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Court Discusses Rape Trauma Syndrome


Offenses of rape and other sex crimes are clouded by myths that pervade most societies about the causes of rape. For many hundreds of years, the cause of rape was believed to be an overwhelming sexual desire. It has only been in recent years that American society has taken the view that rape is an act of violence against women. When it involves a child, the manner in which the assault affects the child can be even more confusing. One example of this type of confusion occurred in a case that happened in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1980’s.

An eleven year old girl often went to her neighbor’s apartment to play and babysit the neighbor’s smaller children. On one date when she was caring for the children, the neighbor’s boyfriend came home. He was alone with the children for several hours. The eleven year old girl later claimed that the boyfriend had raped her. The rape was not reported until two months later, when the girl told her mother that the boyfriend had come home early again. The second time, she stated that he had kissed her on the mouth and fondled her breasts and bottom. The mother immediately took the girl to the hospital and filed a police report. The doctor’s report substantiated that the girl’s hymen was ruptured. The police arrested the neighbor’s boyfriend for raping the girl.

In the months between the rape and the trial, the little girl was overwhelmed with the situation and wrote several letters to her accused attacker. These letters stated that she was sorry and that she knew that it was not rape. The prosecutor, upon learning of these letters and that the defense intended to use them to impeach the credibility of the child, filed a motion with the court to be allowed to introduce evidence on the effects of rape trauma syndrome. The defense objected to the introduction of this evidence because they claim that the average juror is capable of distinguishing the effects of rape for themselves.

Rape Trauma Syndrome is not a commonly accepted theory among psychiatrists. The philosophy of Rape Trauma Syndrome is that when a woman or in this case, a child, is raped, the guilt and embarrassment that accompanies the crime is so overwhelming that the victim will sometimes recant their complaint in order to avoid the public embarrassment associated with a trial.

The court determined that most average jurors would not be so educated to the causes and effects of rape that they would immediately recognize the symptoms of Rape Trauma Syndrome. The court determined that allowing an expert on the topic to testify in front of the jury about the syndrome would help to shed light on a topic that has been shrouded in false truths throughout the ages. In order to allow an expert on Rape Trauma Syndrome to testify about the surrounding circumstances of the assault, and how the child reacted to the assault is only reasonable. The court did state that the defense is equally allowed to present testimony from their own experts who do not agree with the experts that have been produced for the prosecution. The jury is than allowed to make his or her own judgments about the reasonableness of the victim’s actions. Allowing testimony on both sides of the issue should give the average juror enough insight to ensure that they make an educated decision about the results of the syndrome, and whether they believe that the syndrome is able to explain the actions of the victim.

Since the time of this trial in the early 1980’s, the effects of Rape Trauma Syndrome have been studied in depth. The reactions of victims following a rape have been validated to the degree that Rape Trauma Syndrome is more commonly seen in testimony in courts of law.

At Stephen Bilkis & Associates their criminal lawyers, have convenient offices throughout New York and Metropolitan area. Our rape Attorneys can provide you with advice to guide you through difficult situations.

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