TAMPA – A 21-year-old Florida woman who sought help from police after reporting that she had been raped instead was arrested and spent two days in jail for failing to pay a three-year-old restitution order.
A jail worker later refused to give her a second dose of an emergency contraceptive because of religious convictions, said Vic Moore, the college student's attorney. She was released from jail Monday only after Moore went to the media.
"Shocked. Stunned. Outraged. I don't have words to describe it," Moore said Tuesday of his client's arrest and following treatment. "She is not a victim of any one person. She is a victim of the system. There's just got to be some humanity involved when it's a victim of rape."
The woman is not being identified because police are investigating a sexual assault.
Tampa police said Tuesday they were changing their policy to give officers more discretion on when to arrest a crime victim who has outstanding warrants.
"Obviously, any policy that allows a sexual battery victim to spend a night in jail is a flawed policy," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. "So our city attorney is writing a new policy right now."
The family of the woman is outraged.
"We're incensed. Everyone is just beside themselves," her mother, 47, told the Tampa Tribune Monday, right before escorting her daughter from prison.
"You've got to make sure you throw somebody in jail on a four-year-old felony warrant after they've been brutally raped?" the mother said.
The pre-med student was in Tampa for Gasparilla, a pirate-themed parade that draws thousands of partygoers to the city's waterfront each year. She said she was walking alone to her car when a man pulled her behind a building and raped her, police said.
The woman also did not have the opportunity to call a hotline for rape victims, her mother and attorney said. As a prisoner, she was only allowed to make collect calls, the Tribune reported.
"She did not have any crisis intervention. Zero. None," her mother said.
The woman's mother said she received a call the night of the arrest from a female officer who said the 21-year-old "was raped today at 2, but her name came up on a bulletin and I have to take her to jail."
The mother said, "The rape investigation has come to a screeching halt."
The arrest warrant was based on an unpaid sum from a 2003 auto theft and burglary case, which the woman reportedly thought had been resolved.
McElroy said the arresting officer checked with a sergeant before taking the student into custody.
"It appears at face value that they didn't violate policy," she said. "It's just we had a flawed policy."
Moore said the woman was allowed to take the second emergency contraceptive pill Monday afternoon, a day late, and then only after reporters started calling police and jail officials. Authorities then arranged a special emergency bond hearing on Monday afternoon.
"When the chief's office learned we had a rape victim in jail, we began working very aggressively to get her out," McElroy said.
Moore said it was too soon to say if his client would sue. Her first priority was making sure detectives arrest her attacker, whom police were still seeking.
"She is brave," Moore said. "We are going to work with police to catch this monster."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.