by Andy Thompson
Leaders of agencies who assist domestic abuse and sexual assault victims in the Fox Valley say the guilty verdicts in the emotionally charged trial of attorney David Dudas will have a long-lasting impact.
“It lets people who are being abused know that there is a criminal justice system in place that will support them,” said Caroline Lasecki, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in the Fox Cities.
She is convinced that the verdicts will resonate for years and will prompt more victims of abuse to trust the criminal justice system.
Lasecki praised police, prosecutors and the jury after Dudas was convicted Wednesday of 30 of 31 criminal charges. He was accused of beating and sexually assaulting his wife from March 2012 to July 2013 in a series of increasingly violent episodes, culminating in an incident July 21 that led to his arrest and her hospitalization.
Dudas, 49, of Dale, was found guilty of first-degree sexual assault, second-degree reckless injury, substantial battery, 14 counts of second-degree sexual assault and 11 counts of strangulation and suffocation. He also was convicted of misdemeanor counts of battery and intimidation of a witness acting on behalf of a victim. He was found not guilty of one count of strangulation.
“It’s a huge statement for him to be found guilty of 30 of 31 counts,” Lasecki said. “I think that this not only helps one family, it’s going to help an entire community for years to come.”
Lasecki is convinced that the high-profile nature of the case — which was covered extensively by Post-Crescent Media and postcrescent.com — will convince some victims who have suffered abuse in silence and isolation to come forward.
“This should open up people’s eyes,” she said.
“We hope that this case will serve to empower victims to come forward,” said Beth Schnorr, executive director at Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs. “Abusers can seem like nice, normal guys — even respected community members. This case reminds us that anyone can be an abuser, and holding them accountable gives hope to the survivors.”
Schnorr said victims often don’t report abuse because they don’t think they will be believed, or they fear retaliation.
“On so many levels, this case helps to break down so many of those things,” she said. “It shows victims that the system is on their side, and we will work together and work diligently to make sure (offenders) are held accountable.”
If Dudas had been acquitted on all charges, it would have been a major blow to victims of abuse and agencies that work with abuse victims, said Julie Fevola, executive director of Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services.
“If the verdicts would have gone the other way, it would have been a real negative,” Fevola said. “I think it’s a very, very positive message that the victim’s message was heard. It speaks to victims that it pays off to come forward.”
The Dudas trial lasted eight days and featured graphic testimony and videos of sexual relations. It also raised the thorny issue of consent in sexual relations between a husband and wife.
Schnorr — and others who deal with sexual assault and abuse victims on a regular basis — say it’s a crime to forcibly have sex with a woman, regardless of their marital status.
“Society has long held onto the notion that a woman’s sexuality is a commodity that can be owned by her husband and the belief that what happens between husband and wife in the bedroom is a private matter,” Schnorr said. ...