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University of Georgia

Epstein case highlights need for victims voices to be heard

11-Jul-2019 2:05 PM EDT, by University of Georgia

“The Jeffrey Epstein case is another example of justice denied to survivors of child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, in this case, the alleged perpetrator was given the benefits of self-empowerment, and not the survivors. As a result, the survivors have found themselves, again, being told that their abuser continues to have control and power over them and that our legal system refuses to let their voices be heard,” according to Emma M. Hetherington, director of the University of Georgia School of Law’s Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic. 

“Our current laws and practices are insufficient to open the courthouse doors, in both criminal and civil matters,” Hetherington said. “Disclosing sexual abuse can cause retraumatization if not handled in a trauma-informed manner. How prosecutors, attorneys, and judges respond to disclosures of abuse can affect whether survivors are willing to go forward with claims. Our systems' responses to survivors often silence disclosure and inhibit healing. A trauma-informed system can aid survivors with self-empowerment, make the legal process more predictable, and engage survivors in legal strategies and solutions.”

Since the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic was established in 2016, it has worked with 78 survivors of child sexual abuse and every civil lawsuit the clinic has filed has been favorably resolved and – importantly – in keeping with the client’s wishes. Part of the clinic’s mission is to serve as a center of excellence and to provide resources for survivors and attorneys seeking justice for these terrible and horrific crimes. It is currently conducting research on barriers to accessing justice for survivors of child sexual assault and best practices for trauma informed and holistic representation. More on the clinic can be found at http://cease.law.uga.edu/

Hetherington can be contacted for further commentary at 706-369-5720 or ehether@uga.edu .

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