A young girl was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Louisiana juvenile detention center guard, and now the parish is defending against a lawsuit filed by the woman, which began last month. At 14-years-old, the now 20-year-old woman, whose name has not been released, was repeatedly raped by prison guard Angelo Vickers, who is currently serving a 7-year sentence after pleading guilty to molestation of a juvenile.
The woman, known as Mary Doe, sued both Vickers and the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government, alleging that Vickers was improperly supervised.
Now the parish is trying to deny accountability, saying that the victim was compliant, and therefore warranted the abuse. Court documents claim that Vickers could not have assaulted the victim within the detention center, had the victim not “cooperated” with him.
“These girls in the detention center are not ‘Little Miss Muffin,’” one Terrebonne parish official told the Tri-Parish Times. The official asked not to be quoted by name.
In addition to the extreme moral issues with the defense, there is also the fact that it is at odds with Louisiana law, which states that no person under the age of 17 can consent to sex.
Children’s rights advocates, including some parish officials, say that criminal laws protecting children from sexual abuse should apply equally in the civil arena. “Holding otherwise would basically hold that a child has a duty to protect him or herself…” the plaintiff’s trial memorandum states.
“All have to admit that it would be a peculiar rule that consent by a child could be a viable defense against civil liability when the exact conduct does not provide a defense to a defendant in a criminal case,” the memo continues. “This is especially true in the context of minors held in detention when their freedom of movements is most limited and access to help is often minimal or non-existent.”
Before ending up in the Terrebonne Parish Juvenile Detention Center, Mary Doe was sexually molested at the age of 5 by her swimming teacher and at age 9 by a construction worker, according to court documents. At 9, her mother was killed in a car crash, and a year later she was raped by an uncle, resulting in repeated assaults over the course of two years.
During that time, the uncle gave her “alcohol, heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine,” and “tried to kill her on three different occasions, once trying to slit her throat.” At age 11, Doe was raped by her step-sister’s cousin. For the most part, she was incarcerated from the ages of 10 through 18, in seven different facilities.
That Doe faced such abuse at the hands of adults in her life is horrifying, and that she suffered continued abuse at the hands of a detention guard whose job should have been to protect her well-being, is disturbing. But perhaps most vile of all is that the Terrebonne Parish defense would not only propose that the rape of a child is acceptable with consent, but that the then-14-year-old victim is at fault for being raped by a parish employee.
In 2011, the US Department of Justice released a report on the Terrebonne Parish Juvenile Detention Center (TPJDC), after conducting an investigation that began two years prior. In their letter to the President of Terrebonne parish, the DOJ described conditions that placed the youth “at serious risk of avoidable harm in violation of their rights protected by the Constitution of the United States.”
Their findings included “a significant number of credible reports of sexual and physical misconduct by staff members on youth within their custody.”
In addition to sexual abuse, the DOJ found “a pervasive atmosphere of excessive force and violence” including, physical restraints such as the unnecessary use of handcuffs and a restraint chair, the “inappropriate and dangerous use of chemical agents, excessive use of isolation as punishment or for control, suicidal behavior six times the national average and an inadequate suicide prevention program, and high levels of fighting and assaults between youth.”
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.