The news accounts of victim testimony in the Sandusky case are graphic and upsetting. Reports of victims sobbing and breaking down on the stand beg the question: why are victims being required to testify? Here are four reasons that may provide some explanation.
They have to. The right to face one’s accuser is a fundamental value, but more than that, it’s in our Constitution. Known as the confrontation clause in the Sixth Amendment, this right has been addressed time and time again by the Supreme Court. And even though it can cause victims terrible pain, as it has in this case, it’s still an important value. Secret accusers are a sure path to tyranny and oppression. However, there’s more to the story. Sure, the defense as a right to see these victims testify, but there’s something else going on here, such as the fact that this case went to trial in the first place. Why? Because…
There was no plea bargain. On the one hand, more than 90% of all cases are plea-bargained. On the other hand, the Sandusky case is a prime example of the kind of case that is less likely to reach a deal. The crime is serious, the potential sentence is very long. The defendant is wealthy, and has the financial might to fully engage the criminal justice system. Still, I’m a bit surprised there wasn’t a plea. The defense had to know that the victim testimony was going to be damning. It’s possible that the prosecution over-reached (as they did in Casey Anthony), or that the defense hoped that forcing trial would cause victims to drop out of the case.
The prosecution needs the victims. This isn’t a case with a mountain of forensic science. Instead, it’s a case with volumes of victim and witness testimony. There is no substitution the prosecution can make. Without the victims, there is no case.
The defense wants to discredit victims. They are likely hoping to trip the victims up with inconsistencies in the testimony, or discredit them as bad people. So far, the defense tactic appears to be focused on implying that the victims are lying blackmailers hoping to gain financially. After all, this was a pretty successful defense tactic for Michael Jackson. Or the defense may have hoped that going to trial would intimidate and traumatize enough victims to drop out of the case that they could improve the final sentence.
Victims are testifying in the Sandusky case for all of these reasons.
I understand it. But I hate every minute of it.
It’s traumatizing for the actual victims; it’s vicariously traumatizing to survivors of child sexual abuse everywhere. I would even go so far as to say that it leads to a kind of vicarious trauma for all of us.
- Accusers talk of Sandusky’s sway to win silence (mercurynews.com)
- Sandusky trial: Wave of alleged victim testimony to continue (cbsnews.com)
- Testifying Against Sandusky (newyorker.com)
- An Interview with Bonnie Fisher and Bob Jerin About the New Division of Victimology at the American Society of Criminology (crimedime.com)
- When Prosecutors Threaten and Intimidate Victims (crimedime.com)
- Most UK Victims and Witnesses Were Satisfied With the CJS and Would Report Again (crimedime.com)
- Bad Things Advocates Say (crimedime.com)