct knowledge of this particular case, but are concerned that sexual assault is already under-reported and that this may further deter survivors from coming forward,” said Rebecca White, the center’s chief executive officer.
I can’t even begin to imagine the thought process that led to the conclusion that jailing this poor women was a good idea. I mean, I know that the Harris County Jail is called the largest mental health facility in the country, but that doesn’t make it a hospital, and it doesn’t make it an acceptable place to try and treat someone who doesn’t belong in jail. This was just monumentally bad judgment, and Kim Ogg is right to call for an independent investigation of what happened. For shame.