Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

Shane Piche admitted to raping a 14-year-old girl who rode the school bus he drove. Michael Wysolovski admitted to keeping a teenage girl in sexual captivity for more than a year. Last Thursday, two separate judges in two separate states ruled neither would be going to prison. 

The sentences prompted outrage among sexual assault survivors and advocates alike, who say such light sentences can have dangerous consequences: re-traumatizing survivors, deterring future victims from reporting and failing to dissuade predators.

"For most survivors the impact of the crime feels like a life sentence. So why does the perpetrator spend not one day in jail?" asked Michael Dolce, an attorney who leads the sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and domestic abuse team at the law firm Cohen & Milstein. "Where is the justice in that?

shane piche
Shane Piche, left, appears in court for sentencing in Watertown, N.Y. (Photo: AP)

The vast majority of sexual perpetrators escape prison time. Out of every 1,000 rapes, 995 perpetrators will never be incarcerated, according to an analysis of Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation data conducted by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Of those 1,000 rapes, only 230 are reported.

Even when sexual assault or abuse is reported, legal experts say the variations in sentencing guidelines from state to state and judges' ability to deviate from those guidelines make sentencing inconsistent.

Last summer, state police said Piche invited the 14-year-old victim to his home, gave her alcohol and raped her. In New York, Jefferson County Judge James McClusky sentenced the 26-year-old to 10 years probation, saying he had no prior arrests and only one victim. Piche, who pleaded guilty to third-degree rape, will be registered as a Level 1 sex offender, indicating low risk of committing the crime again, and his full address will not be available in online databases, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Dolce says the judge's assumption that there is only one victim ignores the reality that most sexual crimes are never reported.

The victim's mother, who said her daughter is suffering from depression and anxiety, said she wished Piche had received prison time. "He took something from my daughter she will never get back."

The 17-year-old North Carolina girl who Wysolovski, 33, held captive and sexually assaulted was found malnourished and suffering from back problems because she was kept in a dog cage, her father said in a victim impact statement. The victim said the damage Wysolovski caused her was “beyond imagination." Since her rescue, she says she attempted suicide three times.

Wysolovski pleaded guilty to first-degree cruelty toward a child and interstate interference with custody, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. His rape and aggravated sodomy charges were dropped in his plea deal. Judge Timothy Hamil sentenced Wysolovski to 10 years with 8 months in jail, which he already served in the Gwinnett County Detention Center before his trial. Wysolovski will spend the remainder of his sentence on probation. He will permanently register as a sex offender.

Attorney John Manly, who represented more than 200 victims in the Larry Nassar gymnastics sexual abuse case, said these verdicts send signals to perpetrators that they need not fear a harsh penalty even if they're caught.

"In the case of sexual slavery or a bus driver taking advantage of a little girl, the message these judges are sending is, 'you can get away with it.' And if you don't think that's in the back of a predator's mind, you don't understand sexual predators," he said. "Frequently the only thing standing between a predator and a child being raped is the threat of a severe criminal penalty."

Dolce said such sentences also have a "chilling" affect on reporting.

"The next survivor will see what she went through, facing the perpetrator, having to testify in the same room, having to look at that guy, point out that guy, share the details of what happened in front of a jury of strangers — go through all of that and then get this type of an outcome," Dolce said. "The next survivor sees that and then says, 'Why would I do that?'"  

The effects of child sexual abuse can be long-lasting, according to RAINN. Victims are about four times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse, about four times more likely to experience PTSD and about three times more likely to experience a major depressive episode.

“Protecting children should be a priority," said RAINN President Scott Berkowitz. "Giving a perpetrator probation or no sentence at all — after they have admitted to the crime — is a failure of our criminal justice system and inexcusable."

Dolce says the wide discretion judges exercise in sex crimes show many don't understand what it's like to be a victim of such an offense.

"One of the reasons we have a problem with appreciating the impact is that unlike a shooting victim, unlike a drunk driving victim, these victims don't roll into court with visible injuries," Dolce said. "They're not in a wheelchair or a cast. What they've experienced is an injury to the psyche, not something you can see on an X-ray or an MRI. ... The result is that a victim struggles to communicate the lifelong emotional impact of the crime, and as a society we don't like to talk about this stuff. We look away from the worst of it."

Manly said the system works best when victims have more robust legal rights. In 2008, California passed Marsy's Law, which outlines a number of victims' rights, including the right to be heard during plea and sentencing proceedings, and to refuse to be interviewed by a defendant's attorney. A handful of other states have since passed their own versions of Marsy's Law.

Judges in sex crime cases have come under increased scrutiny after Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, 56, received national attention after offering a lenient sentence to Brock Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexual assault. Turner was sentenced to six months behind bars, but only served three. Last June, Persky was recalled from office — becoming the first California jurist recalled from the bench in 86 years.

Court officials say McClusky has been the target of "numerous vitriolic" phone calls, according to the Associated Press, and a petition was launched on MoveOn.org to remove him from the bench for his "blatant disregard for survivors of sexual assault." It has more than 70,000 signatures.

"If you think a judge in California, after what happened to Persky, is going to give another sentence like that, it's not going to happen," Manly said. "That's because the voters sent a message. And I hope they do it again."

Dolce says many people think once a victim escapes the clutches of their perpetrator, they move on. But these traumas, he said, have lifelong repercussions. And when a court suggests a victim's pain is inconsequential, trial outcomes do, too.

"Our criminal justice system has to recognize that the sense of justice or injustice at the end of a prosecution can ... impact a survivor who is looking for validation and re-empowerment," Dolce said. "It certainly doesn't re-empower them when their perpetrator walks free."

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7: 800-656-HOPE (4673) or via online chat: online.rainn.org

Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.

Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.

Article from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/03/bus-driver-shane-pinche-wont-go-prison-rape-hes-not-alone/3653181002/