Montana State Hospital Pays $375,000 Settlement to Rape Victim

by Cara on February 19, 2010

in disability, human rights, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls, women’s health

Trigger Warning for graphic descriptions of sexual violence.

Moodybpgirl recently wrote about a really horrifying case in which Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs paid a six-figure settlement to a woman who was raped during her stay there, by a fellow patient who also just so happened to be a convicted sex offender.

A female patient at Montana’s psychiatric hospital was reportedly raped by a convicted sex offender in March 2008, and the state recently paid a $375,000 settlement to avoid litigation in the case.

More glaring than the sexual assault on a mentally ill, newly committed patient, however, is the lax supervision and lack of oversight that allowed the rape to happen at a state-run hospital, according to a Montana civil rights group that investigated the claim.

Disability Rights Montana, a private nonprofit law firm required by the federal government to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect, not only found that hospital personnel failed to comply with their own policies – a lapse in procedure that gave a convicted rapist unfettered access to the hospital’s general population – but that other patients notified staff of the rape while it was in progress, and yet still no steps were taken to investigate the claim.

This rape was entirely predictable and preventable, but hospital staff did nothing. They gave a convicted sex offender who was categorized as having a strong likelihood of offending again unsupervised access to female patients, and failed to tell other patients of the fact that he was a rapist.

When she arrived in March on the hospital’s Spratt Unit, which houses both male and female patients, K.G. did not know that violent sexual offenders and sexual predators were allowed to commingle with other patients in the general population.

Hospital staff, on the other hand, did know that Jason Marshall was a Level 3 sex offender who in 2002 was convicted in Missoula County of raping a 12-year-old girl. A Level 3 designation on Montana’s three-tier sex offender registry means the person is at high risk of re-offending.

…But instead of assigning him to the hospital’s forensic unit, which is reserved for dangerous offenders and patients convicted of crimes, Marshall was placed in a treatment unit for patients with co-occurring disorders.

They further left patients unsupervised to the point where Jason Marshall was able to stalk and groom his victim extensively, and then had the opportunity to rape her not once, but on two different nights. And then, when told that the second assault was currently being committed, they ignored it. (Again, TRIGGER WARNING — please take care of yourself, and be safe rather than sorry.)

At about 2 a.m., Marshall coerced K.G. to perform oral sex on him, “and she did so only as a result of his coercion and the duress exerted upon her.” She then went to bed and told no one what happened.

The following day, Marshall continued to pursue K.G., indicating that he wanted more oral sex, that he wanted to have sex, “and making other objectively predatory comments,” the claim states. K.G. rejected his advances and said she did not want to have sex of any kind.

That evening, Marshall instructed another patient to have hospital staff unlock a restroom, and then prop the door open with a towel. Marshall then coerced K.G. into the bathroom and demanded oral sex. She began experiencing flashbacks from prior sexual abuse, and asked to leave the bathroom, but Marshall forced her to stay. He alternately forced her to perform oral sex on him and watch him masturbate.

“K.G. believes she was trapped in the bathroom for approximately 1.5 hours, yet no staff ever came looking for either Marshall or K.G.,” according to the claim. “K.G. was crying and shaking violently as she left the bathroom, as at least one other patient observed. What is most troubling is the fact that a patient expressly informed an MSH employee that he believed Marshall and K.G. were engaged in sexual relations in the men’s bathroom, but the employee did nothing to intervene.”

Jason Marshall is entirely responsible for his decision to rape this woman multiple times. But Montana State Hospital is also entirely responsible for their decision to place a convicted sex offender in a position where he could easily access, groom, and assault women in a position of particular and extreme vulnerability. While I’m pleased that the victim in this case won her settlement, and I sincerely hope that she receives some sort of closure from it, a monetary payment neither excuses, nor makes up for, nor resolves the fact that a man who chose to rape was able to do so because Montana State Hospital let him.

But they seem to think that it does precisely that. In spite of making this payment, the hospital has determined that there was no evidence of negligence by the hospital staff. They further argue in their defense that Marshall was not previously accused of harassing or assaulting any other patients — as though the lack of an accusation necessarily means that an assault did not occur, when in fact victims regularly do not report assault for various reasons, and when a failure to receive any reports could also just as easily be a further sign of negligence.

The fact is, this type of abuse is not uncommon. Moodybpgirl has written previously about the staff negligence and sexual abuse at the same hospital. And in a post on the same topic (but not the same incident), Anna at FWD/Forward writes about how people with disabilities, particularly women, and particularly those who have been institutionalized, are at disproportionate and very high risk of being sexually abused.

Women with disabilities are made vulnerable to sexual predators by a society that ignores their safety. They are made vulnerable by a society that pretends sexual abuse is about sexual attraction and simultaneously desexualizes and hypersexualizes people with disabilities (resulting in the notion that a) no one would be “attracted” enough to a disabled woman to assault her, or b) “she must have led him on”). And they are made vulnerable by a society that not only fails to believe abuse survivors when they speak of what was done to them, but also fails to believe people with mental illnesses. And those women who are made vulnerable by these manifestations of ableism and misogyny are also those who are regularly placed in situations of severely restricted agency, such as a psychiatric hospital. It’s inconceivable that a rapist would not use that situation as a site for his violence.

