An open letter to Jerry Dunbar
October 30, 2012
(To the editor)
Dear Sheriff Dunbar and other concerned Iowans:
Thank you for being willing to talk about Martin Medrano and sexual assaults in the Washington County Jail in a way that protects the rights of the accused and balances the many competing interests. I want to thank the jail staff for taking Medrano to the hospital after Medrano said that he was sexually assaulted by another inmate. I am glad that Dunbar properly reported the sexual assault and Medrano was taken to counseling despite the lack of physical evidence of the rape.
Often sexual assault does not leave physical evidence – especially since after someone is raped sometimes the first thing they do is try to scrub themselves clean.
I can understand that as law enforcement, Dunbar is looking for a consistent story from a credible source. A Spanish-speaking, male, undocumented immigrant who has committed crimes himself is not the easiest victim to work with - would a jury ever believe him? No one wants to think that horrific sexual assaults happen here in Iowa. Of course, that also makes Medrano an excellent target for a rapist to sexually assault and get away with it.
Unfortunately rape is such a traumatic experience that it is common for survivors to struggle to remember and verbalize what happened. Scientists explain that under intense trauma our brain works differently and does not form our usual orderly memories with accurate times and words. Science has also shown that survivors of sexual assault sometimes crave alcohol because the brain’s hormones are trying to rebalance. Healing from sexual assault is often a long process in which survivors sometimes feel better, and then suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms again later.
My concern, as well as Medrano’s concern, is that rape victims should be believed even when they have a hard time describing what happened. Many rape victims never report because they are concerned that they will not be believed, and they know that they might be dragged through the mud themselves. The accused rapist will claim it was consensual activity, and that the victim is a liar.
While it is important to respect the accused as innocent until proven guilty, we also need to remember that it is in all of our best interests if rapists are brought to trial. That is why Congress created the U Visa program, so that crimes can be successfully reported and prosecuted even when the most vulnerable people are attacked. Statistically rapists will continue assaulting people until they are caught and stopped. Statistically, rape is much more often unreported than falsely reported.
Sheriff Dunbar chose to not sign the U Visa and give Martin Medrano five years of legal status in the United States. I feel that the rape prosecution is more important than Medrano’s undocumented entry and working. Without the U Visa, it seems likely that this alleged rapist will never be confronted. Fortunately we live in a democracy where we can contact our elected leaders and express our opinions, and of course eventually vote for people whose values reflect our own.