Harry Shukman : June 29, 2017
‘She got the death penalty for being the victim of sexual assault’
Megan took her own life almost a year after being raped, driven by the failure of her university, local hospital and law enforcement to properly investigate the crime.
A mental health center intake form found next to her bed, underneath a question that asked about losses, changes and crises in her life, said: “Raped, bullied by police, changed university.”
Today Texas Representative Ted Poe, who founded the Victims’ Rights Caucus, made an impassioned speech about Megan’s case, declaring: “She got the death penalty for being the victim of sexual assault. She’s not here to tell her story today, and I’m telling it for her.”
We spoke to Representative Poe about why he spoke out for Megan.
Why did you deliver a speech about Megan Rondini?
Several things. It’s a tragic situation. In my background as a judge and a prosecutor, I’ve seen situations like that in the past. I’ve gotten to know sexual assault victims through the trauma they go through, and having to testify. I’m chairman of the Victims’ Rights Caucus here in Congress. I think it was a tragic case and her story needed to be told.
Have you heard of other cases where this has happened on campus? Does Megan’s case fit a pattern?
I’ve read other news reports of this type of situation. And I spoke out on the Brock Turner case when it happened at Stanford. I got involved in that case, and what I thought was injustice on the part of the judge on that particular matter.
Sexual assault is a unique type of crime because of the devastation it causes to the victim. I’m not sure Americans realize that’s true when it happens, no matter who it happens to. It causes tremendous mental devastation to victims – some never get over it, ever. I’ve seen that in my experience as a judge and even here in Congress. I thought it was important that Megan’s story be told on the floor of Congress so that other members of Congress would understand and realize that we have to make sure they get justice and are protected from what happens to them in the future.
Megan Rondini was a student at the University of Alabama
What needs to change here?
Change needs to happen across the board. We did pass legislation that I sponsored – Justice for All. People need to be trained up and down the criminal justice system to deal with victims of crime. It starts with the hospitals who see these sexual assault victims. They need to know what they’re doing when they treat these individuals. And not having a sexual assault kit, not taking other scientific evidence is outrageous – even in small towns.
One thing sexual assault victims want is validation – that what they’re saying is true. That is one of the most important things. Megan did everything I thought a victim in her situation would do. It’s easy for law enforcement to judge her, but after she got away, she made the best decisions that she could to get help – physical help, mental help and to report the perpetrator.
And so we need to change the mentality of those who deal with sexual assault victims. Law enforcement needs to be a lot more compassionate and understanding, and hospitals need to be prepared to deal with them, and let the courts determine who’s guilty and not guilty and not make pre-judgements without investigating the whole case.
As far as the University of Alabama goes, I can’t answer to them, I don’t know what their position is on this. But there seems to be a culture on some college campuses that when this happens, they turn the victim into the criminal. And that mentality has got to change.