Sandusky charges bring focus on Pa. sex crime laws

By Mark Scolforo

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 27 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Asteak said prosecutors who file dozens and dozens of charges, which happens, can run the risk of being seen as piling on, and multiple counts can have diminishing value in the criminal court system when it comes time for sentencing.

"Sandusky has enough charges against him to put him away for the rest of his natural life, plus," Asteak said.

Sandusky also faces other charges for alleged acts that include touching a child's penis, grabbing a naked child in the shower and putting his hands down the waistband of a boy's pants without touching his genitals. The other counts are aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, attempted indecent assault, unlawful contact with minors, endangering a child's welfare and corruption of minors.

If he is convicted of multiple charges for the same act, it's possible convictions on lesser offenses may merge when it comes time for sentencing.

He has denied the allegations against him, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for next month.

The set of crimes in the Sandusky case, collectively, can be described appropriately as "child sex abuse," said Kristen Houser with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, which works with 51 rape crisis centers in the state and advocates on behalf of victims.

But she pointed to the use of "sex scandal" and "child abuse" in news accounts as an example of how imprecision in the language of sex crimes can serve to water down the seriousness of the allegations.

"What's ... important to us is that the sexual nature of the violations are included," Houser said. "When we see headlines calling it a 'Penn State sex scandal' — Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, those are sex scandals. This is about sexual abuse of children."

She also said the children who police say were attacked by Sandusky should be referred to as "alleged victims" rather than "accusers."

Otherwise, she said, it "puts the onus back onto the alleged victim, and it helps put them under the spotlight. I believe it changes the focus (from) where it needs to be."

Her organization tries to defer to the people they serve when in making decisions about how to describe them.

"Some people will call themselves a victim, other people hate the word victim — 'I'm a survivor,'" Houser said.

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