A 16-year-old girl has been sentenced to 2 to 2 1/2 years in a juvenile detention center for the manslaughter of a 49-year-old man. This sounds like nothing special until you start to look at the details:
Seated between her attorneys in juvenile court, the diminutive 16-year-old shook her head no Tuesday when asked if she had anything to say before being sentenced for her crime: manslaughter, for killing a 49-year-old man who’d hired her for sex.
The blonde teenager, her hair pulled into a tight ponytail, sat silently through the hourlong hearing, appearing distracted as she glanced around the courtroom. But her path to that point has been anything but quiet.
Tuesday’s proceeding in King County Juvenile Court culminated the girl’s lengthy trip through the legal system, a journey that spans at least three years and involved charges ranging from auto theft to assault to prostitution before prosecutors charged her in the death of Francisco “Noe” Pena last April. In what his ex-wife described as “just one mistake” in an otherwise good life, the recently divorced father of two picked the girl up at a supermarket in Burien and, after buying a bottle of vodka and Crown Royal, brought her back to his home for “a date.”
Though exactly what happened the evening of April 5 remains a mystery, court documents and the girl’s statements indicate that the two drank, then fought over whether she would be allowed to leave Pena’s house. He wouldn’t let her go until they’d had sex, the girl told police, so she stabbed him in the chest with a steak knife.
This story has not been widely reported, but every article I found describes the accusation against Pena as refusing to let the girl leave the house unless she had sex with him. But, you know, we have a phrase for that. Attempted rape. Since Pena’s accused actions involve keeping the girl prisoner in the house, that would also likely fall under the crime of kidnapping.
Of course, we don’t know for certain that Pena is guilty of kidnapping and attempted rape. What we do know is that he broke the law by supplying alcohol to a minor. If the 16-year-old girl was 15 in April when the incident occurred, hiring the girl for “sex” would also mean that he had intent to commit rape of a child in the third degree. If the girl was already 16 in April, his actions still fall under the intent to commit sexual misconduct with a minor in the second degree. Oh, and commercial sex abuse of a minor — a felony.
So let me be even more explicit: even if Pena is not guilty of kidnapping and attempting to rape her consistent with the definition of rape against an adult as opposed to a child, no one seems to deny that he had intent to sexually abuse her.
It would seem to me that in most cases, if a 49-year-old man intended to sexually abuse a 16-year-old girl and she stabbed him, the cries of “self defense” would be deafening. Under most circumstances, if a 16-year-old girl was sent to jail for 2 to 2 1/2 years because of stabbing a man who attempted to sexually abuse her, there would be public outrage.
So why silence now? Is it not self defense when you’re working as a prostitute? Are we back to the legal system’s “prostitutes can’t be raped” theory? Does this dehumanizing, misogynistic and rape apologist myth now apply to children, as well?
The plea, which the girl entered Thursday in King County Juvenile Court, came after a mental-health evaluation, attorney negotiations and a months-long delay in the decision on whether to prosecute the teen as a juvenile or adult.
Prosecutors say emerging information about what could have happened — including the possibility that the victim had attacked or threatened the girl — factored into the decision for the juvenile plea deal.
“This wasn’t a classic murder case,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “There were equities on her side — the victim may have contributed. This seemed to be a spontaneous act, done in a situation where she was not the one in power.
“This will get her the rehabilitation she needs,” he said.
I can’t claim to be particularly familiar with Washington’s juvenile detention system, but we should all know that in the vast majority of cases, like with adult prison, juvenile detention is not rehabilitative and kids usually come out more messed up than they went in. If prosecutors, as they claim, actually do want to help this girl, the answer is not locking her up with other troubled kids. The answer isn’t giving someone who clearly has difficulty interacting with the world in a way that serves her own best interest two less years of time learning to negotiate life safely and productively before being thrown out on her own as an adult. This is a ridiculous and offensive cop-out.
The question here is not whether or not the girl needs help; she clearly does. The question is whether or not she is guilty of the crime of which she has been accused. The question is whether or not it’s actually in her best interest to be told that she deserves to be punished for protecting herself against a man who is just one in a long string of people who have attempted to harm her.
In fact, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, it looks amazingly like the girl got even more screwed over by the system than it already appears.
Attorneys on both sides of the case acknowledged that the girl’s alcohol consumption the night Pena was killed might have led to an acquittal at trial. Cromwell said her client could not recall the incident, her memory lost to the liquor-fueled haze of the evening.
The girl claimed the killing was an act of self defense. The man she killed seemingly without a doubt had intent to sexually harm her. The prosecution accepts that the girl’s story is credible. And both the defense and prosecution admit that if the case had been allowed to go to trial, she would have likely been acquitted. But what did they do? Did they decide to correct the failures of the system up to this point by dropping the charges and helping her find the services and support system she needs to get her life on track?
No. They let her plead guilty. They let her be sentenced to imprisonment. And then they let the man’s wife wail in open court about what a victim her piece of shit husband is.
This all screams of yet again shaming, punishing, and smearing the nature of women who do sex work while excusing, defending, and even praising the men who pay for their services. Even when those women are just children or otherwise non-consenting. This 49-year-old man, who had intent to sexually abuse a minor and possibly kidnapped and attempted to forcibly rape her, is a victim who made “just one mistake” his whole life and doesn’t deserve to be judged for it. The 16-year-old girl who has led a difficult life of abuse and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction while being paid by adult men so that they could sexually abuse her is a slutty, stupid little thing who doesn’t know what she’s done, and whose sentence is an “insult” to one of those abusive men.
This is how we let our society treat its most vulnerable women and girls. And it’s absolutely shameful.
Cross-posted at Feministe. Thanks to Akeeyu for the link.