NASW Hails Supreme Court Decision Protecting Victims of Child Rape

Jun 25, 2008

For Immediate Release
June 25, 2008

Washington—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a precedent-setting 5-4 decision, reversing a May 2007 ruling of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and holding that the imposition of the death penalty for child rape violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and its Louisiana Chapter filed an amicus curiae brief in Kennedy v. Louisiana arguing that the death penalty for child rape harms the victims it is intended to help. The Court adopted the reasoning in NASW’s brief as support for its conclusion that the death penalty is a disproportionate consequence for a crime that does not result in the death of the victim. NASW was joined on the brief by several coalitions of sexual assault treatment providers from across the nation.

The Supreme Court stated, “It is not at all evident that the child rape victim’s hurt is lessened when the law permits the death of the perpetrator.” It indicated that the repeated testimony required of the child victim in a capital case “forces a moral choice on the child, who is not of mature age to make that choice.” It also pointed out the concerns cited in NASW’s brief that the death penalty provides an incentive for the perpetrator to kill his victim who is often the only witness, is likely to increase the emotional trauma to the victim due to repeated court testimony about acts of brutality, and may increase the underreporting of child sexual abuse, as perpetrators are often family members.

These factors, taken together, along with the Court’s substantial discussion of the lack of clear consensus among the states on the death penalty for child rape and the evolving standards of decency, formed the basis for the Court’s definitive ruling.

“We are heartened that the Court found the real-life experiences of victims and their families, as well as research on the reporting of child sexual abuse, persuasive. This ruling supports the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse while providing an opportunity for victims to heal,” said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH.

NASW is the largest association of social workers in the world, with 145,000 members and 56 chapters throughout the United States and abroad. Professional social workers provide treatment and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and other crimes. NASW also advocates the adoption of policies that promote assistance for victims of crime and supports research on the effects of crime on victims. NASW’s brief was prepared by the pro bono legal team of David M. Gossett and Kevin Ranlett from Mayer Brown LLP in Washington, DC and Joseph Thai of the University of Oklahoma College of Law.


Sherri Morgan
Office of General Counsel

Gail Woods Waller
NASW Communications