Victims of sexual crimes have been violated in the most intimate, private ways and many experience intense feelings of humiliation and shame about their experiences. These feelings are frequently the reason that so many victims tell NO ONE about what has happened to them. Not family. Not friends. Not police or physicians. And certainly not strangers. In fact, only 12 percent of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities (Hanson, Resnick, Saunders, Kilpatrick & Best, 1999).
Victims and survivors of sexual assault pay attention to whether the privacy of victims is protected during court proceedings, news reports, and within the community. They gauge whether they are personally willing to risk having their own identities and life experiences exposed to all. That is why the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape joined the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Crime Victims Law Institute, the Victim Rights Law Center, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and several other PA victims’ rights organizations in urging the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County to protect the privacy of victims who will testify during the child sexual abuse trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The court denied that protection request on June 4.
"Having considered the issue, it is my view that there is not support in Pennsylvania law for offering anonymity to an adult witness because the witness is one of a class of victims of a particular form of crime," Judge John Cleland's decision says.
PCAR is disappointed in the court’s ruling.
Many people who are victims of child sexual abuse are afraid to report the crime because they fear they won’t be believed or/and that they’ll be judged by family, friends and the community. These fears may stem from the fact that rape by someone the victim knows — such as a family member, teacher, coach or mentor — is extremely prevalent. According to the most-recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. Of these, 40.8 percent of women and 52.4 percent of men will be raped by an acquaintance. Being raped by a family member or close acquaintance heightens the victims’ sense of shame and fear of ridicule.
The young men who have reported being sexually abused by Sandusky during their childhood have already endured the pain of their abuse and how it has altered their lives. According to reports, at least one young man has been bullied out of his high school. They have put the interest of public safety before their own and told their stories to law enforcement, members of a grand jury, and are about to face a defense attorney with a reputation for intense and harsh cross examination tactics.
Their willingness to expose the behaviors of an alleged serial sex offender should not be met with public scrutiny and press coverage of intimate details of their lives. Enduring sexual abuse and then reporting it to authorities should not be rewarded with a court order that results in possible public scrutiny.. Each survivor of sexual abuse has the right to determine to whom they tell their story. These young men chose to tell authorities, but they did not choose to tell every American with access to the Internet. Survivors everywhere are watching this case. How it is handled by the courts, and by the media, will have a lasting impact on the decisions people make after they have had their world turned upside down by a sexual assault. If we as a society want to hold offenders accountable for their actions and keep our communities safe, we must afford victims of sex crimes basic rights, beginning with the right to privacy.
The court’s ruling failed to ensure that right.
Protecting the identities of the victims in this specific trial would have reaped benefits to our entire nation. Because of the widespread attention focused on the Sandusky prosecution, protecting the privacy of victims in this case would have sent a message to victims of other crimes that they can report what has happened to them without fear of having their personal lives torn open for voyeuristic interests. Protecting victim privacy in the Sandusky case could have laid the keystone to a foundation of social norms in the best interest of public safety. We cannot keep our communities safe from sex offenders if we create environments that encourage victims to keep the identities and actions of offenders a secret.