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.
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Each alleged victim is expected to provide a reason why they waited until last year to report the abuse. Jules Epstein, a law professor at the Widener University School of Law in Chester, Pa., says it is “certainly not unheard of” in child abuse cases for victims to wait until they are adults to say they were abused. Mr. Epstein says there are many reasons why, but the most common is that the abuse is “sometimes done in the guise of love” so victims remained unaware that it was wrong.Skip to next paragraph
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Other common reasons are shame and the fear of retaliation by the abuser.
State law forbids testimony from experts, like a psychologist or a social worker, to give jurors these reasons directly. Epstein says it is too soon to tell if that omission will harm the prosecution’s case.
“It depends on the knowledge of each of the 12 jurors. If they get [why victims often wait], then it’s no harm, no foul,” he says. “But if they truly don’t get it and are thinking, ‘If this happened to me, I’d be shouting from the rooftops,’ then it’s a problem.”
Another area for the defense to explore is to determine if any of the victims are motivated by money, or if their background – a history of drug or alcohol abuse, for example – suggests they can’t be trusted.
In his opening statement Monday, defense attorney Joseph Amendola pointed out that several of the witnesses have their own lawyers and one has filed a civil complaint, suggesting they have ulterior motives beyond bringing Sandusky to justice.
“It is rare, it is absolutely, totally unusual for an alleged victim to have an attorney beside them, representing them … these young men have a financial interest,” Mr. Amendola said.
The civil complaint is pending until a verdict in the criminal case is reached.
Many witnesses besides the alleged victims are expected to take the stand for the prosecution, McGettigan said. They include former Second Mile employees, experts with children’s service agencies, and Mike McQueary, the former Penn State assistant coach who says he witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the team’s shower facilities in February 2001.
McGettigan told jurors they would also view hard evidence that will determine Sandusky’s predatory scheming, such as love letters to the victims from Sandusky and a list of Second Mile children with notations about what they looked like and if they had parents. The prosecution is also allowed to use media interviews Sandusky gave since his November 2011 arrest. When asked by Bob Costas of NBC if he was sexually attracted to young boys, Sandusky said, “I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.”
IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal