Too often victims of crime are treated merely as a piece of evidence in a case. Yet, the law affords victims rights. Among these are the rights to be notified, present, and heard at criminal justice proceedings; and the rights to privacy, protection, and restitution.
Together we can ensure that these rights are not mere words on paper. 2013 is our year to make victims’ rights a reality. We must envision justice and implement practical steps to move us forward. A victim-inclusive courtroom is just one example of a concrete change to improve the system.
A victim-inclusive courtroom is one that incorporates, among other things, 1) A third table alongside that of the defendant and prosecutor because victims’ rights and interests are unique and personally held by the victim; 2) A meeting room for the victim to consult with his or her attorney in a privileged setting; 3) Separate waiting rooms for the victim and defendant so that each has his or her privacy and protection rights respected; and 4) Technology capacity to allow for alternative means of presence and testimony to diminish the re-victimization that victims may experience.
The need for such solutions is increasingly pressing. A recent incident in an Ohio courthouse* demonstrates the need to integrate victims’ rights and interests into every aspect of the system - even the architecture. While seeking a protective order against her abusive ex-boyfriend, a survivor was forced to face the perpetrator by meeting with him and the judge in a small room. The judge and deputy left the meeting room, leaving the victim alone with the perpetrator who proceeded to verbally and physically attack her. This victim came forward to ask for help, to seek protection, and was then attacked in the very building where she sought safety.
Many things went wrong in this situation and there are many practical solutions that can be enacted to ensure that future survivors never face this risk - from courthouse design, to security considerations, to remote applications for protective orders, to education of judges and other criminal justice professionals on the dynamics of interpersonal violence and victims’ rights.
Join us in 2013 as we fight to make victims’ rights to privacy, protection, restitution, and voice more meaningful. What can you do? Start by getting informed - attend and NCVLI training provided in-person throughout the country and online through webinars. For more information on these events, click here
*To watch a video of this incident and read the accompanying news story, click here. Please note that the video shows the attack in its entirety and may be triggering for some people. Please watch with care.