The American legal system is based on the bedrock foundation that a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty - although in some cases, the accused can be convicted in the court of public opinion.
Happy Valley, Pa., used to be a place of serenity until throngs of people came out and accused former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky of sexual abuse. Sandusky is now facing 40 counts of sexual abuse. The charges against Sandusky, who coached the Nittany Lions defense from 1979 through 1999, cover the period from 1994 through 2009.
Then there are the non-high profile cases.
In Gastonia, a teenager who has been accused of multiple sex crimes against a child had his $1 million bond reduced to $25,000 by a district judge. The teen is facing accusations of taking indecent liberties with a child. The judge agreed to release the teen out on bail based, in part, on the fact that he has no prior criminal convictions. Not all people accused of sex crimes in North Carolina are as lucky, however.
Stricter punishment is common when the accused (or convicted defendants) attempt to make contact with their victims. A convicted offender in Wentworth, N.C., was recently sentenced to 66-89 months in jail after sending a Facebook friend request to one of his victims. By doing so, the prisoner violated a specific order to avoid contact with those he sexually abused.
Then and Now
The New York Times reported that not too long ago victims and advocates had to convince courts and prosecutors to take sex abuse seriously, and oftentimes charges were dismissed in court. Victims' rights movements eventually began taking shape in the form of rape-crisis hotlines and victim advocacy centers. The federal government even started introducing initiatives to help the states with funding for victim assistance services.
While research suggests the lion's share of crimes still go unreported - up to 60 percent by some accounts - sexual abuse is certainly taken more seriously these days. Even the hint of suspicion can be life-altering for the accused and others.
Look no further than the Penn State-Sandusky situation.
Viewed by many as amicable and reverent, long-time Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno lost his job for failing to report to law enforcement an alleged incident involving Sandusky. Paterno instead relayed what one of his assistants said he witnessed to the school's athletic director, Timothy Curley, in adherence with expected protocols. Curley has since resigned in the wake of the scandal.
Sex Abuse Statistics
According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, every year there are approximately 213,000 victims of sexual assault. In nearly two-thirds of all assaults, the victim knows the offender - one-third of whom are under the age of 18.
But despite the bias against the accused and the negative reputation caused by public opinion that can follow them, the law is still on the side of the accused who are considered innocent until proven guilty. If you or someone you know has been falsely accused of a sexual crime, seek the legal representation of a criminal defense lawyer to best protect your rights.
North Carolina vs. M.W.
Charge: Charge: Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon (4 Counts), First Degree Burglary, Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon
Facing: 12 - 17 years in prison
An incarcerated defendant accused our client of participating in the robbery of a group of youth at a party. We were able to raise doubt as to the credibility of this individual. In the end, the prosecutor dismissed these charges, citing a lack of evidence.