Sentencing the Victim

After surviving a vicious gang-rape attack, a woman is transformed into a committed and eloquent activist to challenge laws.

Sentencing the victim 01
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
March 2, 2004
90 minutes
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2004 American Probation and Parole Association -Award for Community Outreach Through the Media
  • Oakley liz filmmaker bio

    Liz Oakley

    Liz Oakley began her career as a successful news producer in the mid-1980s. But after seven years in the trenches of television news, she decided it was time for a change. She moved to Charleston, South Carolina, taking a position as public relations director for a statewide non-profit organization. In 1994, Oakley formed Blue Lizard Productions, enabling her to work with a variety of production companies and advertising agencies producing corporate videos, commercial advertising, and designing and implementing public relations campaigns. In 1997, she merged Blue Lizard with IVS Video, Inc. and began producing programs ranging from historical documentaries to sales and promotional videos for international corporations. A winner of numerous awards celebrating excellence in video production, Oakley’s heart lies in productions that work to promote social justice and improve the human condition. Sentencing the Victim is her first feature-length documentary.

    Katz joanna filmmaker bio

    Joanna Katz

    Joanna Katz is a Charleston, South Carolina native. A hairstylist for 15 years, she also acts in local theater. She began her work as an activist in 1991 by speaking publicly about her rape at a Take Back the Night vigil in Charleston. She went on to facilitate rape support groups with Charleston’s People Against Rape and has served on panels for education at the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina. When Katz’s rapists began to come up for parole in 1996, her advocacy took a different turn, and she began working with Liz Oakley on Sentencing the Victim. Since then, Katz has spoken at numerous national conferences dealing with victims’ issues and has addressed a group at the U.S. Department of Justice. She is currently working with national victims’ advocates on the development of educational materials and pushing for policy changes to improve South Carolina’s parole process.

    We fund untold stories for public media.

    Learn more about funding opportunities with ITVS.

    The Film

    On June 17, 1988, Joanna Katz and another woman were abducted at gunpoint, taken to an abandoned house in Charleston, South Carolina, and brutally raped, beaten and tortured by five men for more than five hours. Sentencing the Victim is the story of how a blood-soaked 19-year-old was able to walk away from her attackers, save her friend from certain death, and continue fighting for the convictions of her assailants — and for the rights of crime victims everywhere.

    Under South Carolina law, felons convicted prior to 1996 can eventually be considered for parole every two years. Despite their 30-to-35-year sentences, Katz's attackers were eligible for parole after serving only a fraction of this time. And in a particularly cruel twist, criminals in South Carolina who participate in a group assault receive separate parole hearings on separate days. Victims who wish to oppose parole for their attackers must subject themselves to an emotionally agonizing experience that must be repeated year after year. In order to ensure that her attackers would remain behind bars, Joanna Katz had to travel more than 100 miles from her home numerous times every year to attend separate parole hearings for each of the men who assaulted her.

    The hearings continue until the criminals are either paroled or complete their sentences and are released back into the community. Each hearing reopens old wounds. With each hearing, Katz wonders who was really sentenced: was it her attackers, up for parole after serving a minimal sentence, or was it her, forced to relive her trauma over and over again?