Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Victimize Her Twice: Shame On Tampa

Tampa's version of Mardi Gras is called Gasparilla, and every January, the festival's attendant parade, parties, pageants, and over-the-top bacchanalia get splashed across newspapers and television screens like so much spilled rum and scattered beads. Then there's the big mess to clean up and at least a few car thefts, DUI arrests, and minor bits of drunken pirate-related mayhem to report, at which point most of the region reverts to Normal mode until football season begins.

Not so fast with the reversion to normalcy this year, however. Not for one woman (bolds mine):

TAMPA - First, police say, a 21-year-old woman was raped at Gasparilla. Then, she was handcuffed and jailed - for two nights and two days.

A jail worker with religious objections blocked her from ingesting a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, her attorney says, keeping her from taking the required second dose for more than 24 hours longer than recommended.

[.....]

The premedical student attended Saturday's Gasparilla parade and veered off from her friends shortly before 1:30 p.m., police said. The Times is not naming her because police say she is a victim of a sexual crime.

As she walked north on Howard Avenue at Swann Avenue, she was grabbed by a man with crooked teeth and raped behind a building, McElroy said.

After the assault, the man ran off. The woman walked to her car, which was parked on the University of Tampa campus. At 3:40 p.m., after finding her vehicle, she called police.

As police assisted her, taking her to a nurse examiner's clinic, and processing her report, an officer found two outstanding warrants for the woman in Sarasota County.

Attorney Virlyn "Vic" Moore III of Venice said his client was seated in the front seat of the police cruiser, on her way to the scene of her attack when the officer learned of the warrant, cuffed her and placed her in the back seat.

"To stop the rape investigation and instead victimize her again," Moore said. "I'm aghast, astonished and outraged. I have never, ever heard of this happening."

The officer arrested the woman at a sergeant's instruction, McElroy said.

The student had failed to pay $4,585 restitution after a 2003 juvenile arrest, McElroy said. Moore said his client is convinced that she paid the fine and that the warrant was probably the result of a clerical error.

Never mind that the woman believes she paid the fine in question; forget that her arrest took place when she was a juvenile; set aside the fact that this woman was not armed or dangerous. What is so shocking about this case is that both the Tampa police and a jail worker were all able to interrupt and then deny a woman--a crime victim--the proper course of medical care, prophylactic birth control medication, and ongoing counseling she needed at the very time she needed them most.

Let's say the crime in question wasn't rape, but rather, an assault and battery on a man. The victim calls the Tampa Police and reports that he was walking down the street in the middle of the afternoon post-Gasparilla, when suddenly he was ambushed by a large man and his fierce dog. The man beat and robbed the victim, and the dog bit him several times on his arm as he tried to fend off the attack. When the police and ambulance arrive, they take the victimized man to the nearest emergency room; while he's being treated, though, they read his name on their report and decide to run it through the computer. It turns out this man owes the City some $4,585 in unpaid restitution for a crime he committed four years ago, and the police take him to jail, despite his needing follow-up antibiotics the next day to prevent infection. In the morning, the victim waits for his lawyer to sort things out; meanwhile, a jail worker, based on his beliefs as a Christian Scientist, refuses to give the man his antibiotic pills.

Does anyone seriously believe the above scenario would happen? Of course not. The victim might wind up in jail, but not until his medical care was complete--certainly, he wouldn't be denied medication even if he was transferred from hospital to cellblock within hours. Yet I must ask this: Why? Why is this so? Because rape is not the same thing as a real crime like assault and battery? Because women are not the same things as men? Because wanting to protect oneself from impregnation by a rapist is somehow less noble than wanting to protect oneself from infection from a dog's bite?

I wish this unfortunate woman well. I also wish--and for this, I wish hard--that Tampa would use this opportunity to openly address the issue of requiring compassionate, comprehensive, and ethically proper treatment of rape victims by city and state personnel.

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