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Dog Helps 15-Year-Old Rape Victim Testify

Dog Helps 15-Year-Old Rape Victim Testify

Courtrooms can be frightening and intimidating places for rape victims, as nearly every sexual assault trial shows.  After all, the victim is testifying about a traumatic experience in front of people who are actively trying to prove that he or she is not telling the truth.  Under these circumstances, it’s hard to imagine what could help rape victims feel more comfortable in a courtroom.

But maybe there are some solutions.  The New York Times‘ William Glaberson writes about Rosie, the first judicially approved courtroom dog in New York, who sat in the witness box with a 15-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated by her father.  Rosie is a golden retriever therapy dog, trained to help people when they are under stress.  Other states have allowed animals into the courtroom to give vulnerable witnesses support.

And, at least in this case, Rosie helped.  Glaberson writes that “at least once when the teenager hesitated in Judge Greller’s courtroom, Rosie rose and seemed to push the girl gently with her nose.”  In June, the girl’s father was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Of course, critics are raising objections about the introduction of comfort measures into the courtroom.  The dog, said the girl’s father’s public defenders, could have provided solace regardless of the stress – whether it was from a threatening defendant or the choice to lie under oath.  The jury, however, was likely not to see the latter as a possibility.

“Every time she stroked the dog,” one of the lawyers explained in an interview, “it sent an unconscious message to the jury that she was under stress because she was telling the truth.”

The presence of comforting animals, however, can make all the difference for vulnerable witnesses or plaintiffs who might be unwilling to testify under other circumstances.  A developmentally disabled 57-year-old man recalled how another therapy dog, Ellie, had given him the strength to testify against a man accused to trying to steal from him.  Ellie, he said, was his only friend in the courtroom.

Dogs can be particularly helpful for traumatized children.  ”We close a lot of cases when victims—children especially—can’t or won’t talk,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tobin Darrow of Snohomish County, Washington told Rebecca Wallick in a piece for “The Bark.” “[The dog] allows the victim to start talking. It takes children time to develop trust with a prosecuting attorney, so [the dog] is very helpful there. Or when kids have to wait—it’s very hard on them, waiting for their turn to testify. [The dog] is calming and reassuring.”

And it’s not just the children who benefit.  Writing for the American Bar Association’s GPSolo magazine, Debra S. Hart-Cohen observes, “Judges, lawyers, victim advocates, and court staff – all those who deal on a daily basis with the often-horrible consequences of crime – can find their morale boosted through the presence of dogs in court.”

This new practice has the potential to offer courage to people for whom a courtroom might be a dangerous, threatening place.  And the appeal of Rosie’s latest case could decide whether it will be permitted to continue.

Related Stories:

The Love of a Good Dog: Service Dogs for PTSD

McDonalds Manager Punches Mother Over Autism Service Dog

Alabama Passes Bill to Allow Autism Therapy Dogs in Schools

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Photo from Marvin Kuo via flickr.

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160 comments

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9:13AM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Maybe dogs are WOMEN'S best friend!

5:42AM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Pets in general are a healthy part of everyones' lives. The therapy dogs are a necessity for people whom suffer from PTSD or any psychiatric issues. People are seeing the value and importance of pets everywhere, service dogs of all stripes and take your pet to work accomodations by corporations.
All courts must have therapy dogs available for anyone whom may be very intimidated by the court room experience.
As far as the detractors are concerned, blow it up your hind ends. This was an actual medical procedure for an illness. Look it up! There is a kit for this procedure too.

4:33PM PDT on Oct 5, 2013

Jeanne R,
I am right there with you "sister"!!!!. As a rescue person, who day in & day out, has to deal.with the blatant disregard of animals, especially cats. They are thrown to the way side like a cockroach. So many domestic cats abandoned at mine & my friends feral.colonies, & barely ANY SHELTERS will intake them! They are either overcrowded or want a lot of $and if you are a rescue Person, you don't have two cents to your name, cause you've been spending all your money on the animals to begin w/. So we take them into our home, thinking we will get them adopted, but no-one wants that elderly cat, or the half blind one, or the one w/ some other "issue"; & then people wonder why rescue people have so many animals! Its.because we are constantly picking up the responsibility for the irresponsible! Which is what drains everything we have left in us, day in & day out!

4:22PM PDT on Oct 5, 2013

I think it is a wonderful ideas to have these dogs as therapy companions. ANYONE dealing with this horrendous assault, & then having to recount it yet again in front of a judge, jury, & the PERPUTRADER himself; well you can only imagine the horror!!!!! I hope cats could also be included as therapy companions. Let's no first the healing power of kitties too!

11:45AM PDT on Sep 29, 2013

Dogs are just amazing!

11:40AM PDT on Sep 26, 2013

A life sentence isn't even long enough for that biological father.

5:52AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

ty

6:42PM PDT on Aug 22, 2013

I think it's great she had her friend there to help her. The dog was her source of strength and support while she took on such a huge situation with bravery.

9:12AM PDT on Aug 22, 2013

If the dog gives comfort & support, as mans best friend, why not???

WE ARE A SAD SOCIETY, LOOKING AFTER NEEDS OF THE CRIMINALS,
NEGLECTING VICTIMS & THEIR RIGHTS. .......

IT SHOULD BE REVERSE, BEND BACK WORDS FOR THE INNOCENT!!

3:55PM PDT on Aug 20, 2013

i think this is a great idea for a dog to be in the courtroom to help someone..... more power to the pooch and victim!!!!!

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