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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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173 comments

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3:58PM PDT on Sep 8, 2014

Oops. In the previous post, I meant defendant, not plaintiff.

3:55PM PDT on Sep 8, 2014

My boxer is certified as a Therapy Dog. We mostly go into Assisted Living and hospitals (chemo patients benefit greatly from stroking a dog while being injected with poison and the children with a hospital stay eat up a visit from a friendly dog). I'm trying to start a reading program in Decatur. Teacher's have found that children that have trouble reading out loud to a human (ie, teacher) can improve by reading to a non-judgmental dog. The teacher can then observe the child's progress without the child knowing (and feeling self-conscious).

At ground zero, they not only had the cadaver and search and rescue dogs. They brought therapy dogs for firemen and rescue teams.

I never thought of the relief a dog might give a person testifying in a case like a rape case. I hope the courts see more benefits from allowing dogs in the courtroom than detraction. Certainly the plaintiff won't be happy if the dog actually helps the victim give a complete testimony (as in the article). I'd rather err on the side of the victim.

8:26AM PDT on Sep 8, 2014

You are right, Deborah. A nurturing, loving relationship with an animal can also help make up for the early neglect or mistreatment that has damaged someone's conscience and set him on the wrong path. There are many programs in which prisoners find their humanity by caring for and being loved by animals.

8:15AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Animals are healing.

7:27PM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

When I was 17 and 7 months pregnant the guy I said " I Do " To turned out to be a " Woman Beater " !! His Brother " Wayne's " Doberman " Shiba " Started Putting her " Head " On My " Belly " And when anyone came in to the apartment " Shiba " would Growl and Wayne Had To Put " Shiba " in his bedroom with the door locked so " Shiba " won't hurt anyone who tried to come near me ! Turns out " Shiba " was " Pregnant " too ! one day " Wayne " though he locked the door but thank " God " He didn't Lock the door ! Because " Robert Johnson " Came in to the living room and started to " Beat " Me As Soon As I Started To Scream " Shiba " came running to me and grabbed his arm taking a huge chunk out of his arm ! As " Robert " was going to Punch Me In My Belly ! " Shiba " Saved Me & My Baby ! Thank " God " For " Shiba " ! And " No " Shiba " Didn't Have To Get Put To " Sleep " For " Protecting " Me & My Baby ! : )

3:44PM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Wonderful.

12:42PM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

We anteaters are amazing too. :-)

12:41PM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

wonderful

3:15AM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

All the best for this angel

12:36PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

Therapy dogs can bring out the best in humanity.
Makes me wonder if training with animals could help rehabilitate inhumane humans? Evidently many abusers were abused as children or didn't otherwise have good relationships and role models when growing up - and perhaps developing a low-stress, mutual trusting relationship with a sympathetic therapy dog would be a start that could then be transferred to human interactions, guided by a rehabilitation professional?

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