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Proposed N.H. Bill Would Require 'Corroboration' In Some Sexual Assault Cases

Mark Buckawicki
Wikimedia Commons
A proposed bill in New Hampshire would require victims of sexual assault present corroborating evidence in some cases.

A newly-elected state representative from New Hampshire is getting a lot of pushback after introducing a bill that would increase the burden of proof needed to find someone guilty of sexual assault.

The legislation, crafted by Republican William Marsh of Wolfeboro, would require prosecutors to present corroborating evidence that an attack occurred.

New Hampshire Public Radio's Paige Sutherland has been following the storyand she spoke with VPR about it.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full interview above.

VPR: The crux of opposition to this legislation seems to be around the requirement that victims present "corroborating" evidence. What exactly does that mean?

Sutherland: "The bill is very vague — it doesn't specify what that would mean. It could be anything from evidence that would put some accuracy into the timeframe of a witness' testimony. It could be a receipt that shows they were at that store at that time that they said.

"Basically it would try to support the victim's testimony, because as [of] now in New Hampshire the statute is that if a victim says that they were molested or raped, that is enough to charge someone."

And this would only be applicable for somebody who had no prior convictions. Is that right?

"Correct. It's saying if someone cried wolf this would provide protection against false accusations of rape ... It really came about because [of] one case in New Hampshire; it was a therapist who was accused of touching an underage boy during a session. There was no witnesses, no video. It was just the 12-year-old boy's testimony against his.

"They [supporters of the bill] were saying a law like this would support that they would need some other evidence to put this guy behind bars."

I'm sure that opponents of the bill have pointed out that when you get to that bit of about "corroborating evidence," in most sexual assault cases, there isn't more than one person in the room. 

"Exactly. The hearing was packed. I mean, they had to combine a separate room to make it larger, there were people lining up the door to speak. There were people wearing stickers that said ‘I believe victims,’ because they believe that changing the statute says that when a victim says they were raped we assume that they're lying, and that would be the message that this sends.

"There were lawyers that testified, law enforcement that testified, saying, you know, unfortunately, when it comes to these cases there isn't that DNA, there isn't that that witness. These crimes usually happen in private."

What about prosecutors, law enforcement, the people in charge of convicting those or charging people who may be guilty of sexual assault — what are they saying about this bill?

"They're opposed to this bill. Basically ... they think that it isn't up to the Legislature to say, 'What is the credibility of this victim's testimony?' It's really up to the jury that’s selected, the judge. We have constitutional rights that are in place to protect defendants. When it comes to their right, we assume that they're innocent, and so that is enough protection that this statute shouldn't be changed."

Were the majority of the people at the hearing for or against the proposed bill?

"Waves of people were against the bill, it was clear that that that was the larger number in the room.

"But there are also people that were for the bill. But that number, I think, was a little skewed because it seemed like it was only for this one specific case ... this therapist who is charged — is behind bars right now — because he believed that there needed to be more evidence than just the victim's testimony.

"So it seemed like people that were for the bill were only supporting this one guy, which I think would hurt their case, especially when it comes to the committee voting on this bill."

There was another bill that would change the word "victim" to "complainant" in the sexual assault statute. Is that also a bill that Marsh introduced and is it being considered separately from the corroboration bill?

"It is not introduced by him — it is being considered separately. And this bill had the same kind of outcry amongst victims and sexual assault advocates on this issue, because it would kind of discriminate these group of victims, where we don't have that and other crimes. You know, a victim, whether it's beating up or murder we say 'victim,' so to make it a complainant just for this specific crime would discriminate against sexual assault victims."

What's the next step in the process here and what do you think are the chances of this bill getting out of committee?

"I think because of the numbers, and like I said, this bill seems like a one-issue bill, I would be shocked if the committee passes it.

"Basically, it would probably get a poor review out of committee, it’d go to the House, which means it would probably die in the House. So I do not see this bill having any legs to go any further than this."

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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