Sandusky case: Can prosecutors explain long gap between abuse and charges? (+video)
It is not uncommon for sexual-abuse victims to wait years before bringing claims, experts say. But explaining that to a jury could be a challenge for prosecutors in the Sandusky case.
As the trial of Jerry Sandusky gets underway today in Bellefonte, Pa., the prosecution's case against the former Penn State assistant coach could turn on its ability to explain the almost 15-year lapse between the alleged period of sexual abuse and today.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
While the lead prosecutor on Monday promised witnesses would provide credible testimony, state law prohibits prosecutors from putting experts on the stand to explain why victims of sexual abuse often wait years before alerting the authorities.
Mr. Sandusky, who is charged with abusing 10 boys over 15 years, faces 52 criminal counts related to the abuse. He says he is not guilty of the charges.
Eight of the alleged victims, who are now all adults, will testify, says Senior Deputy Attorney General Joseph McGettigan, the lead prosecutor in the case. In opening remarks Monday morning that lasted 50 minutes, Mr. McGettigan said the majority of Sandusky’s victims did not have fathers so became dependent on him through his children’s charity, The Second Mile.
IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal
McGettigan characterized the charity as “the perfect environment for the predatory pedophile,” and said Sandusky established a pattern of grooming the victims through gifts and attention, followed by sexual abuse, some of which McGettigan said happened in the on-campus facilities of the Penn State football team.
Despite the nearly 15-year time window between today and when victims in the trial say their abuse took place, McGettigan said the witnesses would deliver credible testimony.
“They are real people with real experience. You will know they were violated,” he said.
The oldest victim is now 28.
The time lapse in the Sandusky case is not uncommon, however it does provide the defense a greater opportunity to challenge the credibility of the victims and to find corroborating evidence, says Richard Frankel, a law professor at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law in Philadelphia.
The defense has to convince the jury why the alleged victims didn’t come forward earlier if they could have, Mr. Frankel says. In doing so, they will drill down on the specific details of the allegations because “the longer the time passes, the more memories that are in the back of their head aren’t recorded accurately,” he says.