TS - Experts say victims often recant out of fear, love

As the trial of former Blue Lake Police Chief David Gundersen continues, the spotlight is aimed at his wife who seems to be giving contradictory testimony in the spousal rape case.

In court Wednesday, the jury viewed a videotape of investigators' initial Feb. 8 interview with Gundersen's wife Darcie Seal, in which she told investigators that her husband repeatedly had nonconsensual sex with her. It was shown after Seal testified in court that Gundersen never raped her and that she had lied to investigators.

While not commenting directly on Gundersen's case, experts say it's not uncommon for victims to change their mind on pressing charges, or reinterpreting what they've said.

”People have very mixed emotions. ... Some people are ready to go forward on day one, but then not ready to go a day later,” said Nancy Lemon, a lecturer at the University of California Berkeley School of Law and a domestic violence expert witness.
She said victims of domestic violence change their testimony, or recant, for different reasons.

They may have hope that the person they love will change, outside pressures from family or clergy who don't believe in divorce, financial dependence, or they want to keep a father figure for their children, she said.

But the No. 1 reason, Lemon said, is the fear of retaliation.

”Even when the perpetrator is locked up he may have people he knows that will act on his behalf,” she said. “The fear s a really really big deal. Victims are aware that the criminal justice system can't protect them.”

Lemon said the situation can be perpetuated if the abuser is in law enforcement.

”Those women are in more danger because the police will usually protect their own,” she said.

Often victims will need some sort of outside support to get them through the process, Lemon said.

Dawn Watkins, the crisis services director for Humboldt Domestic Violence Services, said her organization provides victims with an objective perspective on their cases. While victims may be uncomfortable talking to an attorney or an investigator, it may be easier to open up to an outside party who understands the legal system.

”They feel a lot safer fleshing out things with us,” Watkins said. “A lot of the clients don't understand their role.”

Watkins said the organization helps victims who are going through court cases by helping them interpret and navigate the system.

”They don't think about all this when they call the police ... they just want it to stop,” she said.

Sometimes it means just having someone who is not your friend or family member sit with you through the proceedings, she said, adding that it's not uncommon for victims to suddenly want out of the court case, and recant their testimony.

”If someone's been in an abusive relationship they're going to be questioning themselves anyway,” Watkins.

But, having support and counseling can go a long way toward keeping a victim from giving up on a case, she said.
”We can be the one consistent thing,” Watkins said.

For more information: Call Humboldt Domestic Violence Service's 24-Hour Crisis/Support Line toll free at 1-866-668-6543 or 443-6042, or visit www.hdvs.org.

☛ TS Experts say victims often recant out of fear, love
Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 08/14/2008 01:27:31 AM PDT