Over the weekend, a young woman was raped either in or near the San Jose Fairmont Hotel. I’m fairly certain she wasn’t associated with the con.
I saw the police officers handling the case, and I felt they treated the victim poorly. I wrote a letter to the police department and the mayor’s office, and here’s what I said. If they write back, I will post a follow-up.
Dear Chief Davis and Mayor Reed:
I’m a Bay Area resident who visited San Jose last weekend. I’m writing because I was appalled by a police/victim interaction I witnessed in your city.
On the morning of November 1, 2009, I was attending a convention in the Fairmont Hotel. When I entered the lobby around 8:15 AM, I noticed several police officers, all male. Nearby sat a young woman who looked upset. An officer reassured me that everything was okay, and at that point I went to talk to a friend standing nearby. My friend and I chatted at length, attempting to give the woman some privacy. During this time, the woman started sobbing. I noticed she was alone; the officers mostly stayed away from her. A few people stopped to see what was wrong, but the officers told them to leave. At this point, my friend mentioned that he’d overheard the woman say she’d been raped. I couldn’t believe that they’d left a rape victim sitting in a busy lobby– for probably half an hour or so.
I approached the woman and asked if there was anything I could do. An officer told me that I couldn’t talk to her because he was conducting an investigation. I asked the officer if I could give the woman some Kleenex, which he allowed. Then I told the officers that I understood they needed to investigate, but they really needed to take the woman somewhere private, where passersby wouldn’t stare at her and add to her suffering.
I’m writing this letter because the officers’ handling of the incident was unacceptable. Here’s why:
1) As a random passerby, I shouldn’t have seen anything except perhaps an officer or two. The victim should have been treated with dignity and taken somewhere private. I’m not sure how long she was in the lobby, but it had to be around half an hour. The officers only took her somewhere else after I suggested it. So this poor young woman, feeling violated and terrified, had to sit in a high-traffic public place and try to pull herself together, which added more trauma to her experience.
2) A female officer should have been on the scene immediately, preferably one trained in rape counseling. The victim was traumatized and isolated. After a rape, it can be hard for a victim to trust men or feel comfortable with them. She needed mental and emotional support–yet she was denied this. I had to ask permission to give her Kleenex, which felt absurd. If the officers needed to question her, I understand that–but they should have provided her professional support or at least a female officer to sit with her. Failing to do so will have repercussions for her recovery and her mental health.
That’s why I found the handling of the situation unacceptable. In short, officers need to be trained to respect rape victims and to ease post-rape trauma.
I’m copying this letter to the Chief of Police, the Mayor’s office, and posting it to my website. A number of people have agreed with my concerns, and want to know what you’ll say. I look forward to your response, and will post it to my website as a follow-up. Thanks for your time.