Navy sex assaults often involve alleged victims who have consumed alcohol, presenting challenges for the prosecution, especially if memories of the chain of events are fuzzy.
To assist junior prosecutors in handling alcohol-related sex assault cases, the Navy is getting some help from Teresa Scalzo, an experienced civilian lawyer who worked with the Defense Secretary’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office before coming to the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps in 2009 as the deputy director of the Navy’s Trial Counsel Assistant Program Office.
In her mentoring of junior JAGs, Scalzo says they must focus on convincing a jury that an incident can be considered sexual assault even if it doesn’t follow a traditional definition.
“People tend to believe the typical rape is a stranger jumping out of the bushes, beating up an innocent young woman, she runs immediately to the hospital, tells the police immediately, resists to her utmost ability and there’s lots of medical evidence,” she said. “Because of the way [the Navy’s] law is written, our cases look very little like that, which makes it a lot more difficult to prosecute.”
Scalzo not only advises, but holds a class for JAGs that zeroes in on alcohol-related sex assaults. She pays special attention to cases in which a victim may have blacked out or been unable to provide specific details on the stand.
The class also teaches how to find expert witnesses on toxicology and how to support victims, including having a victim advocate at the trial..