PA Attorney General Answers Rape Complaint With Victim Blaming

A former employee of the Rockview State Prison in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania has filed a suit against the state’s department of corrections as well as management of the prison where she worked based on a vicious attack by an inmate at the facility. Although the Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the inmate for the rape, the Attorney General is now alleging that the victim contributed in whole or in part to the attack.

The former clerk for the prison worked in an area that had no barriers between it and the prison population. Prisoners had access to the area in which the victim worked and the victim was unable to lock her office. Prior to her employment with the prison, the victim’s department was located in an area separated from the prison populace. Inmates could only access the area if they were escorted by a correctional officer. The department was later moved. Despite this move, the victim was told when she first accepted the position that she would have no contact with the prisoners.

While only one inmate was assigned to clean the offices, another inmate frequently entered the victim’s workspace, claiming he needed to empty the trash. Omar Best, an inmate who had been transferred to Rockview because of an assault on a female correctional officer at another facility, has a long history of violent attacks on women. In 1996, Best pleaded guilty to charges of simple assault and indecent assault, after rape charges against him were dropped. While Best was incarcerated in 2010, he was charged with the rape and abduction of an 18 year old female, and was found guilty in 2012. In 2011, Best pleaded guilty to a charge of forcible rape by compulsion. According to the complaint in this case, Defendants were aware of Best’s violent history.

The victim only worked at the prison for a short period of time prior to repeatedly informing prison management that Best made her uncomfortable and she did not want him to have access to her office. Unfortunately, her fears seem to have fallen on deaf ears, as Best entered her office one day, then grabbed her from behind, choked her until she was unconscious, and raped her. Best is now serving a life sentence for the assault.

In her complaint, the victim alleges that the Defendants were aware of the danger to their employees caused by have them work in such close proximity. The plaintiff also alleges that the Defendants were liable because they knew of Best’s violent past.

In an answer filed on September 5, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office denied the majority of plaintiffs allegations and raised a handful of affirmative defenses, including contributory negligence. The answer claims that the victim is responsible in whole or in part for the attack, and the backlash had been severe, with many media outlets reporting on the victim blaming. The Attorney General has suggested that she was unaware the answer contained that defense and may not use that defense for the entirety of the case.

It appears as though the defense may have been added by an attorney out of habit. The lesson to learn here is that court filings are public documents, and care should be paid to what exactly is contained in your pleadings, and what the public response may be.

This article was first published on the Network on September 26, 2014.