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Student in PFA cases escapes criminal charges

Protection from abuse (PFA) orders provide protection for families and other individuals, such as college students, from stalking behavior or assault. Even with these protections, proving that an alleged perpetrator should be criminally prosecuted for the underlying crime requires more evidence.

A county court may issue a PFA which is a civil order to protect adults and children from physical or sexual abuse perpetrated by members of a family or household. A PFA prohibits a perpetrator from contacting or being in the proximity of victims and family. A sexual violation PFA may be issued in Pennsylvania if the alleged perpetrator committed a sexual violence act, which includes most sexual offenses and sexual contact with children. A person may face criminal prosecution for the underlying offense if the crime is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Last November, two judges issued separate PFA orders against an alleged perpetrator because of charges that he sexually assaulted two women in separate Allegheny College dormitories in September and October. The alleged victims, the charged perpetrator, and other witnesses testified at the two separate PFA hearings.

At the time of the assaults, the charged perpetrator was an 18-year-old freshman and a member of the college's swimming and diving team. He is now enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University. Both victims were 18-year-old freshmen students at Allegheny College.

The Crawford County District Attorney said that his office conducted a thorough investigation, but it would not file criminal charges for the alleged assaults. He said that excessive drinking, too many inconsistent statements, and gaps in memory with many witnesses were among the factors that made it difficult to determine what transpired. The District Attorney also pointed out that a PFA civil hearing only requires proof that it was more likely than not that the alleged offense occurred, while a criminal case is governed by the higher guilty beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

However, the alleged perpetrator must keep away from these two students according to the PFA orders. These orders will continue to remain valid for three years.

An attorney can help victims of sexual or physical abuse to protect themselves and their families through entry of a PFA. They can help victims comply with court procedures and seek the maximum protections under Pennsylvania law. Thus, those who feel in need of legal protection should consider discussing their set of circumstances with an experienced attorney.

Source: Meadville Tribune, "No criminal charges for ex-Allegheny College student in PFA cases," Keith Gushard, Jan. 27, 2018

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