Michigan City Attorney Accused Of Calling Rape Victim A 'Whore'

Elise Hilton says a former Grand Rapids city attorney wrote an email making vile comments about Hilton's disabled daughter.
An excerpt from the email Elise Hilton says a Grand Rapids city attorney wrote about her daughter.
An excerpt from the email Elise Hilton says a Grand Rapids city attorney wrote about her daughter.
Huffington Post Illustration

Michigan mom Elise Hilton is "beyond angry" after reading an email in which a Grand Rapids city attorney allegedly referred to the woman's cognitively impaired daughter -- an alleged rape victim -- as a "crack and heroin whore."

"She wandered the streets of downtown Grand Rapids, acting as a prostitute in exchange for heroin, cocaine, alcohol and so forth," reads the email about the girl, who was 16 at the time of her alleged sexual assault.

Tom Gantert, a reporter for Michigan Capitol Confidential, obtained a copy of the email in response to a request he recently filed with the city under the Freedom of Information Act.

Gantert provided a copy of the email to the young woman's mother, Elise Hilton, who shared it with The Huffington Post.

"I am appalled that an attorney acting in a professional capacity did something so egregious as to not only identify a sexual assault victim, but to call her a whore and a prostitute, which is wildly inaccurate," Elise Hilton told HuffPost.

The email, which is attributed to former Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish, was reportedly sent to a private citizen from Mish's city government email account on March 5, 2015. It was reportedly in response to a lawsuit Hilton and her husband had filed against the city for failing to pursue charges in the alleged sexual assault of Hilton's daughter.

According to Hilton, her daughter, who was 16 years old in January 2012, got in trouble at Hope Academy of West Michigan and was allowed to leave before her parents could pick her up. It was while walking home from school that her daughter was given alcohol by a group of men and gang-raped, Hilton said.

"We ended up getting her back 48 hours later," Hilton said. "She had been repeatedly and brutally sexually assaulted. She was taken to an emergency room, where they discovered she had sustained a lot of trauma. They removed a 2-inch bottle cap from her cervix."

Hilton said the Grand Rapids Police Department was notified, and an officer questioned her daughter alone for about 20 minutes.

"He told me he thought she was lying," Hilton said. "He said her story did not make any sense – that she was not sequencing events correctly. I said, 'You do realize she is cognitively impaired and functions at about the level of a third-grader? On a good day she cannot sequence events correctly.' He said there was nothing for them to investigate and that was it. My daughter was absolutely traumatized and was hospitalized for four and a half months in a state psychiatric hospital for children."

After consulting an attorney, Hilton and her husband filed a lawsuit against the school and the Grand Rapids Police Department. At the time, Hilton was working for the Acton Institute, a nonprofit organization that was involved in a bitter tax dispute with the city.

In the email reportedly authored by Mish, Hilton is referred to as an "Acton hypocrite" who "dares to sue the City of Grand Rapids, blaming the GRPD for the fact that her daughter ran away from home to become a crack and heroin whore."

Gantert said he was unaware of the email's existence until it was furnished to him by the city as part of his FOIA request. At the time, Gantert was working on a story about the Acton tax dispute.

Mish "was included in our FOIA requests because of a hostile interaction we had with her when we requested information that she was providing to [another media outlet]," Gantert told HuffPost. "Her hostility stuck with me, and I wanted to see if we could find anything else that showed this tax dispute could be politically motivated."

Gantert said he was "shocked" when he read the email about Hilton's daughter.

"I've been a reporter for 20-plus years and never even seen anything remotely like that," he said. "It just seemed like, 'Wow, you're telling this to an individual who has nothing to do with it and you're revealing personal information about an ongoing court case.' It showed a level of unprofessional behavior I've never seen in my experience as a reporter."

The email in question, minus information identifying the court case and the recipient.
The email in question, minus information identifying the court case and the recipient.
Elise Hilton

Gantert is not alone in his assessment.

Sarah Prout Rennie, the executive director of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence, said the email, if accurate, is disturbing and offensive.

"Rape is a life-changing, horrific crime that is vastly under-reported, often because of a fear of not being believed, shame and an indifferent criminal justice system," Rennie told HuffPost. "Comments like the one alleged make it possible for rapists to prey upon the most vulnerable amongst us. Moreover, perpetrators of sexual assault look for victims who are vulnerable, may lack credibility in the community and are accessible. This leaves persons with a disability at significant risk of being sexually assaulted. ... Comments such as the City Attorney's illustrate the lack of justice and care that sexual assault victims with disabilities too often encounter."

Mish did not respond to a request for comment from HuffPost. The City of Grand Rapids would only say she is no longer employed by them. She reportedly resigned her position as city attorney in February to take a position at the Dickinson Wright law firm, which also did not respond to a request for comment.

Hilton says her lawsuit against the school is still in litigation. The lawsuit against the city was recently dismissed by a federal judge -- a move she believes he might reconsider in light of the newly discovered email.

"We are going to present it to the judge to see if we can get the lawsuit reinstated because it's clear that if the city attorney felt this way about my daughter, they weren't going to waste time investigating what happened to her," Hilton said. "We have also filed a grievance against Mish with the board that oversees attorneys in the state of Michigan."

The distraught mother added, "My husband and I are just sick over this. We went through hell with my daughter – absolute hell – and this has reopened a gaping wound for our family. It's horrible."

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