On April 12, 2017, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro publicly responded to requests from Court Watch NOLA Advocates who demanded that Cannizzaro “stop arresting accusers in rape cases as material witnesses.”
According to District Attorney Cannizzaro, arresting material witnesses in violent crime cases is a “small price to pay” to ensure the safety and protection of the community.
While we agree that the rate of violent crime—especially rape and sexual assault—in New Orleans warrants aggressive intervention from law enforcement and the criminal justice system, arresting victims may just further their victimization.
The trauma of rape and sexual assault profoundly affects victims. Victims report physical, emotional, social and mental health consequences as a result of rape. Research shows that the investigative and criminal justice processes can be overwhelming for victims, causing them to experience increased levels of anxiety and stress. Many victims choose to forego criminal justice intervention in their assault because they are unsure if they could endure the pain of reliving the trauma of their assault and facing their offender in court. In fact, according to the crime reports from the U.S. Department of Justice, only 33.6% of rapes were reported to law enforcement in 2014.
There are an overwhelming number of reasons a victim of rape would choose to remain silent and not report their assault to the police; a few of these include:
- Blaming themselves for the assault
- Receiving threats of retaliation from the offender or the offender’s family and friends
- Having endured prior trauma in interactions within the criminal justice system
- Desiring accountability measures other than jail for their perpetrator
- Not wanting family, friends and co-workers to find out about the rape
A rape survivor’s perpetrator has already silenced their voice and used force to accomplish goals against their will. There are opportunities for us to simultaneously value the safety of survivors and hold offenders accountable. As a community, we must work together to ensure that survivors are protected and empowered to seek help in whatever way brings them a sense of justice.