This story has been bouncing around the feminist blogs for a little while now, but I didn’t realize it was in Washington State. It’s pretty grim. I’m not quoting the most explicit parts of the story, but The Longview Daily News has more details. What’s pertinent is:
In October 2012, a woman was held against her will, taped naked to a chair and sexually assaulted. This week, Cowlitz County prosecutors had the same woman arrested to help prove the case against her alleged captors.
The 43-year-old woman — the victim and prime witness in the case — has not been charged with any crime. She just wasn’t showing up for pre-trial meetings with prosecutors, despite promising to do so several times.
So earlier this month they obtained a judge’s order for a material witness warrant.
It’s a little-used procedure under state law that allows police to arrest a witness of a crime to ensure they show up for court. Chief Criminal Deputy James Smith said such warrants are rare and requested only “as a last resort.”
In this case, it had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will.
Prosecutors said they can’t comment directly on an on-going case. Generally, though, Smith said the severity of the charges is always a factor in taking such a serious step.
Like the people I linked to above, I’m horrified that this happened.* The counties should certainly take up prosecutions of this sort, but detaining a rape victim — one who was for the most part cooperating, but had missed a court date — can’t possibly be the best way to go about it.
It certainly feels like an abuse of the material witness statute. I hope the legislature will take up both better ways to help witnesses who might be transient get to court and to reign in this type of use of the statute. And I hope prosecutors who might be in a position to do this will reconsider.
I mean, we certainly want to prosecute rapists to the extent possible. But surely not by locking up victims, and potentially re-victimizing them. Maybe some of the lawyers in the comments section can think of positive changes to the law.
If you want to contact the Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney’s office and ask them to do better next time, you can do so here.
* FWIW, I wish it didn’t frame it as going after Marcotte, who I agree is wrong here. I think making it about her takes the focus away from the law and the people with power detaining the victim.