As politicians and pundits debate the attorney general’s review of the Jerry Sandusky investigation, here is a word of advice from someone who works in the field of victims’ rights:
Care is not the same thing as delay. Evidence doesn’t fall from the sky. A rock solid case reflects determination, not a lack of urgency.
Geoffrey Moulton was hired by Attorney General Kathleen Kane to fulfill her campaign promise to look into why it took nearly three years from start-to-finish to assemble the 48-count criminal case against Jerry Sandusky.
Over the decades, I have spent hours on the telephone explaining to victims and their families about why a case is taking so long, why delays arise and why investigators sometimes need more time and more evidence. Like Victim 1, they are in pain. Every day is one day longer before they can close that wound and resume their lives.
The reality is this: sexual assault cases are among the most complex cases to successfully prosecute.
Collecting evidence requires a delicate balance between speed and probable cause. Often as not, the case comes down to the victim’s word against the predator’s.
Take a high-profile suspect and a victim with a troubled youth and, as we have seen in a half-dozen high-profile cases, the victim ends up on trial. Their private lives and minor faults are magnified, and their pasts are dragged through the public square for outsiders to judge.
Defense lawyers quiz them on the stand, hoping to startle or gull them into an inconsistent response. Their credibility is put through a shredder and their plea for justice is misrepresented as a series of ulterior motives.
Defendants rarely take the stand.
This is the uphill battle that we face as advocates trying to reach out to victims and encourage them to come forward and hold offenders accountable.
Too many are left with the option of suffering the pain of never getting their case to court. Still others end up testifying in cases that lack corroborating evidence and a clear strategy, and are left to watch as their assailant is acquitted for lack of enough evidence.
“An acquittal in this case would have been absolutely devastating to the psyches of these young men,” Ben Andreozzi, an attorney for some of Sandusky’s victims, told me. “The survivors welcomed cautious and thorough efforts by the Attorney General’s Office to ensure that they were not exposing themselves and the nightmares of their past to the mass public in vain.”
Andreozzi is right. We have to do better by these brave men and women who step forward and courageously speak out about sexual violence. We have a duty to protect them, to do everything we can to ensure positive outcomes for them and our communities.
The odds against us are already steep enough. The FBI and Department of Justice estimate that for every 100 rapes, only 40 are reported to law enforcement. Of that 40, only 10 lead to an arrest, eight are prosecuted, four lead to felony convictions, and of those four convicted rapists, three will spend a day in prison.
The other 97 percent of rapists walk free.
We need to be doing better by the people whose lives are forever altered by the vile acts of sexual offenders. The Moulton report didn’t help in its rear view mirror scrutiny of the career prosecutors and investigators who built the Sandusky case — a case then-Attorney General Tom Corbett did not hesitate to take on.
Kane’s wild spin of the dry findings in the Moulton report, including her now-retracted assertion that Sandusky continued to molest boys during the investigation, sent a scary message to future victims.
Speed, rather than careful investigation, is now the new standard. If Corbett’s prosecutors had rushed headlong and arrested Sandusky on the word of one reluctant witness, Sandusky would be walking free today. We can only tremble to think of what else he might be doing.
Victim 1 should be applauded for coming forward and breaking his silence. Corbett and the prosecutors and police who worked the case should be applauded as well for being cautious and taking time, which allowed for many other brave men the time and space to find their respective voices and come forward.
Because of careful police work and careful case-building, eight brave young men took the witness stand and helped in the most successful prosecution and conviction of a celebrity serial sexual predator this country has ever seen.
Nobody doubts we need to learn from the Sandusky case.
Three years ago, Gov. Corbett commissioned a task force to review state laws on child abuse. Experts including child welfare workers, rape crisis advocates, pediatricians and law enforcement released a report in November 2012.
Most of its recommendations were drafted into laws and, thanks to their adoption, Pennsylvania is no longer a statistical outlier when it comes to protecting its children.
The Moulton report offers a series of recommendations on how to refine the system going down the road. But the only reason we are on that road is that Corbett and a team of dedicated law enforcement professionals led the way.
A report fixated on timeliness, second-guessing a case that ended in 45 guilty counts against a football hero, doesn’t get the point that this was not justice delayed. It was justice constructed, bit by bit, by men and women who refused to see young victims standing forlorn outside a courthouse while a predator walked free.
Jennifer Storm is the executive director of Victim/Witness Assistance Program in Dauphin County and author of several books on victimization and recovery including her latest, “ Echoes of Penn State: Facing Sexual Trauma”