It could soon become far more difficult for sexual assault survivors to prove their cases in New Hampshire, where legislators are considering a bill that would require "corroboration" for victims' testimonies if their alleged attacker has no prior record.
The bill's supporters claim the legislation will help cut down on supposed false accusations and wrongful convictions. Republican Rep. William Marsh, who filed the legislation, hopes it protects adults from the lies of children.
According to ABC News, Marsh created the bill after hearing the story of a New Hampshire psychotherapist who was convicted in 2016 for molesting a minor. Marsh maintains that the man was innocent, and that the criminal justice system failed him.
"If the person charged is innocent, they will have little ability to defend themselves, as the only testimony is that of a young child who may not be able to provide a reliable story," Marsh said during a hearing for the bill on Tuesday.
He explained that "corroboration" would include an eye witness and physical evidence, though ABC News reported that these specifics aren't actually included in the text of the legislation.
Unsurprisingly, Marsh's proposal has been met with considerable backlash.
Sgt. Sean Ford of the Concord Police Department termed it "the nation's first pedophile protection act," while sexual assault advocacy groups spoke out for victims' rights.
"This is telling us that children will be turned away because they don't have a witness or DNA to their crimes," a sexual assault survivor identified only as Angie testified on Tuesday. "How sick is that? What message is this sending?"
In short, it sends the message that assault survivors aren't to be believed — a message victims hear loud and clear when judges or the media claim rape cases are no more than a "he said she said" game, or that a victim's sexual history or style of dress determines whether or not their account of assault is true.
What's more, Marsh's bill is his answer to a problem that may be less common than he might think, with false accusations making up between 2% and 10% of of sexual assault allegations.
The legislation may not get too far: According to the Concord Monitor, deputy Rockingham County attorney Patricia LaFrance was among those who opposed the bill on the grounds that it's almost certainly unconstitutional. The bill holds victims of sexual assault to different standards than victims of any other crime, LaFrance testified, making it a violation of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law.
NH1 reported Angie said, "This bill is an abolishment to the empowerment of a child who finally breaks free from their offender and finds their voice and courage to talk about their abuse."