A panel of defense and prosecuting attorneys held a discussion about their experiences with sexual assault cases in the law school courtroom on Friday afternoon.
Attorneys on the panel discussed the hardest and the most rewarding parts of their jobs, as well as how the investigation process works.
The event was hosted by the Women in Law Association in partnership with ICARE. Paige Petersen, a second-year law student and president of Women in Law, said sexual assault is an issue she wanted to bring light to.
“I believe the first step in alleviating an issue is to educate people on it, and I think starting with the legal aspects of sexual assault and of rape, is huge,” she said. “Reaching out to students and undergraduates to come (to the event) and that beginning step of education is massive in taking steps forward.”
Petersen said event attendees learned about the defense and prosecution side by attending the event.
“It’s so easy from the public standpoint to think a defense person is awful because they defend a rapist or that a victim is just making it up for attention, and there’s so much more to it than that,” she said. “I think that’s something we all need to learn when we hear these allegations coming up that we don’t know the whole story.”
Mindy Werder, a defense attorney, said she takes on cases that make her personally uncomfortable. She said she would actually like to see her defendants get help, and that juries expect adult victims to be perfect.
Alexis Tracy, Clay County state’s attorney, said the rewarding and hard parts of her job are a double-edged sword.
“The most rewarding part of my job is if I can ask them to come in and rehash a traumatic situation, I can do everything I can to make it better in that regard. It feels good when I feel like I’ve done my part to help improve that,” Tracy said in the discussion. “The most difficult part is rehashing that trauma. It’s hard too and trying to figure out the best outcome for that with everybody.”
Amanda Eden, Lincoln County deputy state’s attorney, said she’s had to work with child victims who didn’t want to go to the courtroom or would only feel safe talking outside of the courtroom.
“That’s heartbreaking,” Eden said in the discussion. “It really takes a toll on you, it’s hard to get to sleep at night.”
Teree Nesvold, Brookings County chief deputy state’s attorney, said she’s seen too many sexual assault cases in her time, and it’s hard to get a victim to testify in court because they don’t want to relive their traumatic experiences.
“No one wins in a rape trial,” Nesvold said during the discussion. “A lot of the times just the hug you get from the empowerment that they feel for having their story (heard) after they get off the stand when you take a recess … that is very empowering, making someone feel empowered enough to share their story.”