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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Columns

Criminal justice system must stop victimizing


Whether it’s the racially biased undertone or treatment of victims, the criminal justice system represents the epitome of government fallibility and has the greatest need for reform.

Recently, a Harris County rape victim who suffers from mental health issues, was jailed for 27 days after having an emotional breakdown on the stand. The prosecutors wanted to ensure she would testify against her attacker.

While the attacker, Keith Hendricks, received a life sentence, the victim faced undeniable physical and mental aggravations during her confinement.

Texas has long been a state that thinks it knows what’s best for victims. In this case, they obviously did not.

In her federal lawsuit against Harris Country, the victim said that she was attacked, given a black eye by another inmate, had an altercation with a jail guard and was not given her psychiatric medication.

“The system itself victimizes (the victim) and serves them up a double slice of PTSD,” said Harvey Rosenstock, a Houston-based psychiatrist, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle.

Even with the situation getting out of hand, there are some who think the system will work most of the time. This line of thought just makes them look bad.

Devon Anderson, a Republican district attorney, defended the actions of the system in a press conference.

“How were we to assume that a homeless, mentally ill victim of an aggravated sex assault would return to testify at the trial of her rapist when that victim was going through a life-threatening mental health crisis and had expressed her intention not to testify?” Anderson said.

Fitting the mold of a characteristically ignorant and out-of-touch politician, her statement was riddled with inaccuracies.

Sean Buckley, the victim’s lawyer, defended his client against the Anderson’s obvious insensitivity.

“(Anderson) has to know that is (a) false statement because her investigators were the ones who went there to pick Jenny up at her apartment and bring her to Houston to testify,” Buckley said. “I know the district attorney’s office is willing to lie to the public about the facts of this case.”

Buckley found support from district attorney candidate Kim Ogg.

“I will never put a crime victim in jail to secure a conviction,” Ogg said. “There are so many other things we can do”

This is the absolutely the right attitude to take toward victims of crimes like these. We don’t need to alienate, scare or even jail victims to ensure they testify against their attackers.

There must be another way.

Two state senators have promised to evaluate the current law and change it to prevent an incident from happening again. Sheila Jackson Lee has called for federal investigation into the rape victim’s case.

Lee requested Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open a federal investigation into the case. She suggested that the rape victim’s civil rights had been violated.

State Senator John Whitmire also chimed in, promising to pass legislation ensuring “a court-appointed attorney” to an attached witness. As the chair of the senate Criminal Justice Committee, Whitmire is in position to address this flaw in the criminal justice system.

It’s about time we start thinking about the victims and the fact that they needn’t be hurt more as their attackers are placed behind bars.

Columnist Praneeth Kambhampati is a biomedical sciences sophomore and can be reached at [email protected]

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