District Attorney's Policy to Put Rapists Behind Bars Could Actually Hurt Victims

April 19th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

A Louisiana District Attorney is doubling down on a controversial policy to put rapists behind bars but many are arguing it could cause more harm than good.

Man in Handcuffs

New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's policy will throw sexual assault victims in jail if they don't testify in their own case.

"If I have to put a victim of a crime in jail, for eight days, in order to... keep the rapist off of the street, for a period of years and to prevent him from raping or harming someone else, I'm going to do that," Cannizzaro told local station WWL-TV on April 13. He continued to say that "it's wrong" for victims of crimes to refuse to testify, adding:

"Steps have been taken to arrest that person, to indict him, to bring him to court and they say, 'I don't want to get involved,' in my opinion that is wrong."

People on Twitter were outraged that sexual assault survivors could be thrown in jail.

In a statement sent to ATTN:, Scott Berkowitz, the president of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) said that policies like these do more harm than good.

"While we appreciate the desire to get more rapists off the streets, this is the wrong way to go about it," Berkowitz said in the statement. "It will have the effect of discouraging victims from reporting in the first place, and the end result will be that even more rapists will go unpunished. Rape victims have suffered enough - they shouldn't have to worry about being thrown in jail, too."

Cannizzaro's comments come after an April 11 report by Court Watch NOLA criticized the policy of threatening crime victims with arrest if they don't testify in court. Louisiana law allows district attorneys to arrest and jail material witnesses for various crimes, including misdemeanors and sexual assaults. Whether or not to take this approach is at the discretion of the DA's office.


"In some crimes, such as sexual assault cases that are already serially underreported, the arrest of non-cooperative victims may have a chilling effect on survivors already reluctant to report the crime to law enforcement," according to the report.

"The policy has been in effect for a while," Simone Levin, the executive director of Court Watch NOLA, told ATTN: in regards to the policy and it's potential effects on crime. "The purpose of my organization, in part, is to bring transparency to the criminal justice system and we revealed this policy because we didn't think man people in the community knew about it."

Levin said that crime victims need support during an investigation, not jail time. Adding fear to the process could make an existing problem worse.

"Working with victims is a very tricky process and victims need a lot of support and a lot of comfort," she said. "It's terribly traumatizing to be in the situation they're in, and certainly fear can stop them from coming to court." police-line-junk-science

In Texas, a Houston district attorney was elected largely because she promised not to jail victims of crime.

Houston District Attorney Kimberly Ogg promised to never jail a victim who refused to testify, and she won the election last fall. Her campaign promise came after a tragic story in a sexual assault case grabbed headlines in Houston.

Former prosecutor Nick Socias jailed a 25-year-old sexual assault victim, who reportedly suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, when she said she couldn't testify the night before a trial. Socias told the Houston Press that it was a last resort. The woman had a breakdown on the witness stand the first day of trial and then reportedly had to spend ten days in a mental hospital.

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