Victim's Experience: Then and Now
This is a hypothetical description of a case of a rape victim
in 1981, based partly on actual composite experiences of victims
around that time. It is designed to highlight the plight
of the victim as described in the purpose of establishing
the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime.
This then perspective can be compared to a now perspective
in 2005, based upon the victims' rights and services in
your state or jurisdiction. How would she be treated today?
Your response and reflections can complement this scenario
with a powerful overview of the many positive changes that have
occurred to define and protect victims' rights, and to create
victim assistance services, over the past 25 years that would,
hopefully, dramatically change the way this victim was treated.
She was a 67-year-old grandmother of seven, recently retired from
a rewarding career as a schoolteacher. Just weeks after moving
to a small town where she and her husband had built a home for
retirement, a 26-year-old man with a long history of assaults against
women raped and beat her in her kitchen.
When the police arrived, she was intimidated by the barrage of
incredible questions: Did you know the man who attacked you? Did
you grant him permission to come into your house? Were
your doors locked? Your alarm set? Did you fight back?
Her husband drove her to the emergency room of the hospital where,
after waiting two hours, a nurse called out, The doctor is
ready to see the woman who was raped. Filled with horror
and shame, she was put through an invasive examination by a young
intern who neither acknowledged nor showed concern for her pain
and trauma. When the intern failed to document her bruises and
black eye, she suggested that he might want to note them for future
reference at a trial. He chuckled, but obliged. He took her clothes,
and offered none to replace them, so she wore a scratchy paper
dress home, barefoot. Her horror was exacerbated when, two weeks
later, she received a bill for $975.00 for the rape examination
from the hospital. No victim compensation program existed in her
state to cover this cost.
She received no crisis intervention, counseling or victim services
because none existed. When she turned to her minister for support,
his words of comfort were simply that, It's
After countless calls to the local police, she was finally informed
that a suspect had been arrested. When she correctly identified
him in the police lineup, she went into shock. They offered her
a glass of water to help ease her obvious trauma.
She quickly learned through the grapevine of her assailant's
long history of violence against women, including rape, molestation
of a minor, and several assaults on girlfriends. She was amazed
to learn that all these offenses had been plea bargained to misdemeanors,
and that he had not spent a day in prison but, rather, served several
sentences on probation. She was even more shocked to learn that nothing about
his criminal history would be admissible in the courtroom in her
case. Around this time, she began to receive anonymous phone calls,
threatening her family and her with serious harm if she testified.
The police said they could not prove the calls came
from her assailant, and offered her no options for protection.
The defendant sought a plea agreement to a misdemeanor simple
assault. When she learned that the prosecutor was considering this,
she was utterly horrified and extremely upset. Were it not for
the intercession from a judge with whom she had gone to high school,
her case would likely have been plea bargained. The defendant was
charged with first-degree rape and third-degree assault.
Sixteen months later following endless delaying tactics
by the defense that were not preventable because she had
no right to a speedy trial (although the defendant did) the
trial commenced. The defense attorney ripped her to shreds. His
angle was that this case involved consensual sex, that
she welcomed this rapist into her home, and that her
black eye and bruises resulted simply from rough sex that
she initiated. Her entire sexual history much of it erroneous was
presented as evidence because there were no rape shield
laws to prevent this.
She testified in front of a room full of gawking strangers, and
then was dismissed and told not to return until the verdict. None
of her family members were allowed to attend the trial, as the
defense attorney successfully motioned that their presence
would prejudice the jury. The news media swarmed her when
she arrived and left the courtroom and camped out in her front
yard when she refused to comment. Her trauma was reduced in the
newspaper to a horrendous Granny Attacked and Didn't
Fight Back headline.
The prosecutor put forth a strong case, pointing to a wealth of
physical evidence that she believed, beyond a shadow of a doubt,
proved forcible rape. She learned of the case's progression
and status only through frequent calls to her friend and lifeline,
the kind judge whom she knew from high school.
When the jury returned, she sought any indication of its verdict,
but none of the jurors would meet her gaze. Surely justice
will prevail, she thought as she grasped her husband's
hand. But it didn't.
The jury of four men and eight women found the defendant not
guilty on the charge of rape, and guilty on the
charge of third-degree assault. Once again, he was sentenced to
one year of probation, with no order of restitution or any other
conditions that addressed accountability. She was not allowed to
submit a victim impact statement, because that right did not exist.
She was offered no input into his conditions of community supervision,
because that right did not exist. She was offered no measure of
protection, because that right did not exist. She received no victim
compensation, because that right did not exist.
She was left with only one question: What about my rights? But
|National Crime Victims' Rights
Week: Justice Isn't Served Until Crime Victims Are
||April 1016, 2005