Does it matter what word is used to describe the survivors of a sexual assault when speaking to a jury? Are victim of sexual assault inherently less trustworthy than the victims of other crimes?
A New Hampshire House committee recommended killing House Bill 284 and House Bill 106, both of which had the effect of treating sexual assault survivors as second-class victims. Both were vigorously opposed by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence as well.
Now it just remains to be seen whether or not the full house will accept the committee’s recommendations or not.
House Bill 284 would have changed the term “victim” to “complainant” during jury instructions in all sexual assault cases. The subtle shift in language could make it easier for juries to not think of the witness as an actual victim.
House Bill 106 started out with good intentions. It was inspired by the case of a prominent child psychologist recently convicted of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy. While prosecutors and the jury remain unconvinced by the psychologist’s claims of innocence, the psychologist has significant support among his former students, patients, and peers.
However, the new law would have essentially only deemed a sexual assault victim’s word reliable if the person he or she accused had already been convicted of a previous sexual assault. In all other cases, the assault would require corroboration—in other words, physical evidence that would back up the victim’s story.
Advocates for victims point out that physical evidence simply isn’t always available. For example, in the case of the psychologist, he was accused of inappropriate touching. That’s something that not would have left physical evidence behind.
Proponents of the measure were looking for a way to protect the potentially innocent-but-vulnerable, like a child psychologist who is working alone with patients who may be unstable. However, those in the psychiatric community say that they are well aware of the dangers and often limit contact with younger patients or ask to record sessions to avoid similar problems.
Perhaps the law would have been met with a better reception if it had focused more narrowly on those in particularly vulnerable positions, like physicians and psychiatrists, instead of being broadly applied to anyone without a prior record.
Regardless of your personal position on the issue, if you’re accused of a sexual assault seek a criminal defense attorney’s help immediately.
Source: Concord Monitor, “House committee recommends killing sexual assault corroboration bill,” Alyssa Dandrea, Feb. 08, 2017