We have handled many sexual assault cases. Sometimes, those cases require special experts to evaluate the harm done to the victim and what type of treatment would be needed. In this expired, we discuss with a treating clinical psychologist about the role of experts in sexual assault cases.
Justin Hill: Welcome to Hill Law Firm Cases, a podcast discussing real world cases handled by Justin Hill and The Hill Law Firm. For confidentiality reasons, names and amounts of any settlements have been removed. However, the facts are real and these are the cases we handle on a day-to-day basis.
Justin Hill: In about 2013, me and my law firm were hired to represent the mother of a young lady who was assaulted whenever she was just an infant. We were representing her because under the laws in Texas you can’t represent a minor. What we were trying to do is establish that the family that allowed this to happen were partly responsible. The laws in Texas are such that, typically, somebody can’t be held responsible if they’re not the bad actor, or they didn’t know the bad actions were going on. What we were able to establish in the case was that not only were they also bad actors, but they had plenty of reason to believe what was happening in their house was a criminal act and something they could have protected against.
In that case, it presented a lot of difficult damage issues that we had to work out. We had to be able to describe how a trauma at a young age could affect a young lady as she grew up. In that case we hired a psychologist, Dr. Casey Howard, to help us out. We hired her to be an independent voice to evaluate and determine whether or not this young lady was suffering any ill effects or damages as she grew older Dr. Howard’s joined us here today.
Dr. Howard, would you walk through the steps that you went through in making your independent evaluation on whether or not this young lady was suffering any effects of trauma?
Dr. Casey Howard: Absolutely. I first met with the client, we’ll call her Jane Doe, and got an idea of how she’s functioning today, the issue she was having at school, the issue she was having at home, and what had basically been going on with her. Then I also met with mother independently and talked about mother’s view of the– Her perception of her daughter’s issues and the different steps that they had taken as far as she had been in and out of therapy and the issues that she’d had.
Something very, very interesting about this case is that the daughter, at that point, was not aware of her history of sexual abuse, and so I was really not gaining a trauma history like I would in most cases I was gaining a symptom presentation. I also talked to her current therapist to find out her perception of things. Then I administered a psychological battery of tests to Jane Doe as well and some measures that required parental identification.
Justin Hill: Okay. You had an opportunity to meet with the young lady, her mother, and also perform psychological testing to see if any symptoms were presenting or any diagnoses were available.
Dr. Howard: Yes.
Justin Hill: One of the difficult things in this was, as you said, that she didn’t have any conscious memory of it occurring at the time, but we were also unsure if she had learned of it later on in life as it had been a publicized criminal conviction.
Dr. Howard: Absolutely.
Justin Hill: With this a lot of times independent experts as you were in that case have to do outside research and see what the literature is out there to determine whether or not it supports or contradicts what you’re thinking. Did you do any independent research as it relates to this case?
Dr. Howard: I did. Because this case was so unique. The second I met with this girl I thought, “She is a child. She is a classic PTSD from sexual abuse person.” If I didn’t know her history– Just after meeting her and evaluating her, she had all the symptoms of someone who’s had sexual abuse; including some sexual acting out, a lot of anxiety, depression, nightmares, things like that. Yet she had no cognizant awareness that we knew of at that point of the abuse.
I did a lot of research on infant childhood sexual abuse, infant abuse, and how it plays out in later adult life. There is actually a pretty significant body of research out there that shows even if you were too young to remember the abuse then you still have symptoms and impacts that appear later on in life.
Justin Hill: I think that was one of the really eye-opening things for me in that case was that the defense insurance companies were saying the whole time, “Even if this did happen and even if you can prove liability, that we don’t think you can ever prove this child suffered any injuries or damages because she doesn’t have a working memory.” What we were able to determine based on the literature and the peer reviewed literature out there was that that’s not true. Correct?
Dr. Howard: Absolutely. Yes.
Justin Hill: You continue to work as an outside expert witness on occasion but that’s a real small portion of what you do. Fair?
Dr. Howard: Absolutely, less than 5%.
Justin Hill: Most of what you do is actually clinically treat, diagnose and help people that have had real traumas in their life and are dealing with the after effects of that.
Dr. Howard: Yes. I have a PTSD and trauma treatment clinic.
Justin Hill: Okay. We’re going to talk with you a little bit more, Dr. Howard. Thank you for enlightening us. I think the point of this is that we like to point out when we have new clients come in that even in very difficult legal situations that we do whatever it takes to hire whatever experts are needed or whatever consultants are needed to make sure that we get true and correct answers so that we can properly and adequately represent our clients.