The quotation refers to the main character of the novel, Tess. She is a victim of rape, and feels tremendous guilt because of the loss of her purity. She blames herself throughout the novel for the crime perpetrated on her. She is unable to get out from under the guilt. By stating that a victim is always a victim under law, the quote suggests that Tess will always be guilty in her own mind so long as she is a victim under the law. Her guilt is eventually assuaged when she repositions herself from victim to perpetrator under the law.