And still, many fail to see how any negligence took place here. Perhaps in part not because the assault was so unimaginable, but because it’s difficult to view as negligent that which is so routine.

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{ 6 comments }

1 kaninchenzero February 19, 2010 at 2:33 pm

They further argue in their defense that Marshall was not previously accused of harassing or assaulting any other patients….

It is likely all this means is they shredded the written complaints they did get. Deleted the messages on the patient advocate voice mail line. Communication by patients in psychiatric hospitals is highly controlled and there are supposed to be means by which patients can make complaints and assert their rights. But we’re crazy. So who’d believe us over them?

Staff on units have enormous leeway in following or not following procedure or doctor’s orders and patients have little recourse. My big complaints about my most recent hospital jaunt aren’t, fortunately, about sexual assault. They have to do with being told to wait hours for pain meds despite doctor’s orders and hospital procedure that said otherwise, unit rules about touching not being respected even by staff, and every single one of the eight psychiatrists–it was the holidays and there wasn’t a lot of continuity–asking me about surgery when they read in my chart I was trans*.

2 Marissa February 20, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Kaninchenzero, I’m really sorry to hear about your hospital stay and the blatant insensitivity of hospital staff. Uhg! Cara’s post and your comment really drive home for me how much I find hospitals to be unsafe places with zero regard for patients’ safety, rights, or dignity and I fear for those of us who find ourselves there without a very convincing, confrontational, and demanding advocate at our sides at all times to make sure we are just safe and well cared for. *Shudder*

3 Moodybpgirl February 22, 2010 at 6:07 pm

It’s so upsetting that so many people have been subject to this level of “care” in psych hospitals. It never ceases to horrify me.

@Marissa: So well put! Unfortunately the general public doesn’t seem to think these places still exist. They just dismiss former patients’ trauma as symptoms of their disorders or as excuses not to get treatment. (It’s happened to me more times than I can count.)

@Kaninchenzero: Everything you’ve said is absolutely possible. What I experienced was not just negligence; it was flagrant and methodical patient abuse. The sexual violence notwithstanding, I was at MSH for TWO AND A HALF MONTHS before I even saw a psychiatrist. I was having panic attacks on a daily basis and rather than giving me medication for them, the staff just kept reading me the riot act because I kept cutting. As if that isn’t outrageous enough, I was discharged two weeks after a suicide attempt, all because they were so damned determined to keep my attacker on the ward.

At the time he assaulted me there had already been two complaints (that I KNOW of) against him: one for exposing himself and masturbating in the common area, the other for offering a woman a shoulder rub and then assaulting her. Instead of moving him to a higher security ward the staff offered to relocate ME instead. A friend who was raped on another ward told me the same thing: she could either move to a different ward or live in the same building as her attacker. This seems to be the protocol: shuffle the victims around and leave their attackers free to prey on the next round of new patients who are never given so much as a warning.

Finally, when my three-month evaluation came up, I was told I had no choice- I had to move to a different ward. I told the staff they might as well send me home; and that afternoon my mom and brother came to pick me up. It wasn’t until much later that I learned someone had told my mother she had to come get me because I had been- I’m not kidding- “inappropriate with the male patients.” Of course I don’t know how I could ever prove any of it; and I just sound crazier the harder I try.

4 kaninchenzero February 22, 2010 at 11:40 pm

@Moodybpgirl: I’m so sorry they did those things to you. It’s appalling how little has changed since grade school when complaining about being bullied got us in trouble. All that’s happened is the bullies got worse and the authorities now have even more power to fuck you up with.

5 Terance P. Perry February 24, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I read with interest the comments posted regarding KG. I was her attorney in the matter against the Montana state hospital. I have worked in this arena for many years and am often highly offended not only by the lax protocols in place at many such facilities, but the consistent whitewashing of clear and unequivocal occurrences of abuse. Monetary damages aside, as we all know the harms visited on some of the most vulnerable members of our society through such abuse often require years of therapy which all too often is ineffective in entirely ameliorating the horrific impacts suffered. I continue to seek to do what I can to assist such individuals not only in seeking financial redress for their injuries but in prompting systemic changes and in obtaining the care and treatment they may require to at least in part rectify the sometimes awful physical and psychiatric injuries they have sustained.

6 ginmar March 4, 2010 at 1:08 am

I got threatened by another patient in a locked ward. I’d checked myself in because I was suicidal. I was told—by female nurses, no less—that they couldn’t do anything—”Honey, he’s crazy,, what do you think?” and that they had, in fact, been working admirably hard to keep my safe-giving me the room by the desk. Sure. Aside from which, well, if you’re a crazy woman, then it’s open season, isn’t it?

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