That’s precisely what happened to a young woman in Tampa, Florida. After reporting her rape to the Tampa police, she was arrested and kept in jail for two nights after the police ran a background check and found a four year old warrant on her record. This article from the Tampa Tribune describes how this incident brought together so many deeply disturbing things: a callous and sexist disregard for the needs and rights of a rape victim; an inherently flawed criminal justice system; and, on top of it all, how the so-called “right” of medical practitioners to impose their religious beliefs on their patients has seriously jeopardized this woman’s physical, emotional and mental well-being.
The woman’s mother sums it up well:
“You’ve got to make sure you throw somebody in jail on a four-year-old felony warrant after they’ve been brutally raped?” the mother said. “It was a failure to take the actual dynamics into play.”
And as if the arrest alone wasn’t infuriating enough:
Adding to the mother’s ire is her claim that a jail nurse prevented her daughter from taking a second dose of emergency contraception prescribed by a nurse at a clinic as part of a rape examination. The jail nurse, said the mother and the victim’s attorney, denied the medication for religious reasons.
The article describes a police department policy that advises against arresting victims of violent crimes on outstanding warrants, stating that “the severity of the injury suffered by the victim compared to the seriousness of the crime specified in the warrant.” However, this policy only explicitly names misdemeanor warrants, not felonies.
“It’s rare in police work that someone isn’t arrested on a felony warrant, but you always want to have compassion for a victim,” police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Monday. “This may be a case where we need to revise our policy.”
No, really? Brilliant that this conclusion is reached after this woman is jailed, denied emergency contraception, and basically put through hell – all as a result of reporting the violence committed against her. As the article points out, this sort of thing only adds to obstacles that frequently prevent women from reporting when they’ve been raped.
Bonnie Bucqueroux, a victims’ advocate and coordinator of the Victims and the Media Program at the Michigan State University School of Journalism, said the handling of the situation could have “a chilling effect” on this case and others.
“This is one of those cases where they made the wrong call,” she said. “Spending two days in jail … certainly adds to the trauma she endured. … Why would victims who had any concerns about any dealings in their past come forward?”
Edited to add: In her post on this incident, Jill from Feministe cites this statistic: forty percent of rape survivors in Connecticut, for example, aren’t offered EC in emergency rooms – in both secular and religiously affiliated hospitals. Unbelievable.