Pennsylvania is taking victim blaming to a whole new level in the state’s response to a lawsuit filed by a prison clerk who was choked unconscious and raped for 27 brutal minutes by an inmate.
The inmate, Omar Best, was convicted three previous times of sex crimes, and was transferred to the state prison at Rockview in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania after assaulting a female assistant at Graterford.
In 2010, DNA testing linked Best to the 1999 abduction and rape of an 18-year-old woman in Philadelphia, PA. He was sentenced to 7-15 years in prison. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to another rape and robbery in Philadelphia, and was sentenced to 15 years in state prison. In a 1996 case, Best pleaded down from attempted rape to indecent assault.
“Despite this knowledge, defendants … still allowed Omar Best to have unsupervised access to the offices of female employees,” according to the lawsuit, which blames the state for placing her in the position to be a victim of this horrible crime..
The lawsuit says that the prison superintendent moved the clerk offices, including that of the 24-year-old victim, from a secure floor where there was no contact with inmates to a location that was on a cell block.
“There were no locked doors between the offices and cell blocks, including Block C where (the victim) worked, except for the copy room,” the lawsuit states.
Best was last convicted of rape in May of this year, and a review of the prison found multiple security failings that led to the superintendent’s removal. However, a senior deputy attorney general claimed that the victim “acted in a manner which in whole or in part contributed to the events” in his response to the lawsuit.
The woman had complained about Best twice about a week prior to the attack. She told her boss that she felt uncomfortable and unsafe with Best coming into her office, and was assured that he would no longer be able to do so. However, on July 25, Best entered the woman’s office, grabbed her from behind, and choked her until she passed out.
The woman’s lawyer called the response “victim shaming at its worst,” according to CNN. “Worse than that, it’s an attempt to embarrass the victim,” he added.
On Wednesday, the state attorney general’s office backed off of the outlandish claim. The office said it is required to present all possible defenses, and “contributory negligence is one such defense.”
In the statement provided to CNN, the attorney general’s office said, “This initial filing should not necessarily be interpreted as meaning this defense will be pursued throughout the entire case,” adding that elected Attorney General Kathleen Kane was not aware her senior deputy included that defense in his filing.
“Attorney General Kane is disappointed that she was not made aware of this matter prior to the filing, and was saddened to learn that the filing implied that the victim somehow contributed to this crime.”
Best is serving a life sentence for the woman’s rape. The Pennsylvania state victim advocate said it’s hypocritical to use victim-blaming as a defense for the prison.
“I think it’s absolutely deplorable to blame the victim in this case,” Jennifer Storm told CNN.
“It’s not common legalese in rape cases,” Storm said of the AG’s defense. “And it shows a significant lack of sensitivity to not understand the harm this has done to the young woman and the re-victimization she’s going through today.
“In a rape case, this is plain victim-blaming.”
The victim is suing the Department of Corrections, her former supervisor, her block manager, and the former superintendent.