ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — On Friday, Nicholas August, the man accused of sexually assaulting a woman during a Rockford bank standoff in January, will appear in court.
August already pleaded Not Guilty and wants to represent himself at the trial, making it a real possibility that he’ll question the alleged victim during witness testimony.
Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross says that if a defendant demonstrates that they understand the nature of the charges they are facing, the possible penalties, and that a lawyer can be provided to them free-of-charge, then the court must allow them to represent themselves if they so desire.
But she also says victims can take steps to protect themselves if they could be questioned on the stand by their alleged attacker.
“Testifying can be a very traumatic experience for a victim,” Hite Ross said.
She says it could be even more traumatic for August’s alleged victim.
August wants to represent himself at trial, which means he could question his victim on the witness stand.
“There’s definitely, always the risk, of individuals being re-traumatized,” said Kevin Polky, the executive director of KP Counseling, a therapy group in Rockford. “Most likely, this is the first time they’ve seen the person that’s hurt them, since that time.”
Polky says the feeling of surprise often contributes to trauma, and adds that preparation is key to helping victims feel prepared.
“The more we can be prepared, talking about what we do know about, that will help bring some of that anxiety and some of that unknown to the known,” he said.
Hite Ross says she’s faced the scenario before in her professional career.
“We would ask for certain parameters, that the defendant not be allowed to get close to the victim, that they stand a certain distance away when they’re questioning the victim,” she explained.
Hite Ross says those steps can provide the victim with a level of person space, without infringing on the defendant’s rights to represent himself.
“But, at the same time, it recognizes the personal space of the victim or witness, who might be intimidated, should the defendant, acting as his own attorney, get too close to them during the proceedings,” she said.
August is due in court at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, February 21st.
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