WE'RE ON A MISSION
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is working to eliminate all forms of sexual violence and to advocate for the rights and needs of victims of sexual assault.
Joseph Amendola, attorney for former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, was in court Monday threatening to request that criminal charges against his client be dropped. Sandusky is charged with 52 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 minors beginning in 1994.
Amendola, arguing before Judge John M. Cleland at a pretrial hearing in Bellefonte, Centre County, claims that he needs a more specific time frame from the alleged victims in order to better defend his client. If he does not get that information, Amendola says he will make a motion for all of the charges to be dropped. The trial is set to begin May 14.
Judge Cleland ruled that Amendola’s request is moot and cited nine Pennsylvania cases that have refined the standards and expectations for discovery in child sexual assault cases. Judge Cleland ruled that the Commonwealth has established greater latitude when the alleged crimes involve sexual offenses against a young child.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) fully supports Judge Cleland’s ruling, and prosecutor Joseph McGettigan for informing the court that many of the alleged victims have somewhat-imprecise memories, damage that can be expected partly by the passage of time and the nature of the offenses.
PCAR agrees, and believes that it’s unreasonable to expect alleged victims to remember dates and times, since some of the charges are more than a decade old and the alleged victims were all children at the time of their abuse.
Studies have found that a lack of clarity around specific details of assault is common among survivors of trauma, including cases of sexual violence and child sexual abuse. Gaps in memory can be attributed to the way the brain processes a traumatic event.
“It is completely normal for people to struggle to remember exact dates or details about a traumatic event,” PCAR Chief Executive Officer Delilah Rumburg said. “It is unreasonable to expect adults who were children at the time – especially those who have been through physical and mental abuse—to remember intricate details.”
Amendola has also questioned the timing of the allegations, as they have come years after the alleged assaults. But in fact, it is quite common for victims of child sexual abuse to not report the crime until much later, sometimes not until well into adulthood.
Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not allow experts to explain to jurors why victims of sexual abuse often delay reporting their abuse to authorities or even friends and family. House Bill 1264, introduced in 2011 by Rep. Cherelle L. Parker (D-Philadelphia) and co-sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), would allow experts to answer questions about victim behavior in sexual assault cases, and has already passed the state house. It is awaiting a vote in the state senate.
Expert witness testimony would also help to explain a victim’s psychological records, if the documents were displayed as evidence. Too often, defense attorneys use evidence of psychological evaluations in a victim’s past to argue that the victim is mentally unstable. However, psychological trauma is often a direct result of sexual and/or mental abuse, especially when it happens in adolescence and the violations are committed by a trusted authority figure.
For information about child sexual abuse, warning signs, or tips on how to talk about it, Individuals can go to heroproject.org. For a list of local centers or information, visit www.pcar.org.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is the oldest state anti-sexual violence coalition in the U.S. The organization represents 51 sexual assault centers that serve the state’s 67 counties. Each year these centers provide confidential services, at no charge, to more than 30,000 men, women and children affected by sexual abuse.