12-Year-Old Rape Victim Called "Negligent" and "Careless" by School District in Legal Papers
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Photo Credit: Sarah Seltzer
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The recent spate of GOP callousness towards rape victims is part of a broader rape culture in our country in which victims of sexual assault are frequently blamed for their own attacks--by gossip, by the media, and also in some cases, legally.
Witnessthis perfect example of rape culture coming from legal papers filed in California. Here's what happened: the Moraga school district has responded to a suit by adult victims who were underage at the time. One perpetrator, having gone to trial, has been found guilty of offenses specifically against Kristen Cunnane, but that didn't stop the district from laying the blame at her feet in its filing.
In fact, they actually claimed she was careless and negligent--yes, when she was a preteen being molested by a teacher.
The district and three other defendants claim Cunnane "was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims," in the Oct. 24 legal filing.
"Carelessness and negligence on (Cunnane's) part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages," they claim.
When she read the legal response, Cunnane, 30, said she was floored.
"It felt like I got punched in the stomach, and I stood up and thought about how young I was when I was 12 to 13 years old at the school," said Cunnane, whose suit was filed in September. "For them to use words like 'negligent' and 'responsible' just broke my heart."
The district's legal counsel says that by using this language, it's simply exhausting every avenue for defense against these allegations, but lawyers who work with these kinds of cases maintain that this kind of excuse doesn't hold:
A youth law attorney said he understands the district's need to include many affirmative defenses in its legal response to the suit but said that assigning responsibility to Cunnane for the abuse was inappropriate.
"I think it is reprehensible to place the blame on the young girl who was victimized," said William Grimm, senior attorney with Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law. "The district's defense has to be plausible ... and this doesn't even pass the smell test, in my opinion."
As Cunnane says in the story, and as advocates who work with victims know, it's very difficult for many victims, whatever the circumstances, to stop blaming themselves because they've internalized rape culture.
Actions like the district's only make these problems worse.
When victims are blamed instead of perpetrators and denied agency over their bodies, it's no wonder that politicians feel they can say things like Washington congressional candidate John Koster did, the latest in a long line of Republicans.
“[I]ncest is so rare, I mean, it’s so rare,” Koster says in a recorded interview with an activist from Fuse Washington, a liberal group. “But the rape thing … you know, I know a woman who was raped and kept her child, gave it up for adoption, she doesn’t regret it. In fact, she’s a big pro-life proponent. But on the rape thing, it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better? You know what I mean?”
These people can't even give victims agency in their language about assault.