January 30, 2007

Woman Jailed in Tampa After Reporting Rape

This may just be the most shocking story you’ll read this week. The St. Petersburg Times reports:

First, police say, a 21-year-old woman was raped at Gasparilla. Then, she was handcuffed and jailed – for two nights and two days.

A jail worker with religious objections blocked her from ingesting a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, her attorney says, keeping her from taking the required second dose for more than 24 hours longer than recommended.

The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t talk about her medical treatment in jail. But Tampa police are investigating why more compassion wasn’t shown toward the woman after she reported her sexual assault to law enforcement.

“We may need to revisit our policy,” police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

You think?

Turns out the victim was sitting in the front of the police car until the officer assigned to take her to a nurse examiner’s clinic found out she had failed to pay $4,585 restitution after a 2003 juvenile arrest. (The rape victim’s attorney said the restitution was paid and it was probably the result of a clerical error.) At that point, the student became the criminal and was handcuffed and moved to the back of the police car. From there things only got worse:

Jail records show the woman was booked about eight hours after the reported rape.

A doctor had given her Plan B, the so-called “morning-after pill” approved by the FDA, to prevent pregnancy. But Moore said a medical supervisor at the jail refused to let her take the second of the two pills on Sunday.

For the emergency contraceptive to work, the first pill must be taken within three days of unprotected sex and the second 12 hours after the first. The woman had already taken the first pill soon after the assault Saturday, Moore said. She was unable to take the second pill until Monday afternoon. The jail allowed it, he said, after media inquiries.

Lots of comments follow the story, 99 percent of them critical of the Tampa police and the jail’s medical supervisor. One commenter is already imagining the fall-out for this travesty of justice, “Well, taxpayers of good ole tampa, be prepared to spend a lot of your tax dollars to this young lady.”

Planned Parenthood set up a take-action message to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Check it out here.

Update: Police procedure has already been changed, according to a local ABC news broadcast. “The officers in this case did not violate departmental policy, but it became very clear that our policy is flawed if it allowed someone who had suffered as a victim of sexual battery to end up in the Hillsborough county jail,” said Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

So now shift commanders will have the authority and discretion to delay arresting a violent crime victim, according to the story. “The bottom line is it gives them the discretion that they can both have compassion for the victim and still do their duty as a police officer,” added McElroy.

In other words, the police will now use common sense. No word, however, if that applies to jailhouse medical personnel.


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