Louisiana Rape Survivors Could Face Jail if They Don’t Testify

Today in rape culture: a Louisiana district attorney who thinks that traumatized rape victims should be punished for refusing to testify.

Leon Cannizzaro, who has served as the district attorney for Orleans Parish since 2008, stands accused of compelling material witnesses to crimes, including rape, to testify – or face jail time. When Cannizzaro responded to the accusations, it was only to double down.

Court Watch NOLA, which promotes transparency in the judicial process, organizes court observers to routinely watch how cases are handled. One emerging trend they’ve observed is the practice of issuing material witness warrants, which require people to testify, in cases of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

It can be easier to prosecute such cases when the survivor takes the stand, adding valuable context and evidence, but doing so can also threaten the well-being of survivors who are dealing with the psychological aftermath of rape.

In addition to running the risk of being jailed — despite having committed no crime — there’s no guarantee of legal counsel for people arrested on material witness warrants. The county simply isn’t required to appoint an attorney for those who cannot access legal assistance by other means.

While issuing warrants for uncooperative witnesses isn’t unheard of in many regions of the country — and sometimes it’s arguably necessary — many district attorneys and experts argue that sexual assault and intimate partner violence should be handled differently. These are intimate, traumatizing crimes, and when survivors opt against testimony, it’s usually because they’re afraid of what might happen in court.

Some may fear “revictimization,” in which they’re forced to relive a painful and deeply upsetting experience. Others are worried about encountering side effects of rape culture like victim blaming, judgmental attitudes or aggressive cross-examination from the defense. And others just want the situation to be over, even if it doesn’t end with jail time for their assailant. For intimate partner violence survivors, retaliation may also be a concern.

One rape survivor was jailed for eight days in 2016, according to Court Watch.

Cannizzaro’s response? “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,” he explained.

This is, to say the least, a rather limited view, and a reminder that rape is treated as a crime against the state, with the victim’s body considered evidence. The experience of rape can be intensely dehumanizing on its own, but interacting with the justice system can be even more traumatic — whether someone is dismissed by law enforcement, humiliated by defense attorneys or, apparently, jailed for being unwilling to serve as a witness.

Jailing victims seems like a strange approach to pursuing justice. At least one district attorney, Kimberly Ogg of Houston, has a specific department policy of refusing to obtain material witness warrants for victims of violent crime like rape. Ogg instituted that policy after her predecessor in the office compelled someone to testify, and the victim had a breakdown in court when faced with her accused assailant.

The advocacy group only identified one case where a rape survivor was jailed because she refused to cooperate with authorities, but they argue that even one case is too much.

Barring the practice isn’t just humane, but it could also make rape survivors more willing to come forward, knowing that the district attorney’s office will support them if they’re ultimately uncomfortable with a call to testify in the case. That, in turn, could lead to more rape prosecutions — and a much safer city.

Photo Credit: Steve Rainwater/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for posting

cara d
cara d1 years ago

the DA needs a punishment - maybe a 1000 lashes

Nena C
Nena C1 years ago

Stupid and ridiculous, not to say vicious, let them do with their life what they wish, already gone thru enough and dont need to feel any worse by threat of going to jail!

Philip W
Philip W1 years ago

British woman raped before suspected 'honor killing' in Pakistan, police say

Chilling video about teenage girl groomed online before being raped and murdered that every parent should watch

Girl, 10, is drugged before being raped, dismembered and set on fire as her mum, stepdad and his cousin are arrested by cops


A Woman Was Raped And Murdered. Why Is Her Drink Count Relevant?


Philip W
Philip W1 years ago


"The stoning of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was a public execution carried out by the Al-Shabaab militant group on October 27, 2008 in the southern port town of Kismayo, Somalia. Initial reports stated that the victim, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, was a 23-year-old woman found guilty of adultery. However, Duhulow's father and aunt stated that she was 13 years old, under the age of marriage eligibility, and that she was arrested and stoned to death after trying to report that she had been raped. The execution took place in a public stadium attended by about 1,000 bystanders, several of whom attempted to intervene but were shot by the militants."

"The stoning was condemned by several human rights groups and was cited as being among the first incidents in the civil war in Somalia to be widely reported in the Western media. According to Amnesty International, Al-Shabaab had formally charged Duhulow with adultery despite the fact that convicting a girl her age of adultery would be illegal according to Islamic law."


Philip W
Philip W1 years ago

This reminds me of opt-out program schemes. Instead of being protected and helped, the hardship is always put upon the victimized to get themselves free. They are given a perverse sense of "freedom" to opt-out of telemarketing schemes, being marketed in general, being recruited, being targeted and victimized, and the victim is forced to have to register instead of the criminals. And because the guilty are not held accountable it never works, there is always something more the victim needs to do or has failed to do in order to have some type of justice. Now Trump has signed a measure to let ISPs sell your data without your consent, so it will only get worse.


Blaming the innocent, the victim, is a foundational pillar of religions who believe in blood sacrifice. Believing that sin can be transferred to an innocent lamb, or person, has created a mindset that has been prevalent in society for a very long time. Women and children are raped and blamed for their own rape, they are sold and exploited like property. Instead of being protected and helped, religion creates a mindset that they are guilty until they prove their innocence.

Carl R
Carl R1 years ago


Jennifer H
Jennifer H1 years ago

Like the others JT (only you can make you a victim of any given crime". Harsh. Hope Karma doesn't bite you.

Peggy B
Peggy B1 years ago

JT Smith.... I understand that you don't mean to be offensive, but the trauma of rape is something that stays with a person for life. It creates flashbacks (PTSD) for life even with therapy. It taints intimacy with a loving partner sometimes for life. For all 'victims' ? Maybe not. Some people can compartmentalize their emotions while others can't. If Louisiana wants rape victims to testify then they need to take measures to stop the stigma and blame put on rape victims. It is a crime. It shouldn't matter what she was wearing or doing any more than a person getting mugged is blamed for the mugging. Does anyone blame the victim of mugging for dressing to nice or wearing expensive jewellery or driving a flash car? Men know they are not to force themselves on women EVER so even if she were to walk naked in front of him it is not an invitation for sex. Once judges, juries, prosecutors, defense lawyers and people in general get that then women will come forward more readily.

Karen S
Karen Swenson1 years ago

@JT Smith---Like Karen H--please explain what you mean, because your statement sounds like one of those platitudes people say that make me want to shove it back down their throats!