There is often conversations and concerns about criminal offenders and their rights and their alleged mistreatment in the court system.
What is so often left out of the conversation are the victims. Crime victim’s lives are forever different because of what happened to them. They struggle with every part of the court process. Victims often don’t feel safe when the offenders are released from jail on bond. They are scared for their safety and the safety of their family. Victims are terrified to testify in court. Often spending hours on the witness stand having to defend their choices. How much did you drink? What were you wearing? How long did the assault last? Why didn’t you call the police right away? Why didn’t you leave?
Imagine having to sit in a courtroom across from the person who raped you, strangled you or hit you. Imagine having to tell your traumatic story over and over again. Imagine people accusing you of lying or questioning everything you did that day.
Intimate partner crime victims have or had a relationship with the offender. These victims are often married, dating or have children with the offender. This makes these victims especially vulnerable. The offender often uses money, housing, children and family to manipulate or threaten victims. Victims are often afraid to call police. They are afraid that the offender will retaliate if they call. Once the victim does call the police the fear often doesn’t go away: the fear changes.
Over the past six years, I have called numerous victims to tell them that the offender has been released from jail or prison. I have to tell them that the person who strangled them in front of their children has just been released from jail. Or tell them the person that held them at gun point was released from prison due to COVID-19 concerns. Or tell them that the person who raped them in their own bedroom has been released on bond. Or that the person who has been stalking them for weeks has been released on bond.
These calls cause enormous fear in the victims. They are afraid that the offender will come hurt them again or that they will see them at the gas station or the grocery store or that they will have to send their children to the offenders home for visits. These victims live in daily fear. They are afraid to leave their homes. Afraid to go to work, to go to school, to go to the store and to the gas station. I can only imagine the fear they live in.
During those conversations about the offender’s rights, please remember the wife who was strangled in front of her children, remember the young lady who woke up to being raped, woman who was stalked for weeks by her ex-boyfriend. Please keep in mind the victim and their families that live in fear.
They have rights too.
About the author: Niki Dunwiddie has worked for the Grand Traverse County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for six years. She is the domestic violence victims assistance coordinator. She assists victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, strangulation and other crime victims that involve intimate partners. She is a licensed master social worker-clinical and a credentialed advocate. Dunwiddie also owns a private practice called Evolution Services, where she provides counseling services to clients with anxiety and depression.