Survivors share their experiences for purposes of healing, understanding and, many times, justice. Sometimes justice is served.
Sometimes not. After a recent groping case was negotiated down to breach of peace — a charge often equated with noise complaints — Jillian Miller felt the system failed her.
From psychologists to the World Health Organization, experts agree sexual abuse is largely about power and control and not about “gratification.” Nonetheless, Wyoming statute 6-2-301 defines sexual contact as touch with “intention of sexual arousal, gratification or abuse,” a startling clause on the surface. Prosecutors pointed to this as a reason not to pursue a more serious charge.
Nebraska provides a contrast; its law states “in proving sexual contact, the State need not prove sexual arousal or gratification, but only circumstances and conduct which could be construed as being for such a purpose.”
If there is a chance this clause is inhibiting prosecutors from taking cases to trial, it’s time to amend the Wyoming statute. Our state representatives can bring this issue to the Legislature. If local prosecutors agree, they should lead the charge by requesting a change in the law.
At the same time, maybe the issue isn’t the statute but who is interpreting it.
The last three adult sexual battery convictions in Teton County were cases that started as felony sexual assault charges and were pleaded down to misdemeanor sexual battery.
We don’t know the details of each case. We also don’t know if we’d find more of the same trend if we had more cases to review, because Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Erin Weisman declined the News&Guide’s public records request, citing concerns of a time burden.
It’s hard to take a holistic look at the actions of the prosecutor’s office without transparency and cooperation, but the information provided, along with the details of this latest case, suggests the office lacks an appetite for prosecuting this area of the law.
Should this statute be changed? Or is the problem stemming from another issue — a win-loss record to uphold, a lack of experience in the courtroom, a disinterest in tackling these tough cases? For the former, legislative action is needed. The public, which elects the prosecuting attorney to her seat, has a few years to consider the latter.
Either way, Teton County deserves better than “I believe you, but I can’t prosecute your case.”