Opinion | El Hefe’s legal defense is disgusting

Matthew Rago, Managing Editor

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In what has devolved into a case of victim blaming, lawyers representing El Hefe Super Macho Taquiria in River North contend that a woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted in an alley behind the bar “was more than 50% of the proximate cause of the injury.”

The victim–identified only as Jane Doe–alleges that she might have even  drugged while visiting El Hefe on Oct. 18 before security guards escorted her to a back alley where she claims to have fallen victim to sexual assault, according to the lawsuit. The corresponding security footage shows two security guards standing approximately 100 feet away from where the alleged assault occurred.

However, El Hefe’s lawyers have since constructed an argument that places blame onto the victim, arguing that the woman “became overly intoxicated” to the point of vomiting before departing with a friend. Lawyers representing El Hefe also claim the victim “failed to take adequate and proper steps necessary to protect her own safety while at the subject establishment.”

First and foremost, let’s make it abundantly clear that no man or woman is ever to blame for falling victim to sexual assault. Rape and sexual assault are not transactional in nature; such an egregious crime operates as one person taking liberty with another person’s body and forcing them to forfeit the option of consent. Sexual assault is a violent and coercive shift in the power dynamic that exists between victim and perpetrator, prioritizing one’s lust over another person’s safety.

In other words, there simply isn’t a gray area when it comes to sexual assault.

Suggesting that victims of sexual assault must actively take steps to avoid being targeted is grossly retrogressive and quite frankly an indictment on the way establishments view their female patrons. The expectation of safety should be the standard by which every institution prides itself. To insinuate that a victim must be adequately prepared in order to avoid sexual assault is both an abhorrent attempt to displace blame onto the victim and a futile effort to manufacture an implied relationship between intoxication and victimhood.

But none of this should be surprising given the evolution of defenses offered by El Hefe’s defense team. Since November, El Hefe’s explanations of what occurred on Oct. 18 have appeared fundamentally dishonest at best while, at their worst, outright malicious.

On Nov. 27, 2019, El Hefe released a statement via Facebook that was  inconsistent with footage of the alleged attack. According to the Facebook post, two security guards followed proper protocol by escorting an inebriated female patron to a back alley–an issue in itself–where they remained with her until an ambulance arrived. The statement reads as follows:

 

“What we understand this woman has alleged is extremely troubling. Any instances involving crimes of violence, sexual or otherwise, are abhorrent.

After we were notified of the incident and following a preliminary review, we were able to determine:

On the evening of October 18, a female guest became ill inside El Hefe and, per the venue’s standard protocol, was escorted by our security team to the back exit. A male guest followed the female guest as she was escorted out back. El Hefe called an ambulance for the female guest and security remained with her until she left, alone, on the ambulance. During this time, our security team did not witness an assault in the alley. The male guest went back inside the venue and minutes later security witnessed the male guest leave the premises through the front door.

We will work with law enforcement and cooperate in all facets necessary to help the authorities get the facts and enable a speedy investigation.”

However, the 19-minute, 37-second video provided by the victim’s lawyer, John Chwarzynski, directly contradicts El Hefe’s statement. Not only were no ambulances visible on the surveillance recording, which features brief lapses, but security also allowed a man identified only by his bright red shoes to walk the victim, who one bartender described as suffering from a “rapidly deteriorating” condition, down a dark alley.

Now lawyers for El Hefe have erected a defense that is essentially the equivalent of victim blaming. Representatives for the River North establishment appear intent on absolving El Hefe of fault, despite suspect protocols creating the very conditions for which the alleged assault occurred.

El Hefe’s lawyers also contend that the bar “has no duty to protect others, including Jane Doe Plaintiff, from criminal acts by third parties on their property or outside of its establishment.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Rather than conduct an internal investigation and acknowledge that perhaps leadership must reevaluate the establishment’s policies, El Hefe appears to have adopted the defense of interpreting patrons’ safety as a burden that does not fall on the establishment.

For anyone to ever deflect blame onto a victim of sexual assault is deplorable, illustrating a complete inability to empathize or accept responsibility. And in a culture staggered by disheartening patterns of rape and sex trafficking, such a realization is harrowing.

It is imperative that we all come together and mobilize an effort to protect our women from such blatant assaults on their expectation of safety and security. Women’s bodies are not instruments for men to satiate their sexual desires. These are real human beings depending on basic human decency to counteract the haunting trajectories that actively reinforce the very rape culture that many still refuse to acknowledge.

It’s about time that we change that.