Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2021

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Sun Editorial:

Stop blaming the victims

State program can deny compensation to rape victims based on their ‘conduct’

Las Vegas Sun reporter Abigail Goldman wrote Sunday that at least nine victims of sexual assault have been denied compensation from a state program because officials believed their conduct contributed to the violence perpetrated on them.

That sexual assault victims share in the blame because of the way they were dressed or because they partied too hard is a premise dating far back to a much less enlightened time.

Rape is a crime of violence fueled by a perverse desire to dominate. It is not a crime of passion brought on by a victim’s behavior or dress.

The fact that there exists in Nevada any remnant of the notion that victims of sexual assault contribute to their own violation is shocking.

Goldman’s report involved the Nevada Victims of Crime Compensation Program, which uses money from donations and court fees and fines to at least partly compensate victims for expenses related to what happened to them.

The program has a “contributory conduct” rule stating that compensation must be denied if the victim “used poor judgment because of intoxication or drugs.”

Reason dictates that this rule is for cases where, say, someone got drunk, picked a fight and got injured — not for sexual assault crimes.

Goldman highlighted the ordeal of one victim who was twice denied compensation (she finally won on appeal). She had accepted a man’s invitation to come to his home and use methamphetamine. Spending the night in a guest room, she awoke as he was assaulting her.

Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty posed this question in an interview with Goldman: “Does this mean someone under the influence of alcohol who is shot by a robber cannot qualify for assistance?”

Hardesty heads a committee scheduled to receive recommendations on how the compensation program can be improved.

The recommendations are being drafted by another committee headed by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. By all means, the top recommendation by Masto’s committee should be to rewrite the “contributory conduct” policy to end injustice to sexual assault victims.

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