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Abuse victims should get the last word

Even a guilty plea won't silence victims, readers remind.

A post-scrip to today's column about Jerry Sandusky punting on Tuesday's preliminary hearing, which argued that his decision meant victims didn't get a chance to tell their stories on the witness stand -- an experience that can be terrifying and therapeutic, according to the victims I've interviewed and corresponded with over the years.

A few readers reminded that even in cases of a guilty plea, victims still have an opportunity to deliver impact statements at sentencing. Said a woman who has experience in these kinds of prosecutions, "it has been my experience that if a case is handled properly, the victims do have the last say."

"In their statements, they can tell the Judge how the victimization by the defendant has affected their lives," wrote the insider who did not want to be publicized. "These statements are very moving and they do impress the Judges and impact on sentencing. But more importantly, they are cathartic for the victim and the loved ones of the victim."

I don't disagree, but the point of today's piece was about how victims may have felt under siege all over again yesterday after they prepared for the gauntlet only to be spared at the 11th hour.

For corroboration, I rang up Martin Donohoe, whom I wrote about earlier in the year. In 2005, Donohoe made area history of sorts as the first victim of clergy sex abuse to have his day in criminal court. His abuser, Rev. James Behan, a 60-year-old Oblate priest, pleaded guilty to repeatedly assaulting a teenage Donohoe in the late 1970s when Behan taught religion at the all-boys Northeast Catholic High School.

Donohoe recalls his preliminary hearing as a formality, since Behan had already admitted his guilt. Donohoe wasn't more or less traumatized by one court appearaqnce or another -- none of them were pleasant, but all were necessary. He didn't say much at the prelminary, but did share his pain at sentencing.

"It helped," he told me, "It definitely helped."

Donohoe is referring to self-help. He was but one lone voice against hundreds of letters that were sent to the court by the disgraced priest's supporters. Facing 20 years in prison, Behan received just 12 years probation. The judge even wept on the bench -- for the priest, not his prey. She determined that besides the involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corrupting the morals of a minor, Behan had led an otherwise "godly" life.

God help Sandusky's accusers if he pleads and gets the same deal.

-- Monica Yant Kinney

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