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.