Roethlisberger case: Records' release called nightmare for rape victims

By Debra Erdley


Advocates for rape victims say the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's release of photographs, audio tapes and video of interviews with a 20-year-old coed who accused Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of rape is a nightmare come true.


"It certainly seems to me to be unnecessary and almost punitive to the victim," said attorney Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia.


Electronic files of the young woman's account -- among information on 56 discs the agency released Wednesday from its closed investigation -- were posted on media websites almost instantly. Her face was obscured to protect her identity.


Georgia law mandated release of the discs and files released earlier, even though authorities decided in April not to charge Roethlisberger for the incident in March, in which she accused him of raping her in the restroom of a bar. District Attorney Fred Bright said he could not prove the allegation, and she did not want to prosecute.


Roger Canaff, a former sex crimes prosecutor who has written and lectured on crimes against women, said making public investigatory files could cause victims to think twice about reporting sex crimes.


"I am quite concerned that publicly releasing information and video regarding a sensitive investigation will create a chilling effect on reporting," he said. "Particularly in high-profile cases, I believe that victims of sexual assault will definitely think twice before reporting a crime if they suspect or believe that information regarding how they reacted, what they said, how they appeared, etc, will be released."


Canaff said he did not know of another instance where police released information "quite as complete as this." If women are discouraged from coming forward, he said, "this is extremely problematic, since research demonstrates that most offenders attack or abuse more than one woman and that most victims don't report to begin with."


Although Pennsylvania's Right to Know law specifically exempts criminal investigations from public disclosure, experts say many states release such information upon request.


"It's not unusual to release records from completed investigations," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.


Barbara Jollie has prosecuted sex crimes for the Westmoreland County District Attorney for 15 years. She said the information in the Roethlisberger file is more extensive than the testimony typically admitted in court.


"You could have hearsay, speculation, all manner of things. These victims have a right to privacy. If a victim had to worry that every single thing they said would be all over the media, you wonder if they'd come forward," she said.


(To read original article, visit this Pittsburgh Tribune-Review link.)

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