Pennsylvania activists have launched a campaign urging against the retention of Judge Teresa Carr Deni in Philadelphia municipal court in next week’s general election. The campaign is in response to a controversial ruling Deni made six years ago, when she reduced charges of an alleged gang rape of a sex worker to theft of services. The story made national headlines at the time.
According to reports, a 20-year-old single mother agreed to sex with the defendant, Dominique Gindraw, in exchange for $150. After plans were made over Craigslist, the woman headed to a location that she thought was his home, but was actually an abandoned building. She agreed to have sex with his friend for another $100, but the friend brought a gun instead of money. Then two more men arrived, and “the four forced her to have sex at gunpoint,” according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
At a preliminary hearing, Judge Deni dismissed rape and sexual assault charges.
“She consented and she didn’t get paid,” she explained to the New York Daily News. “I thought it was a robbery.” She also said the case “minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped.”
The ruling, remarks about the victim, and subsequent fallout took place right before Deni was up for retention in 2007. In response, activists launched a grassroots “Deny Deni” campaign at polling places. In an unusual move, then chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association Jane Leslie Dalton issued a harsh rebuke of the judge, calling it an “unforgivable miscarriage of justice.”
From the statement:
Judge Deni’s retention of an armed robbery charge for “theft of services” in the case of a defendant accused of forcing a prostitute at gunpoint to have sex with him and three other men—and the related dismissal of all sex and assault charges —belies a basic understanding of what constitutes rape in Pennsylvania.
I have personally reviewed the transcript from the defendant’s preliminary hearing in this case. Based on my reading, the transcript clearly reflects that the victim decided she was not going to engage in sex with any of the men present, and that she was forced to do so at gunpoint. No one has denied or contradicted this.
Judge Deni’s belief that because the victim had originally intended to have sex for money and decided not to because she didn’t get paid posits that a woman cannot change her mind about having sex, or withdraw her consent to do so, regardless of the circumstances. We cannot imagine any circumstances more violent or coercive than being forced to have sex with four men at gunpoint.