Over the weekend I wrote up a piece a on why Betsy Karasik's Op-ed for The Washington Post was flat out wrong. She opined that cases, like the Stacey Dean Rambold teacher rape case in Montana, should be decriminalized for several reasons. You can read my response here. Suffice to say letting teachers get by with grooming and raping students is not a popular opinion in my profession.
One point that Ms. Karasik made, and has continued to make in social media, dealt with the stress of the criminal justice system and trial on the victim. She believes and maybe rightly that the victim in the Rambold case, Cherice Morales committed suicide due to that stress. There's no way to know for sure, but a reasonable inference could be made.
In almost 20 years of work as a Child Protection Professional, my ability to identify and understand the stress on victims has evolved. When I first started I thought that every sex case should go to trial. That every perpetrator should get the maximum sentence and every kid who testified would feel better when justice was served.
Over time, I've come to understand that this is not always the best course of action. Too many trial losses because the jury just couldn't be convinced that anyone could do that to a child. Too many defense attorneys finding the smallest flaws in a statement and turning that around on the child. Things happen and justice isn't always best served. So when the State's Attorney makes a deal and gets a plea bargain, I'm all for it.
It is completely wrong headed to assert that the victims don't have stress, if the case doesn't go to trial. The stress of the victimization is still the overriding factor in the victim's recovery. The best way to deal with the stress of a trial is to provide support and counseling during the process.
In the counties I work in, the victim support services have evolved along with my understanding of victims issues. When cases do go to trial, we have a wonderful counseling service the specializes in child sexual abuse that works with the Victim Coordinator at the State's Attorney's office to prep the child for testimony. The counties I cover include one fairly large urban population and two with rural populations. All three have made great strides in protecting and supporting the victims through the trial.
This protection and support starts at the outset of a case. Children here and all over the country are interviewed by forensic interviewers like myself at Children's Advocacy Centers. The Advocacy Centers provide parents with support, counseling referrals and other services. Further, our Advocacy Centers have done presentations for the Judges in our Circuit to educate them about victim sensitivity. If it's done in three counties on the Mississippi river in Illinois, it can be done anywhere.
Bringing this back to Ms. Karasik's argument about decriminalization. No. No. No. The victim is not better served by the perpetrator not facing justice in some form. The victim is better served when we demand that the court process be more sensitive to victims, when we demand that readily available counseling services and victim support services are available in every jurisdiction not just those like mine that are forward thinking and lucky.
Victims deserve a voice. They deserve a fair and safe process. They deserve closure. None of these things happen if as Ms. Karasik suggests, teacher/student rape be decriminalized. That doesn't protect the victim. It only makes it easier for these predators to keep hunting.