***Trigger Warning for Sexual Violence***
Paramount to upholding America’s political structure and integrity is our institution of justice, a system given the grand responsibility of meting out punishment, preserving the sanctity of law, and ensuring that people who commit crimes get what they deserve. And evidently, in Dr. Norma Patricia Esparza’s case, wrongly accusing a rape victim of murdering her rapist and threatening her with life in prison without parole or even death. Patricia tells her story here.
At 20 years old Patricia was raped by Gonzalo Ramirez in her dorm room at Pomona College. She reported it to the school’s nurse, but was dismissed outright, receiving no help except a morning-after pill. The combination of suffering sexual abuse at the hands of her father from the age of 5 to 12 and this harrowing trauma gave rise to feelings of humiliation and shame, preventing her from reporting the assault to the police. The culture of blaming and questioning that victims risk facing to receive help from authorities is one major reason why 60% of all rapes go unreported.
With no support forthcoming, Patricia turned to a man she had dated, Gianni Van, and opened up to him about what happened only after he pressured her insistently. He became enraged, believing that she had been dishonored, and decided to pursue Ramirez with assistance from several friends. Patricia tells of that night:
One of them took me away, kidnapping me, while my assailant was physically assaulted. The events of that night have tormented me all my life. They were violent and I was terrified for my life. I felt trapped. I could not run or escape.
Ramirez’s body was later found by the side of a road in Santa Ana. Kody Tran, one of the perpetrators who died last year in a shootout with police, forced Patricia into a sham marriage with Van, making sure that she wouldn’t testify against them in court. She thought that the worst they would do to Ramirez was “rough him up”, and she didn’t even know of his death until months after the murder occurred. Patricia was not a perpetrator in this violent crime. She was, once again, a victim.
Patricia is a professor of psychology and counseling at Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland. She is married to Jorge Mancillas, a successful neurobiologist, and they have a 4-year-old daughter, Arianna.
She had rebuilt her life after these traumatic events, and so when new evidence had re-opened a case now cold after nearly two decades, she cooperated fully with authorities, helping them to file charges against two of the people involved with the murder. They reassured her that she was “not a target” and she was not the one they were interested in. But everything was destroyed when the court betrayed her, and she suddenly became a perpetrator instead of a victim: she was arrested in October of 2012 at the U.S. border while traveling for work, and charged with the outrageous felon count of special circumstances murder. She was given bail at $300,000, and allowed to freely travel for nearly the next year…a “murderer”, allowed freedom and her passport? Would the DA have mandated this if he truly believed she was guilty?
Patricia is now being wrongfully held captive because she rejected a plea deal to reduce her murder charge to voluntary manslaughter and spend 3 years in prison. “The principle of what they’re asking me is to plead guilty to something that they know I am not responsible for.” (source)
If Patricia is not receiving justice from the U.S. system of legal punishment, but rather suffering injustice at its hands, what does that tell other victims of sexual violence? What does that say about the integrity of the structure America relies upon to separate the guilty from the innocent? Patricia stresses that “the justice system needs to assuage victim’s fears that no one will believe them and that they will be further humiliated,” not perpetuate the rape culture that strengthens those fears. If we cannot trust our criminal justice system to make the correct judgement and protect victims of crime, assault, and terrorization, then the integrity behind its fundamental purpose is severely degraded, if not rendered null.
Here are 6 ways that you can support Patricia in resistance to this injustice:
2. Follow her on Twitter at @SetPatriciaFree. Join in the conversation by trending #SetPatriciaFree, #ShameOnOCDA, and #ShameOnDARackauckas.
3. Sign a Change.org petition created by Project HOPE Geneva (an organization committed to supporting survivors of sexual violence) asking OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to drop the charges against her.
4. Contact Rackauckas directly and add your voice in solidarity.
5. Visit the California-based website created to bring awareness to the case and claim justice for her.
6. Tell others about Patricia’s story! The accusation being leveled at her is unacceptable. Any contribution you make matters: her life depends on the ruling of this case. I’ve briefly met Patricia, and found her to be kind, gentle, intelligent and incredibly brave. She’s overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to make a life for herself. Can you imagine how Arianna would feel if her mother was wrongly put to death? We need to help Dr. Esparza claim her right to freedom, and help her family claim their right to a future together.
By Cassie Shultz