New Jersey judge John Russo Jr. who suggested a rape survivor could have closed her legs to prevent the attack is “remorseful,” his lawyer said during his judicial conduct complaint hearing July 10, NBC reports
The Ocean County, New Jersey judge made the comments in 2016 when a woman sought a restraining order against her alleged rapist. Russo ultimately denied the woman’s request for a restraining order. The interaction detailed in a transcript in the judicial conduct complaint quoted Russo pressing the woman for ways she could have prevented the assault:
RUSSO: Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?
RUSSO: How would you do that?
PLAINTIFF: I’d probably physically harm them somehow.
RUSSO: Short of physically harming them?
PLAINTIFF: Tell them no.
RUSSO: Tell them no. What else?
PLAINTIFF: To stop.
RUSSO: To stop. What else?
PLAINTIFF: And to run away or try to get away.
RUSSO: Run away, get away. Anything else?
PLAINTIFF: I – – that’s all I know.
RUSSO: Block your body parts?
RUSSO: Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?
The complaint cites several canons of judicial conduct and court rules the respondent claims Russo was violating, including Canon 2 of Rule 2.1 which requires judges to avoid impropriety. Russo was placed on administrative leave in 2017, and an ethics committee has since suggested he be suspended without pay for three months.
NBC News reports Chief Justice Steve Rabner asked how any alleged sexual assault survivor could have faith in seeking justice with Russo on the bench.
Russo did not speak during his hearing on July 10. His lawyer spoke for him, saying he “learned his lesson” and “will not do this again,” NBC reported.
Russo’s lawyer, Amelia Carolla did not respond to DiversityInc’s request for comment.
In an off-the-record conversation caught on an audio recording after the 2016 case, Russo was heard talking about the respondent, saying, “As an exotic dancer, one would think you would know how to fend off unwanted sexual …” according to NBC News.
In reality, sexual assault is not something people can prevent by blocking their body parts, calling the police or even yelling “stop.” Many discuss the “fight or flight” response when it comes to combatting trauma but leave out another common neurobiological response: freezing.
An article by Psychology Today contributor and expert in psychological trauma, Jim Hopper outlines how while many do fight against or flee from severe harassment or assault, a more common response involves the brain inhibiting action out of shock.
Regardless of how the victim reacts, a sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Sex without affirmative consent is rape. Blaming victims for their own sexual assaults perpetuates a culture where survivors do not feel safe seeking justice in a society where already just 1% of rapes receive felony convictions.