Did Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober blame an underage statutory rape victim? (with video)

A well-liked incumbent State Attorney, Republican Mark Ober faces a tough challenge from newcomer Andrew Warren, a Democrat who has largely been on the offensive.

At a Tampa Tiger Bay Club forum Friday, the two squared off on a number of law and order issues, at one point getting into a snarl over the State Attorney's Office's initial declining to file charges against a 26-year-old man accused of forcing a 15-year-old girl into sexual slavery. (That story here.)

Warren asserted that had WTSP's Mike Deeson not shone light on the case with his February report, the accused would not have been charged. Ober countered, insisting that investigators were already on the case when the story ran.

Here's where the controversial remarks came in (video of Ober's comments below).

Ober acknowledged that the man obviously committed a crime, but despite the victim's mother's comments about the girl crying out for help, he said the victim went to her rapist — who lived in Maryland — voluntarily.

"I have a picture of what I call a sex slave, and by no means, do not read between the lines. This young girl… this man has committed a crime, so don’t read between the lines, here. She was with him voluntarily. She flew to see him,” he said. "And consent is not an issue. …We differ on — I know the facts of the case."

That seems to counter what the victim's mother told Deeson about how the perpetrator "took control of her" and how the girl feared repercussions if she didn't obey him,

"She looked up at me and said 'Mommy, please help me,'" the victim's mother, whose face was blurred, said between sobs in an interview with Deeson.

CL reached out to Ober for comment, but has yet to hear back.

Ober's reelection effort isn't exactly an uphill climb, but it's no cakewalk, either. He's raised over $277,000 to Warren's $220,000. Warren's campaign has accused Ober's office of failing to prosecute high-profile cases and has even tried to paint Ober as a slacker, which Ober flatly denied.

But Warren, who was a federal prosecutor for a decade, also faces questions over whether he has the right experience for the job (more video of the Tiger Bay forum, in which he was asked questions about his background, here).

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