HARRISBURG–State Rep. Cherelle Parker, D-Phila., co-chaired a House Judiciary Committee hearing on her bill that would allow the use of expert testimony in sexual assault cases.
The hearing on H.B. 2255 was scheduled last Wednesday, Sept. 8 in Room G-50, Irvis Office Building in the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg.
Pennsylvania is the only state that prohibits an expert from testifying about rape victim behavior. The legislation would allow an expert to provide testimony in sexual assault cases regarding any recognized form of post-traumatic stress disorder and counterintuitive behavior indicative of a rape victim.
“Illinois is the only state that allows for, by law, expert testimony regarding behaviors of sexual assault victims,” Parker said. “Research shows that victims of sex crimes behave in a number of ways, but because of the myths regarding sex crimes, jurors perceive some of those behaviors, such as a failure to immediately report the crime, as compelling evidence of a victim’s lack of credibility. To overcome these myths, expert testimony has been deemed necessary in order to provide a jury with the proper context to evaluate a victim’s behavior.”
However, in Pennsylvania the courts have ruled that only jurors can determine if a witness is telling the truth, and expert testimony addressing issues about post-traumatic stress or other common disorders in reaction to trauma is considered testimony regarding the credibility of the victim.
“It’s not typical for any rape victim to behave in any certain way,” said Diane Moyer, legal director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape in Harrisburg.
She said it’s important for an expert on rape-victim behavior to be able to tell a jury why a victim may react in a “counterintuitive” way to how a person may believe such a victim should act.
“I believe this legislation is needed to provide jurors with the proper context in which to evaluate a victim’s behavior and overcome myths and misunderstandings about the behavior of victims in sexual crimes,” Parker said. “It is time to move past this outdated ban and provide victims with the help they need to bring their perpetrators to justice and move on with their lives.”
Invited attendees include:
- Dr. Veronique Valliere – Valliere and Counseling Associates
- Mary Walsh – Coalition of Pennsylvania Crime Victim Organizations
- Deborah Harley – chief of Family Violence/Sexual Assault Unit, Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association
- Lynn Hecht Schafran — director, National Judicial Education Program, Legal Momentum
- Jill Maier – director of counseling services, Women Against Rape
- Joyce Lukima — deputy director of field services, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
- Capt. John Darby — Special Victims Unit, Philadelphia Police Department