Sexual abuse survivor says bystanders should be held legally acc - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Sexual abuse survivor says bystanders should be held legally accountable

Sexual abuse survivor says bystanders should be held legally accountable

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The Steubenville rape case, which is set to go to trial on March 13, is raising questions how witnesses to sexual assault should act.  

Charlotte Heater says she endured 16 years of abuse, which often included rape, at the hands of her own husband.

"There were people on the sidelines that heard my abuse," Heater said.  "Nobody would get involved, no one would call the police."


Nancy Hoffman works with the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services.

"I think many people look back at a situation and regret not intervening," Hoffman said.

Which could be the case in the infamous viral video that was posted to YouTube, in which students recount  the alleged rape of a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in Steubenville, Ohio.  

Right now, there's a law in West Virginia that makes it illegal to not report any suspected sexual abuse involving a minor, but some advocates say that law should apply to victims of all ages.

"In other crimes we have Good Samaritan Laws that encourage folks to step up and help out," Hoffman said.  "I think it should be no different with the crime of sexual assault."

Hoffman says this would elevate bystander responsibility from a moral obligation to a legal one. Abuse victims believe it would make a big difference.

"I think people will take that a whole lot more serious to know that they stand accountable," Heater said.  "I think if people knew that they needed to get involved, that they needed to call, that their silence, knowing what's going on, holds them accountable, Yes I do because I was unable to speak for myself and I needed help.  If you don't have another voice to stand with you, you stand alone."