Trial: Expert says why victims alter testimony

Rape, battering case may go to jury today

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

During the third day of testimony in the trial of accused Hoonah rapist and batterer Daniel Neal, an expert testified about why a victim might recant her story.

Neal, 48, has been charged with first-degree sexual assault and three counts of first-degree assault against his wife, Darcy Neal, all stemming from an alleged incident on Nov. 21 in Hoonah.

In the alleged battering, Darcy Neal suffered extensive bruising to her back and neck, two broken ribs, broken collarbones, a broken jaw and cheekbone. She also told a grand jury Neal had sex with her without her consent.

Tuesday, however, Darcy Neal disputed much of her previous testimony to two grand juries about the beating, calling herself ``the aggressor.''

She blamed her injuries on her ``very bad temper'' when drinking, and said in the incident she repeatedly charged her husband, broke a towel rack off the wall, fell against and then into the bathtub, and collided with a dresser.

The phenomenon is known as the ``recanting victim,'' said Rose Piper, a mental health clinician for three and a half years with the Juneau Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

There are many reasons people stay in or return to an abusive relationship, Piper told the Juneau Superior Court jury of nine men and three women Wednesday.

A victim may change her testimony because she doesn't want involvement with the legal system, ``especially if the system has failed to keep her safe in the past,'' Piper said.

Darcy Neal was beaten by her husband about 12 years ago, a friend, Kami Barros, testified.

The victim may be unwilling to face her abuser in the courtroom, Piper said. ``She feels a sense of shame. She just wants to put this behind her.''

Piper said if there are children involved, the victim may think, ``Let's not make the situation worse because I am going to have to deal with this person for years with joint custody.'' And the victim may have neither job skills nor assets and worry about supporting herself, she said.

Piper noted that 95 percent of the victims in abusive relationships are women. The reasons for denying an abusive relationship frequently overlap reasons for staying in an abusive relationship, she said.

``There are a few slaps here and there. But as this violence escalates, she doesn't really see it growing and denies it,'' Piper said.

Another local expert agreed with Piper.

It is common for victims of sexual and physical abuse to retract their statements, said Pamela Stigall, an alcohol and drug counselor with the Women Empowered Safe and Sober program of Juneau Recovery Hospital.

Usually, it's male relatives of the suspect who counsel the woman to change her testimony, taking her to task, Stigall said in an interview. She said they make statements such as ``If you were just a better woman, he would not have done that.''

Stigall said she has seen many cases in which a woman barely survived a beating and still recanted. And in her Nov. 26 grand jury testimony, Darcy Neal said she didn't think she would survive the beating.

The Neal trial was expected to go to the jury today.

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