Government
6:00 pm
Tue July 3, 2012

New Law ‘Finally’ Allows Expert Witnesses in Sexual Assault Trials

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are able to call upon expert witnesses in sexual assault trials, under a new state law.

Kristen Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape said Pennsylvania is the last state to allow expert testimony in sexual assault cases.

She said social workers, psychologists, counselors, and other experts can now tell jurors about "the range of normal behaviors that a victim may exhibit" following sexual assault.

"Juries hear about what a victim may have done in the days, weeks, months following an assault, and many times, people do things that seem counter-intuitive," said Houser. "We know that cases have been lost because of that, that people think, 'Well gosh, that's not what I would have done if I was sexually assaulted.'"

Houser said PCAR's support for this law began in 2005 with the Jeffrey Marsalis rape cases in Philadelphia. She said Marsalis was known as the "Match.com rapist."

"We know that the jury acquitted him because they had a hard time understanding if he had really raped these women, why did they initiate contact with him the next day? Some of the behaviors were counter-intuitive, and we had no way to educate that jury that that's normal, that people try to make sense out of what happened to them," said Houser.

Marsalis was later found guilty of rape in Idaho, according to Houser.