Students face the truth of domestic abuse, sexual assault

By Alexis Schulz

With more than 500 cases coming into the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Special Victim’s Unit (SVU) every year, a few cases stick out.

One of those cases, according to Anthony Petracca, detective from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office SVU, was when he saw an 11-month-old boy wrapped in gauze and covered with serious burns. Petracca said the boy’s father was giving the child a bath when he noticed the boy’s skin started peeling off.

“My job is to find the truth,” Petracca said.

Petracca spoke as part of the event Halt to Assault held on April 6 in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater.

The event was the brainchild of sophomore psychology major Bianca Acri who viewed the film The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses, and asked Susan Stahley, substance abuse and sexual assault prevention coordinator, what she could do to make a difference in the campus community. The pair teamed up for an event that would educate the community about the process a domestic violence or sexual assault call goes through.

Katie Magee, Mercer County assistant prosecutor, said specifically the child advocacy center that the county has is very inviting for children. The center has a warm atmosphere with art and a television so the children can be comfortable. She said when a child comes into the center, Magee squats down and talks to them face-to-face so they don’t feel intimidated.

“Regardless how you treat people, stature matters,” she said. “We get down to their level.”

Magee and Petracca recounted nights when they would get phone calls at 4 a.m. stating that there was a sexual assault in Mercer County and they had to jump into action.

One of the main points Petracca touched upon is that, when victims come to the SVU, they only have to tell their story to one person and that person will stay with them through the entirety of the investigation.

“You’re seeing the same face again,” said Petracca. One of the most important things to victims, according to Petracca, is not having to tell their stories to multiple people.

Kaila Most, Womanspace advocate, also spoke at the event. She said when a person is sexually assaulted, an advocate is assigned to him or her to go over options. If the victim decides not to go to the police, that person can go to Womanspace for counseling and other services, including transitional housing programs.

The standards of evidence for Mercer County are different than for Rider, according to Petracca and Magee. For Mercer County, the standard of evidence is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” whereas for Rider the standard is “more likely than not” for sexual assault and domestic violence crimes.

Magee said a point to keep in mind is that sexual assault victims are affected for the rest of their lives by the violence they encounter.

“When you’re sexually assaulted, it doesn’t end when you call a police officer, it stays with you for the rest of your life,” said Magee. “There’s not a lot I haven’t seen; the biggest thing is to let the victims know it’s not their fault.”

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