Sponsors back off bill to require sex assault corroboration

AP News
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Posted: Jan 24, 2017 4:03 PM

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The male sponsors of a bill that would require victims of sexual assault to corroborate their testimony are backing away from the proposal after backlash from victims' rights advocates and police.

Republican Reps. Jess Edwards and William Marsh say they will understand if members of the criminal justice committee recommend killing the bill. The two sponsors outlined their position in a letter Monday to committee members.

Edwards said the two have talked to more than 40 people about the bill and while a "surprising number" support it, many more do not.

"The overwhelming number of people we've talked to have deep concerns about the message this bill will send," Edwards writes.

The bill would make New Hampshire a rare state where a victim must be able to corroborate his or her testimony if the defendant doesn't have a prior conviction. Existing law states victims do not have to corroborate their testimony. Because sexual assault often happens in a private setting and is sometimes reported years later, evidence doesn't always exist, they said. Opponents of the bill said it would keep pedophiles on the street and may stop victims from coming forward.

Marsh introduced the bill after hearing about the case of Foad Afshar, a New Hampshire psychotherapist who was convicted of molesting a young patient and sentenced in August to three to six years in prison. Afshar maintains his innocence and several supporters who testified on behalf of the bill said they believe him.

Bill supporters say physicians and others who deal with children are at risk of wrongful conviction based on the testimony of a child alone.

Edwards said he and Marsh would still like to achieve those protections, but he worries the issue is beyond a "calm, academic conversation." If the bill dies, he said, he and Marsh will look for "better ways" to accomplish their goal.

The bill will go to the full House for a vote after the criminal justice committee makes its recommendation.