Who’s The “Victim”? The Case Of Norma Patricia Esparza

A rather stark illustration of the power of the State to label.

The woman, apparently quite accomplished being a professor and all, was allegedly raped in the mid-1990’s.  Her rapist was then beaten to death.  Perhaps only by her boyfriend (who evidently became her husband) and a couple of accomplices, without her knowledge or participation.  But perhaps not, too.

Now, I don’t know much about this case.  Just what I read in that linked article.  Nevertheless, it has to strike you that the determination of who’s a victim and who’s a perpetrator can be rather fickle:

She had been cooperating with prosecutors but was taken into custody last week after a judge revoked her bail.

So for a time she’s helping the prosecutors make their case against her ex-boyfriend/husband.  But then the tables are turned:

But Susan Kang Schroeder, of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, said Esparza’s story is a ploy.

“Mrs. Esparza is desperate to garner sympathy for her and make herself as the victim in this case. She’s not a victim on this case: she’s a defendant on this case,” Schroeder told NBC News.

Eenie, meenie miney moe.  Just like that, from “victim” to “defendant”.

Maybe there’s a good reason.  But for once I have to join the puzzlement of “advocacy groups”:

Esparza’s jailing has caused outcry among advocacy groups, with one online petition proclaiming: “We are astonished that Norma Patricia, a rape victim, is now being treated as a criminal,” and garnering 4,500 signatures.

How quickly and unpredictably the worm turns.  I hope prosecutor Kang-Schroeder has really good evidence to do what she is doing.  Alas, she doesn’t really need it, things being as they are.  But I hope so anyway.

Not that I, in particular, have any reason at all to be optimistic.

In some Islamic countries they are apt to treat rape victims as the guilty parties, due to the way they worship God.  In the US, we are apt to treat rape victims as the guilty parties, due to the way we worship our government.  Check out the comments in the Huffington Post.  There’s a real split of opinion.  And that’s sad.

This is a matter of abusing prosecutorial discretion that cannot be cured by a trial.  The key to understanding this is that this is an 18 year old crime.  In the time since there is no indication that this woman has been anything other than a productive and law abiding citizen.  Are there reasons to be suspicious of her account of events?  Some, I am sure.  There are often reasons to suspect.  This does not, in itself, imply guilt.

So what this prosecutor is apparently doing is deeming suspicion sufficient reason to bring criminal charges.  But if the suspcisions turn out to be wrong, look at the horror being inflicted on Ms. Esparza for no good reason.  Your prosecution itself is as much or more of a crime than the one originally committed.  And the fact that you might get a conviction is really immaterial.  Any prosecutor who is unaware of how easy it is to convict someone is a public hazard.

On the level of prosecutorial discretion this one is not a close call.  Even if Ms. Esparza had intentional involvement and culpability, there is no criminal history for her before or since.  You would be talking about what is unambiguously an anomalous incident in an otherwise productive and law abiding life.  The better argument, even under those circumstances, is to leave it alone.

But those are not the circumstances.  What is the evidence that she had intentional involvement and culpability?  At this point it’s hard to imagine anything other than the accounts of the other perpetrators.  In other words, the evidence against Ms. Esparza is garbage, even though such garbage is often enough to convict.

So unless there is some evidence that I think the prosecution is quite unlikely to have, this prosecution is an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.  And now that they have charged her, she’ll live with the scarlet letter of accusation forever, with people harboring the opinion that she really must be guilty.  The internet comments prove that this opinion will be widespread, though not universal.

Note that a trial will not ameliorate this consequence.  Casey Anthony, Jodi Arias, Amanda Knox.  The outcome, even if it’s exoneration to any sensible person based on evidence, will not penetrate the pall of suspicion and the clamor for vengeance.

Islamic fundamentalism prosecutes rape victims for its reasons, and we prosecute them for ours.  Different reasons, same results.

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