Rape Victim Can Sue After Being Arrested, Denied Contraception

A federal judge has ruled that a woman can sue the Hillsborough County, Fla. Sheriff for preventing her from taking emergency contraception after she was raped.

The woman, who is listed as “R.W.” in court documents to protect her anonymity, was allegedly raped in January of 2007. After being examined at Tampa’s Rape Crisis Center, she was given emergency contraception. She took one pill immediately, and planned to take the other in twelve hours as she’d been directed to.

Unfortunately, R.W. had an outstanding arrest warrant for failure to repay restitution and failure to appear in court. Despite allegedly having been raped, she was booked into Hillsborough County Jail on the outstanding warrants, and staff there confiscated her pill.

According to R.W.’s lawsuit, guard Michele Spinelli refused to allow the woman to take the second pill, because “it was against [Spinelli's] religious beliefs.”

Fortunately, R.W. did not become pregnant, but she sued both Spinelli and Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee for gender discrimination and denying her equal protection under the law.

Judge Elizabeth†Kovachevich ruled in March that the suit against Spinelli could go forward, but had dismissed the suit against Gee. At the time, Kovachevich has said that “There are no facts of any sort set forth in the complaint that would support any actual damages” against Gee.

However,†Kovachevich ruled Monday that an amended complaint showed Gee could be held liable for the actions of his subordinate. The amended complaint alleges that by allowing Spinelli to be the only person on-duty who could dispense contraceptives, and giving her no directive as to policy, Gee effectively granted his policymaking powers to Spinelli. Kovachevich ruled that it was “plausible” that Gee had designated Spinelli as “the final policy-maker with respect to her decision to withhold anti-conceptive medication for religious reasons.”

“Gee, as the representative of the municipality, promulgated no policy on anticonceptive medication and provided no guidance or supervision to Spinelli on the matter,” Kovachevich wrote in her ruling.

While Kovachevich noted that the case was far from decided, merely being able to bring the case to court is a victory for R.W., and for the right of women to make their own decisions about their reproductive help.

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Image Credit: Stephen Stacey


Robin T.
R T5 years ago

Not being a woman I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of being raped and then having to live with the fear of finding myself pregnant by the rapist. Then having to carry this unwanted child in my body, a daily reminder of that rape, for the next nine months. Could I accept it, would I be able to remind myself that the child was the innocent result of a terrible crime. I really don't know. As a male I think it would be very difficult but from my knowledge of woman, they would without reserve. However they are now placed under the further difficulty of a financial burden until that child is able to fend for itself.
Spinelli and Gee had no right to place R.W. in that risk she had been legally prescribed a pill which they had no right to with hold from her and they should be punished as though she had fallen pregnant as that is the result they new could happen due to the pill being withheld.
In all fairness the fact that R.W didn't fall pregnant should not have any bearing on the case and I certainly go along with the opinion that Spinelli should be dismissed as well as compensating R.W.
A sad reflection on the human race.

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

Elaine A........you are truly a disgrace to the female gender.......Have you not yet learned to read?.........If this had been a friend or relative of yours I would bet you would be on your soapbox and screaming with outrage........Your "potty mouth" (back flatting?) doesn't say much about you "Christian morality"..... I think the candy you refer to as a Fez is actually Pez....
Irene P.......did you go to the same school as Elaine A ? very judgemental.....

Karen Howard
Karen H5 years ago

Elaine A, you jump to conclusions faster than a horny rabbit in a rabbit hutch.
You immediately assumed R.W. was arrested for “back flatting” when the article clearly states the warrant was for failure to repay restitution and failure to appear in court. Absolutely nothing about “back flatting.”
Following your guidelines, if I were arrested and had life-saving drugs on me (chemo pills, blood pressure pills, nitro for my heart), I would be denied their use. Wonder what kind of lawsuit we’d have then. The officer didn’t say, “I can’t take your word that this isn’t an illegal drug.” She said it was against her religious beliefs. That’s totally different.
R.W. was raped. She was victimized. You calling her a whore (your clear implication when you say she was “back flatting”) makes you a victimizer.
Try thinking before commenting!!!

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

Lika S. I so would like to give you more than one Green Star, but am unable to. Your postings are right on the money and I thank you for making my day. (Forgive my bad grammar!)

Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

I like Lika S.'s comment.

Michael M.
Michael M5 years ago

Again, the backwards attitude of Flori-Duh shines through the cloud if ignorance if only briefly. :p

MEGAN N5 years ago

@ Lika

I thought I was the only one who policed grammar and proper spelling. It is nice to see someone else with standards. I fear my personal standards have fallen with the influence of others over time.

Lika S.
Lika P5 years ago

If one wants to be a pharmacist, then be a pharmacist. If you want to practice your beliefs, do it when you're not a pharmacist.

Elaine A. - So she had an arrest warrant. That doesn't mean that prescription meds can be confiscated. If it were an illegal drug, she could be tested for it, gee, DUH! So no, she would NOT be getting rid of evidence of another crime. You don't understand policy and procedure much, do you? Conservacrap paranoia is what you wrote.

All county jails are required to allow medical care before taking into custody. And to call a rape victim a "back flatter" is disgusting. You must be sexist against women. And please, next time, check your grammar, it's dumb sounding when you use "to ignorant" when you mean "too", and saying "your" when you mean "you're". Only an uneducated person would talk like that.

Ralph Henderson
Ralph Henderson5 years ago

One person should not be allowed to affect another persons decisions, because of their own personal beliefs.
I don't believe any religion holds you responsible for another persons decisions.
Theology aside, freedom is a personal right and nobody has the right of refusing any other person that right.

Glenna Jones-kachtik
Glenna Kachtik5 years ago

Elaine - "Back Flatting" ... Are you implying that she was a prostitute? WTH IS Back Flatting? She was RAPED for God's sake. Are you implying that this guard was in her rights to refuse giving her the 2nd pill (because it was against the guard's moral religious ideal) because this woman deserved to be raped & face the consequences of pregnancy? Failure to make restitution. That means she owed something & didn't pay it. Has noting to do with being raped. You continuously amaze me with your judgmental attitude. Drugs are drugs - if they are prescribed, they are supposed to be taken - even if it is just an antibiotic. Would you cheer the guard if it had been a diabetic who failed to make restitution? What about an epileptic? Do people deserve to put their lives in danger or become pregnant after a rape because they failed your ideal???? Hope you never work in a prison. You would be Oh so cheery to be around....preaching hellfire & damnation each step of the way.