Without an interpreter to help rape victim testify, alleged rapist walks free and finds another victim

After having charges dismissed in August, Luis Pantoja is now accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl

Published January 7, 2014 11:10PM (EST)


A Spanish-speaking woman in Illinois was denied an interpreter while providing testimony in a sexual assault hearing against her alleged assailant, Luis Pantoja. Without the aid of an interpreter, the 24-year-old woman struggled to provide key information and answer questions about the incident; after a confusing exchange with the public defendant representing her alleged rapist, the hearing concluded and the judge dismissed the charges.

Pantoja walked free. He is now being charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery and aggravated criminal sexual assault against a 15-year-old girl.

The Chicago Sun-Times ran a lengthy transcript from the hearing, and it's clear that the woman was confused about what she was being asked. Despite this, her request for an interpreter was denied, and the questioning carried on.

That a judge would have so little regard for the comprehension of the victim of an alleged rape is shameful, but given the dire state of our criminal justice system on the matter of sexual assault, it is far from shocking.

More from the Sun-Times:

Now police say Pantoja, 25, of the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood is responsible for the brutal sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl who was found Dec. 17 in a backyard in the 2400 block of North Long. A Cook County judge ordered him on $2.5 million bail in that case.

Pantoja’s attorney had no objection to the woman’s request for an interpreter during that Sept. 17 hearing, according to the transcript. The woman made it while Pantoja’s public defender questioned her about whether she had sex with Pantoja at his home [...]

Later, when the public defender finished, the woman clarified for the prosecutor that she did not, nor did she want to, have sex with Pantoja in his bedroom. She said she didn’t understand the public defender’s question.

Police reports indicate her alleged attack occurred about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 15. Those records accuse Pantoja of grabbing the 24-year-old woman by her arm, pulling her into an alley and raping her.

She described the alleged assault under direct examination and answered several of the lawyers’ questions as if she understood. Other times she seemed to struggle. When Pantoja’s lawyer asked if Pantoja ever choked her, the woman said, “What’s that mean?”

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Crime Justice Rape Sexual Assault Sexual Violence Violence Against Women