Updated: Pennsylvania is literally blaming a woman for her own rape

The state attorney general has listed the victim's "contributing behavior" as a defense in a federal lawsuit

Published September 25, 2014 5:10PM (EDT)

                                       (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-4999p1.html'>Junial Enterprises</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Junial Enterprises via Shutterstock)

Updated, 9/26/14 8:00 AM ET: A representative from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office called the decision to cite a defense that implicated a woman in her brutal sexual assault "an isolated instance of bad judgment" in a response to the victim's federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections. In a statement to Salon, a spokesperson for Attorney General Kathleen Kane said the deputy involved in the incident has resigned, and that any future action on the case "would be at the behest of the Department of Corrections." The spokesperson also affirmed that Kane was "disappointed" her office might have blamed the victim in any way, adding, "To suggest such a thing is to ignore the extraordinary challenges victims face in both criminal and civil processes, particularly cases involving sexual assault."

In 2013, a 24-year-old woman was working as a typist at a Pennsylvania state prison when an inmate named Omar Best entered her unlocked office, attacked her from behind, choked her unconscious and raped her for 27 minutes. Best, who had already been convicted three times of sex-related crimes and transferred from another prison for assaulting a female officer there, was sentenced to life in prison for the rape. A later investigation revealed multiple failures on the part of the prison to protect the victim before the attack occurred.

But, now that the woman has filed a federal lawsuit against the state's Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania attorney general's office is blaming her for her own rape.

According to CNN, a senior deputy attorney general responded to the woman's lawsuit by saying that she "acted in a manner which whole or in part contributed to the events," which could be used as a legal defense of the state in the federal case. Although the attorney general's office initially declined to comment, it later issued a statement asserting that it is required to present "all possible defenses," and that "contributory negligence is one such defense."

“It is troubling and disturbing that they would take a position so contrary to the position the district attorney took in the criminal case,” the victim's attorney, Clifford Rieders, told the Centre Daily Times. Later, Rieders added, "Worse than that, it's an attempt to embarrass the victim."

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane claimed through a spokesperson she was not aware that the victim-blaming defense had been included in the response to the lawsuit, and that it will not necessarily be pursued as the case proceeds. "Attorney General Kane is disappointed that she was not made aware of this matter prior to the filing, and was saddened to learn that the filing implied that the victim somehow contributed to this crime," the spokesperson told CNN.

Whether or not the defense is pursued, its inclusion reportedly runs contrary to the district attorney's case during Best's criminal trial, as well as the points alleged in the lawsuit. The state's victim advocate, Jennifer Storm, told CNN that the DA "went to bat 100%" for the woman -- a claim echoed in accounts of Assistant District Attorney Nathan Boob's prosecution, which laid out Best's criminal history and the Department of Corrections' knowledge of it. Kane's office denies that the DOC was aware of Best's previous convictions.

Additionally, multiple reports say the victim contacted a supervisor two weeks before the attack to inquire about Best's presence in her office. While the attorney general's office has conceded that the exchange did occur, the response denies that the victim expressed discomfort at the inmate being allowed to visit her workspace unsupervised. The victim's supervisor, who is also named in the federal lawsuit, was let go after a prison investigation that occurred following the attack; the state maintains that the dismissal was not related to the internal investigation.


By Jenny Kutner

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