IOWA CITY (AP) — A University of Iowa student deserves praise for pursuing sexual assault charges against a fellow Chinese national even after he and his supporters threatened and harassed her in the days and months following the attack, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Peng Tang, 22, was sentenced Monday to 17 years in prison for the March 2012 assault at the victim's apartment in Iowa City.
“It's hard for any victim, but especially for somebody who is not from this country, who is not used to our criminal justice system,” Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said. “I have great admiration for her for being willing to come forward and stand up for what was right.”
The woman told police in March 2012 that she had been sexually assaulted by a stranger who responded to an online ad she posted to sublet her apartment. During a tour of the apartment, Tang confined her in the bedroom, tried to tie her up with handcuffs, put a towel in her mouth and forced her to perform sex acts, she said.
He then took nude photographs of her that he said would be posted online if she told anyone what happened.
The woman was treated at a hospital, then worked with police to track down Tang the next day. Although she didn't have his name or phone number, she used the same Chinese chat room app that they connected through before to invite him back to her apartment. Detectives were waiting to arrest Tang.
Karla Miller, executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program in Iowa City, said some Asian women are taught that they will bring shame on their families if they report being raped.
Lyness said the victim provided a great example to other international students, including the university's fast-growing Chinese student population.
More than 2,000 students from China attend the school. The prosecutor said she believed some crimes against foreign students go unreported because victims are fearful of the U.S. criminal justice system.
According to a victim statement read in court Monday, the student believes rape victims from her “relatively conservative cultural background” are reluctant to come forward for fear of being “tagged as 'a woman who was raped' forever.”
To compound her concerns, she said Tang posted a “distorted story online” that turned many other Chinese students at the school against her, leading them to harass her on social media sites and post her photograph online. She said she did not go to class for a month and struggled with her studies. Meanwhile, her parents in China saw the rumors and “suffered a lot.”
Police said Tang's parents, meanwhile, reached out to one of his friends and offered to pay money if he could get the woman to change her story, and Tang wrote a letter from jail to a friend asking him to pressure the woman to say the sex was consensual.
But the woman stood firm and stayed in school, Lyness said. Tang pleaded guilty to extortion and witness tampering and entered an Alford plea — in which a defendant acknowledges a conviction is possible but does not admit guilt — to third-degree sexual abuse.
Tang denied committing the assault, saying Monday that he accepted the deal so prosecutors would dismiss a kidnapping charge that would have sent him to prison for life. And he suggested that criticism of the victim from the Chinese community was justified.
“Had I did this ... people would say that I am the bad guy and they wouldn't criticize her,” he said.
Miller of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program said her agency encourages victims to come forward but also respects there are good reasons why some may not. Pursuing charges may cause other problems for victims, she said.
“It took enormous courage for this woman to go through this adversarial system,” she said.
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