Rape survivor turns down judge's offer of $150,000 in exchange for reducing attacker's 12-year sentence

Rape survivor turns down judge's offer of $150,000 in exchange for reducing attacker's 12-year sentence
Human Rights

An unidentified rape survivor in Louisiana rejected State District Judge Bruce Bennet’s offer of $150,000 at the sentencing of her attacker. Why? The offer came with a stipulation. She would get the $150,000 from the man who raped her, Sedrick Hills, in exchange for reducing his 12-year sentence.

If that sounds odd to you, you’re not alone. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore was puzzled by the judge’s suggestion as well. “This was an unusual gesture. I don’t know why he said what he said,” Moore later told The Washington Post. “My guess is, knowing the judge, maybe he was trying to assist the lady in some type of way, but I cannot speak for him. The lady wanted time.”

The survivor, who is now 31 years old, was 15 when Hills raped her. Hills was convicted last year thanks to DNA evidence that connected him back to the rape, which occurred in 2003. In August 2018, he was found guilty of “forcible rape” and an incest crime.

“I don’t think money is going to provide any restitution for what he’s done,” the survivor said at the court hearing in November where she rejected the offer, as reported by The Advocate.

“This whole experience has been like a movie, but a bad movie, a horror movie,” she continued. “I’ve been fighting this over half my life. I’m tired. I’m angry. Stuff like this deteriorates a person. It deteriorates who I am. I’m still trying to figure out who I am.”

In his supplemental reasons for sentencing, as reported by the Post, Bennett wrote that the money could allow the survivor to be “at least partially empowered to control her own economic destiny and receive compensation for this reprehensible and life-changing action.” Which is hypothetically true—but why at the cost of a reduced sentence?

To make matters more confusing, Bennett noted that pre-sentence investigations suggested that Hills had been injured in a “big truck” accident of some sort. Though he did not know if Hills had a civil case pending, the judge felt it would be unfair for the attacker to hypothetically receive money from an accident upon leaving jail while this rape survivor got nothing. In which case, if both parties agreed, Hills could have the money deposited with the district attorney’s office, where it would then reach the survivor.

If there was no civil case, or no award granted for the attacker’s alleged injuries, would the rape survivor still get the $150,000 down the road? That’s unclear.

While it’s tough to decipher what the judge’s rationale was on the relationship between a reduced sentence and $150,000, the question is an uncomfortable one when we consider the potential role of class and fiscal power.

If this sort of offer became the norm—survivors get money in exchange for their abusers serving less time—low-income or otherwise disadvantaged people will be put in a tough spot. And abusers who are able to pay would (literally) be buying themselves less time. After all, if we’re talking restitution, why not offer survivors money and have the attackers serve a full sentence? There’s also the equally uncomfortable question about how one, as a rule of thumb, would determine the appropriate amount in such scenarios.

For people who support restorative justice (which doesn’t always center incarceration as a response to criminal behavior), this scenario still doesn’t quite add up because it gives people with economic power more leverage than people who don’t. The other pillar of restorative justice is that it centers the needs of the survivor—in this case, she reportedly made it quite clear she wasn’t interested in her abuser serving a reduced sentence.

“This will not be considered to be an extortionary offer," the judge (who also noted that due to Louisiana’s statute of limitations, the survivor could no longer sue Hills) stressed at the time. If not an extortionary offer it’s, at minimum, a puzzling one.

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