SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJZ) — Two advocacy groups for victims of sexual assault are calling for changes to Maryland law a week after a judge withdrew a former Baltimore County police officer’s rape conviction and sentenced him to house arrest for the 2017 rape of a 22-year-old woman.
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and TurnAround, Inc., on Monday released a statement after the judge in the case, Keith Truffer, threw out one of former officer Anthony Westerman’s convictions because he said there was no psychological injury to the victim, despite the woman’s indication that she had sought therapy since the attack.READ MORE: National Weather Service: 13 Maryland Counties Under Severe Thunderstorm Watch
“The judge described one of the assaults as nothing more than a ‘boorish act’ and found, based on the evidence produced that ‘there was no evidence of any psychological injury to the victim,'” the groups said. “Rape causes psychological harm. The law should be changed to reflect that a survivor’s word is enough to prove psychological injury.”
Roxanne Melgar, a social worker with TurnAround Inc., suggested Truffer “doesn’t understand trauma.”
“Imagine sitting in the court room with the perpetrator in front of you and having to prove that you are telling the truth as well as having to prove that it impacted you. Most likely, you will shut down to not feel all the fear and panic from seeing the perpetrator again, possibly dissociating to cope with the flood of emotions/memories as well as possibly experiencing flashbacks,” she said.
After withdrawing one of the rape convictions, Truffer combined the sentences for the remaining counts, saying he had only intended to convict Westerman of one count of second-degree rape.
Westerman was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with all but four suspended, and placed under house arrest.
In August, Westerman was convicted of two counts of second-degree rape and two counts of second-degree assault.READ MORE: High Court Marshal Seeks Enforcement Of Anti-Picketing Laws
In the 2017 case, Westerman brought a woman he met at a bar back to his house and reportedly forced himself on top of the her. The woman said she was not conscious at the time.
Two years later, Westerman put his hand on the waist of another woman he met at a bar and started kissing her without her consent.
The officer was suspended without pay from the Baltimore County Police Department after the agency learned of his charges in December 2019. Following the judge’s ruling, a department spokesperson said Westerman had been fired.
Speaking with WJZ, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said his office was expecting a stricter sentence.
“By the Judge taking away one of the counts and not finding that there was a psychological injury, it lowered the guidelines,” he wrote in an email. “Nonetheless the guideline sentence should have been an imposed sentence of 5 to 10 years imprisonment.”
The county’s top prosecutor expressed concern over the message the sentence sends sends to other sexual assault survivors, a sentiment shared by the advocacy groups.MORE NEWS: Fourth Of July Fireworks Return To Baltimore's Inner Harbor
“Every light sentence like this one says to the survivor – this is not a big deal,” they said. “Ultimately, this entrenched blame-the-victim mentality causes immense harm to all survivors and perpetuates a lack of trust in the justice system.”