Trigger Warning for discussions of sexual violence, rape apologism, and suicide.
Last week, I wrote about a Seattle case in which a 21-year-old woman threatened suicide from the top of a courthouse. The woman was scheduled to testify that day against the man who allegedly raped her for years as a child. The person expected to question her as she acted as a witness was that alleged rapist, Salvador Aleman Cruz. After I wrote that post, the judge declined to declare a mistrial, as Cruz had requested. But at the request of prosecutors, he did dismiss the charges related to the alleged victim who had threatened suicide.
A King County judge has decided against declaring a mistrial in a child-rape case in which an alleged victim climbed to the roof of the courthouse and threatened suicide last week just before she was set to testify.
On Thursday, the 21-year-old woman, who was set to confront the defendant in the courtroom, made her way onto the roof of the King County Courthouse and spent about three hours threatening to jump before she was led to safety.
The woman was reportedly distraught about taking the witness stand against Salvador Aleman Cruz, who was accused of raping her when she was a child. Cruz, who is acting as his own attorney, was expected to question the alleged victim Thursday while she was on the stand, said Dennis L. McGuire, an attorney assigned to help Cruz with his defense.
On Monday morning, the judge hearing the case, Douglass North, dismissed the two criminal charges against Cruz involving the 21-year-old woman at the request of the prosecution. The charges were two counts of first-degree child molestation.
Cruz, 40, is still charged with seven felony counts, including first- and third-degree child rape, first-degree child molestation and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.
This was the solution to the woman’s inability to testify under the inhumane conditions presented to her. Just drop the charges. Pretend the assault that almost drove her to suicide was just never alleged to have happened at all.
The most distressing part of this is that it may have genuinely been the best, most compassionate remedy available. It’s possible that the prosecutors acted out of concern that the victim in question could act as a liability to the case. But it’s also entirely possible that the victim expressed a continued inability to testify, and requested that the charges be dropped as the only course of action that would ensure she did not have to.
In the last post, I stated that allowing an accused rapist to directly question hir own alleged victims is an act of witness intimidation. Though it is not the victim’s fault and likely not the prosecution’s either, the decision to drop charges has proven the system to condone and outright support precisely that. The decision to dismiss the charges has effectively told rapists that they now have a legal avenue through which they can intimidate victims into dropping their cases. They can legally bully and harass their victims in an open court until even the prosecutor think that the effort just isn’t worth it, anymore.
Again, I’m not picking on the prosecutors until there’s evidence that their decision was not based on the victim’s wishes. I’m picking on the law. The law which allowed this to happen and provided no suitable alternatives. The law that needs to be immediately changed to stop this legal witness intimidation and protect alleged victims.
Yesterday, I received a comment (which was not approved), which snottily asked what exactly the victim in this case had to fear in being interrogated by her alleged rapist, if she was telling the truth. Here I was thinking that I outlined what exactly those fears might be rather explicitly, and in a way that was in fact rather triggering for me to do.
For the sake of my own mental health, which I’ve opted to put first this time, I’m not going to attempt to lay it out in detail again. But I mention it because it worries me so deeply that this is what we’re up against. People are so unaware of rape culture that they see it as more likely for a woman to make a false rape claim and attempt suicide as a result of the ensuing guilt, than for a woman to attempt suicide as the result of the trauma of an actual rape. People understand the trauma of rape so poorly that they can’t understand why a victim might be terrified to be directly questioned by hir rapist in court. People respect victims’ rights so little that they see this case and feel neither outrage nor compassion, but a sense that the victim must be a liar.
I’m increasingly disillusioned with our current system of policing, trial, and imprisonment, and through conversations with more radical activists, increasingly convinced that there has to be a better way for victims to get both protection and justice, though I don’t yet quite know what they are. I just know that all throughout this heart-wrenching case, I see way after way after way that this current system is irreparably broken. The inflexibility, the refusal to center victim and community needs, the lack of avenues to real accountability. Which isn’t even to get into the question of what our current plan of locking up a few poor, non-white rapists for a couple of years before releasing them again is supposed to do to keep any of us safer or to make the world a place less ruled by kyriarchy, anyway. The system is not preventing crime. It is rarely humane to perpetrators. And it is sure as hell inhumane to victims, both those who actually file charges and those who don’t even see the point. I don’t know the answers, I just know that the questions I’m asking are rapidly changing, and that the lack of options and compassion here is just one of many examples as to why.
Changing the law with regard to this very specific set of circumstances is something that can be done right now, immediately. Legislators intend to introduce a bill to do just that in the next session. Here’s a petition you can sign encouraging them to pass it. But the measure is a stopgap, and a tiny one at that. And I think more anti-violence activists need to start asking bigger questions about what we hope to accomplish, how we’re going to get there, and why so many of us think that simple reform is going to be enough.