Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane says she was "saddened" to learn that a filing from her office, made in response to a lawsuit by a former state prison clerk who was raped by an inmate, suggested that the victim was to blame.
In a statement, the attorney general's office said Kane was unaware that her senior deputy included the defense in the filing until it was reported by the Centre Daily Times newspaper.
"Attorney General Kane is disappointed that she was not made aware of this matter prior to the filing," the statement read, "and was saddened to learn that the filing implied that the victim somehow contributed to this crime."
The victim, a 24-year-old typist, was working at Rockview State Prison, near Bellefonte, Pa., when she was brutally raped by Omar Best, a convicted rapist who had been transferred to Rockview after assaulting a female employee at a different state prison.
"Despite this knowledge," the lawsuit alleges, Best was allowed "to have unsupervised access to the offices of female employees" at Rockview. Video presented during Best's trial showed that the victim was choked unconscious and raped for 27 minutes.
But the attorney general's filing suggested that the unnamed victim “acted in a manner which in whole or in part contributed to the events which led to the damages plaintiff has alleged in her complaint."
The suggestion drew understandable outrage from the victim's supporters.
"I think it's absolutely deplorable to blame the victim in this case," Jennifer Storm, head of the state's victim advocate office, told CNN. "And it shows a significant lack of sensitivity to not understand the harm this has done to the young woman and the re-victimization she's going through today.
“This kind of victim-blaming is unconscionable and, frankly, makes people distrust the justice system," Centre County Women’s Resource Center Executive Director Anne Ard told the paper. "I am appalled.”
The victim's lawyer, Clifford Rieders, called it "an attempt to embarrass the victim."
“It is troubling and disturbing that they would take a position so contrary to the position the district attorney took in the criminal case,” Rieders told the paper.
Best was convicted in May and was sentenced to life in prison earlier this month.
While Kane's office released a statement saying that she is "sensitive to the extraordinary challenges victims face in both the criminal and civil processes, particularly in cases involving sexual assault,” it defended its victim-blaming suggestion as procedural.
“Contributory negligence is one such defense the office often presents on behalf of our clients — whether we like it or not — so that this defense can be preserved,” Kane's office said. “This initial filing should not necessarily be interpreted as meaning this defense will be pursued throughout the entire case.”
"It's bad lawyering," Rieders told CNN. "It's what some lawyers do. I don't think it's right, or just, and has no basis here."