Victim shaming

Man convicted of rape and murder fights to make his victim’s sexual history public

Seth Mazzaglia (Dover N.H. Police Dept)

In a case that could have serious consequences for victims of sexual assault, a man convicted of raping and killing a woman in New Hampshire is petitioning the New Hampshire Supreme Court to allow details of his victim’s sexual past to be used in his appeal.

In the earlier trial of Seth Mazzaglia, 32, who was convicted of strangling 19-year-old University of New Hampshire student Lizzi Marriott with a rope, raping her corpse, and disposing it in a river, his attorneys claimed that Marriott had died during a consensual sex act involving constraints. Mazzaglia’s then-girlfriend testified, however, that she had witnessed Mazzaglia strangle Marriott to death because she had refused his sexual advances. The defense attempted to use details of Marriott’s sexual history to imply that she might have voluntarily participated in a dangerous sex act, but the judge deemed the records inadmissible under New Hampshire’s “rape shield” law, which serves to protect victims of sexual assault from having their prior sexual behaviors used against them.

Mazzaglia was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but he appealed the decision in January arguing that evidence of Marriott’s sexual past should have been admissible to the court. “The appellate process can’t be fair if it’s secret,” said Christopher Johnson, Mazzaglia’s lawyer. “We don’t do secret appeals in this country, by and large.”

Rus Rilee, the attorney representing Marriott’s parents, has said that the court’s decision could have broad repercussions for other cases involving sexual assault. “You can imagine what the implications of that would be on a national level if crime victims, especially those of violent sexual crimes, knew that if they reported the crime and the defendant chose to appeal, their sexual history would be public record,” argued Rilee. “It would have a chilling effect on victims coming forward.”

The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, alongside numerous victims’ rights groups from across the country, filed a brief in support of Marriott’s parents’ case on Monday. The brief cited a recent national survey of 23,000 undergraduate students who said concerns about confidentiality and being victim-blamed were the principal reasons they would be reluctant to report sexual assault. The advent of the internet and social media, the brief noted, only exacerbate the personal risk taken on by sexual assault victims who bring their assailant to court.

“Her right of privacy is the only right this animal didn’t take away from her when he raped and murdered her,” said Rilee. “It’s all she has left.” Lawyers are slated to argue the case before New Hampshire’s Supreme Court in September.

Watch video of Marriott’s parents’ plea below:

Read the full story at The Huffington Post.

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Federal bill could give basic rights to sexual assault survivors for the first time

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