Editor’s note: It’s not a man-bites-dog story. It’s a man-begs-dog-to-take-control story.
Prosecuting attorneys in the horrific Ciboro case are just hoping against hope that the judge will let a dog named Anna into the courtroom to comfort two alleged victims of child rape. This is a genuinely great idea—and an admission that the humans in the case are not up to the task.
And who would be? One victim is under ten, and the other is 13. Here’s a statement of the obvious:
Lucas County [Ohio] prosecutor Julia Bates said testifying in the case could be especially troubling for the victims because the Ciboros allegedly raped them. And because Timothy and Esten could represent themselves in trial, they would have the opportunity to ask the victims questions directly in court.
“They have to go on the stand and tell their story, so these are the bravest children we have in our community to withstand all this pressure,” assistant prosecutor Jen Reed said.
Absolutely, praise their bravery—but why are these children called to be so brave? Media reports do not indicate any motion to require the Ciboro men to undergo psychological evaluations, despite their erratic courtroom behavior and bizarre TV interviews after they were arrested in May. Psychiatric evaluations might produce information that helps the prosecution. If the men resist a court-ordered evaluation, their reactions could prove informative.
The exercise might also focus greater attention on the effects that testifying in open court would have on two young girls being interrogated by their own alleged rapists. Unlike the defendants, the children have already been examined by mental health professionals, for their own wellbeing and also to furnish medical evidence. They have probably had no choice about seeing physicians and being interviewed by police, social workers, and others.
The overpowering demeanors of the Ciboro men could present major challenges for young girls called to testify. Both defendants are convinced that God is on their side in this asymmetrical fight against two girls they have apparently isolated for years, through supposed Christian home-schooling and by warding off neighbors and relatives. The girls’ time in foster care might be building up their emotional strength, but the uncertainty of their future might have introduced new challenges.
Does the prosecution have a strategic reason not to order the Ciboro men to be evaluated? Is Judge Linda Jennings in a position to order such evaluations without a motion from the prosecution? The accused are apparently competent to stand trial. When the judge canceled Timothy’s right to represent himself (a right he now seeks to regain), she referred to his courtroom behavior, not his mental capacity.
Anna the Comfort Dog
Trinity Lutheran Church in Glendale, Ohio, oversees the work of the golden retriever named Anna. In addition to working in Ohio, this furry member of the Trinity Comfort Dog Ministry has aided flood victims in Louisiana and a congregation displaced by a church fire in Minnesota.
You’ve just got to love the turn of phrase about the dog’s role in court (emphasis added):
Lucas County has been using Anna, a comfort dog donating its time from Trinity Lutheran Church.
Bates enumerates the reasons why a child witness needs a dog like Anna:
“It’s a way of soothing them,” Bates said. “Making the situation so much less awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable, traumatic, all the things we know are involved in a youngster coming to court to tell a terrible story.”
Look, dogs are fantastic. But the adult humans in the Lucas County Courthouse are asking young girls to answer questions posed by one or both men who allegedly raped them—and prosecutors want to use a dog as a human shield. The court can and should do more to safeguard these girls.
Propinqua is the Latin word for neighboring or nearby (singular feminine adjective). It is used in law and philosophy, and in the scientific names of plants and animals, such as the native bee Osmia lignaria propinqua.
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