In defending itself against a lawsuit brought by a juvenile who was raped by a guard, Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish Juvenile Detention Center cast blame for the incident on the 14-year-old victim. The matter was resolved with an undisclosed settlement amount.
At issue were the actions of the guard, Angelo Vickers, a lieutenant who was 47 when he had sex in 2009 with the victim, identified as Mary Doe to protect her identity. Vickers pleaded guilty to one count of molestation of a juvenile in 2007 and was sentenced to seven years in prison. [See: PLN, July 2009, p.50; May 2009, p.56].
The lawsuit alleged defendants Terrebonne Parish and the State Office of Juvenile Justice allowed the abuse to occur. Mary Doe testified that Vickers most often worked the night shift. She reported coerced sex on multiple occasions after being led in handcuffs to an area outside camera view.
“Vickers could not have engaged in sexual relations within the walls of the detention center with [the victim] without cooperation from her,” state legal pleadings filed by Terrebonne Parish. “Vickers did not use force, violence, or intimidation when engaging in sexual relations.”
That defense upset victim advocates. “The defense has no basis in law,” said Marci Hamilton, a sex crime victim advocate and professor at New York’s Benjamin Cardozo Law School. “She is a victim of statutory rape. The age of consent in Louisiana is 17. The defense is also offensive to sex assault victims everywhere.”
“The Parish’s argument that a 14-year-old child could consent to sex with an adult in any context is disturbing,” said Katie Schwartzman, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s New Orleans Office. “In the jail or prison context, power dynamics between children and adults are even more skewed. When a child is in custody, guards have complete coercive control over every aspect of the child’s life. The argument that a child could consent to sex with an adult prison guard is, frankly, shocking.”
According to pleading filed by Mary Doe’s attorney Felix Sternfels, “the rampant sexual and physical abuse of other girls in the Juvenile Center reinforced her belief that no one would protect her or prevent the rapes,” Mary Doe had been sexually abused from the age of five up until she had been incarcerated by teachers and a family member, so her vulnerability was heightened by those she felt had authority over her.
“Because she was abused, that made her more vulnerable, and what these predatory males do in these situations is prey on the weakest ones, the most vulnerable ones, the most unstable ones,” said New Orleans attorney Roger Stetter. “They are easily manipulated and exploited. These are the ones who were to take care of her and assure her safety.”
In the end, the detention center’s top officials acknowledged that duty. “Inmates don’t have an obligation to protect themselves,” testified Jason Hutchinson. “It’s our job to protect them and keep them from harm.” That realization finally pushed Terrebonne Parish to abandon its shameful defense and agree to the undisclosed settlement, which was announced on April 3, 2014.
Sources: www.dailycomet.com, www.salon.com; tri-parishtimes.com; opposingviews.com
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