A Woman Was Put In Jail For Breaking Down While Testifying Against Her Rapist

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Update: In a video statement shared with Refinery29, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson defended the use of a witness bond to hold a mentally ill woman until she could testify against her rapist.

“This was an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation. There were no apparent alternatives that would ensure both the victim’s safety and her appearance at trial,” she said, citing the fact that the woman was both homeless and going through a mental health crisis.

Anderson said that, though the story was disturbing, there was more to it than what had been initially presented. She stated that the anonymous woman had been committed to a private psychiatric facility, but that her stay had been limited to a maximum of 10 days, after which she was placed in the jail with the judge’s approval.

Anderson said that she stood behind the prosecutor’s action.

And she added that her office rarely commented on matters of pending litigation, but that this issue was too important for her to remain silent.

“If nothing was done to prevent the victim from leaving Harris County in the middle of trial, a serial rapist would have gone free. And her life would have been at risk while homeless on the street,” Anderson said in the statement. The man was convicted at trial and given two life sentences.

This story was originally published on July 20, 2016.

A mentally ill rape survivor was put in jail for nearly a month after she had a breakdown while testifying against her attacker, Texas news channel Click2Houston reported on Tuesday.

The twentysomething woman, who is identified only as Jenny, was a key witness in the trial of her attacker, a man convicted of violently raping her and several other women over a period of time. During testimony, the woman, who also suffers from bipolar disorder, broke down and was unable to continue. Instead, she ran from the court building and was found standing in traffic outside. She was taken to a medical center for treatment.

But when she was discharged from the hospital, she was taken to the local jail, where she stayed for the next four weeks. A mix-up in the paperwork led to correction officers mistakenly believing that she was the perpetrator, not the victim, of a sex crime. She was put into the general population, where she was she was both assaulted by another inmate and later charged with assaulting a guard.

Though federal law allows for witnesses who skip a court appearance to be jailed for contempt of court, Jenny’s lawyer told the channel that she had not committed a crime and had showed up to testify when required. Texas law allows for witnesses who are likely to not show up to trial to be held under an order called a writ of attachment.

Jenny’s lawyer, Sean Buckley, has since filed a lawsuit against the county and several authorities involved in the jailing, including the prosecutor who requested she be jailed. "This young lady should never have been put in the Harris County Jail," he told Click2Houston.

A statement shared with the news channel by the local district attorney’s office said that it could not go into details on the case, but defended the practice of holding a witness. "Witness bonds are a common tool used by prosecutors and defense attorneys when the lawyer has reason to believe that the witness will be unavailable or make him or herself unavailable for trial," the statement read.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson did not immediately return Refinery29’s request for comment.
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