Following Release of AG Report, Rape Victim Advocacy Group says Public Needs More Education
Following the release of a report that criticizes how authorities handled the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case, an advocate group for rape victims reminds the public that each case is unique and investigations cannot be perfect.
The report – drafted by Special Deputy Attorney General H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr. and released Monday morning in Harrisburg – alleges that "the investigation took too long because of crucial missteps and inexplicable delays in bringing a serial child molester to justice."
Kristen Houser, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape told StateCollege.com Tuesday that real-life investigations are vastly different from scenarios played out on popular drama TV shows.
During the Sandusky investigation, senior leadership at the attorney general's office reportedly wanted to locate additional victims before pursuing charges against Sandusky. Investigators reportedly felt the testimony of Victim 1 was not enough to move the case forward.
Houser says most sexual assault cases do go forward with only one victim. However, she says the Sandusky case was unique as his prominence in the community made it more complex. Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, was highly respected in Clinton County, where Victim 1 resided and attended school. Sandusky met Victim 1 through The Second Mile, his charity for at-risk youth.
"The strength of Victim 1 as a witness at that time really wasn't something (investigators) felt they could count on to win over a jury in that community," Houser says.
Adding to the challenge was Pennsylvania law, which Houser says didn't allow expert witnesses to testify at trial to educate the jury about normal victim behaviors, such as why the victim took so long to report the crimes.
"If something like that goes forward and is dropped and the perpetrator is acquitted in public it emboldens the perpetrator and if other victims are watching it makes them feel helpless," says Houser. "These cases don't shake out the way it does in crime dramas on television, they just don't. Those are fictionalized accounts and fictionalized versions of what really happened. The reality is you have humans making decisions. There's nothing that is perfect. I keep reminding folks too that the criminal justice system is not a sure bet for any sex assault victim."
Houser says the general public has very little knowledge about sexual assault, how perpetrators operate, and how the crime can impact a victim. Houser says it's critical to educate the public about the crime which would help create a more informed jury pool.
"We need to continue funding efforts to get real information out to the public because ultimately you want a better educated jury pool. We want them to understand that delayed reporting and partial reporting are common for victims and that victims have other life problems and for juries to see those are vulnerabilities that are exploited ... and we're not there yet," says Houser.