SEXUAL ABUSE AND TRAUMA BONDING: A THREE-PART SERIES
Part Three: Sexual Abuse and New York’s Legal Protection Against Victim Manipulation
By Dana Gambardella, Law Intern
At our firm, we recognize that victims of sexual abuse don’t suffer exclusively through physical violence or threat thereof. Instead, perpetrators often use psychological manipulation to create a bond between them and their victims. This trauma-induced bond can result in the victim feeling strongly dependent on the abuser, thus allowing the abuser to largely control the thoughts and actions of the victim.
In sexual abuse and domestic violence cases, due to the nature of such crimes, it is often true that the victim is the only available witness to the crime committed by their abuser. Thus, the abuser has a strong incentive to convince their victim to refuse to testify, recant their testimony, or stop cooperating with the police. Although a victim generally won’t be required to testify at trial, we believe the defendant should not be the one to decide whether or not the victim takes the stand.
How Abusers Manipulate Victim Testimony
Pre-trial incarceration of the abuser does not prevent them from using coercive tactics to severely hinder their victim’s independence and will. Pre-trial detainees still have access to their victims through telephone. In fact, it is not unusual for a perpetrator to contact their victim hundreds of times while in detention. Having no physical access to their victim can aid the perpetrator in convincing their victims that they have become a better person worthy of a second, third, or hundredth chance.
During these phone calls, the abuser will use tactics such as minimizing the abuse or shifting the blame to the victim, thus altering the victim’s perception or memory of the events. An abuser may use stories or lies regarding their time in jail to make their victim empathize with them. Unfortunately, these tactics have been extremely successful. About 80% of abuse victims recant their testimony as a result of manipulation by their abuser. Under New York law, this type of communication constitutes witness tampering. 
New York’s Response to Victim Manipulation
A recent New York Court of Appeals decision explains that once a defendant is on notice that any phone calls they make while in detention are being recorded, their right to privacy is diminished. The government’s interest in protecting its citizens and the justice system led the court to decide that this is a form of witness tampering. Thus, evidence of this type of manipulation discovered through recorded phone conversations while the defendant is in detention may be introduced at trial against the abuser.
If you or someone you love has been a victim of abuse, our firm is here to listen to your story. We want to help you recover financial compensation and receive the justice you deserve.