Over its history, the United States has established a reputation for having one of the most fair and well-run criminal justice systems in the world. However, that heard-earned reputation has taken a hard hit in recent years. Through the election of a growing number of soft-on-crime district attorneys, the judiciary has been turned on its head and lost its way.
Under the umbrella term of “criminal justice reform,” the pendulum has swung so far in the wrong direction that victims and survivors of violent crime can no longer rely on the judicial system to protect them. Every night, families across the country sit down for dinner, help their kids with homework and get them ready for bed. Simultaneously, there are mothers looking out their windows, waiting for a signal or the right moment when they and their children can make a mad dash for survival, hoping to escape the partners who abuse them. If all goes well, they simply vanish.
In criminal cases, the state files charges against a defendant based upon the proof provided by the victim. Therefore, the district attorney is the only voice in the courtroom for the victims of crimes. But what happens when certain DAs are derelict in their duties?
We need look no further than Los Angeles County, where the office of DA George Gascón, last year, was questioned whether they were more concerned about the rights of defendants rather than victims. Their incredible response was that they had a disagreement about who the “real victim” was. This statement led to a debate over the role of district attorneys in addressing crime when it is turned into a social issue. This would be all well and good if the setting for this conversation was a classroom. But this is the real world and real consequences are involved.
The impact of DAs who take this position is that there is no one before the court who is now arguing for the victims of crimes. In jurisdictions where this has taken place, not only is the defendant arguing for leniency, so is the prosecutor.
The net effect of soft-on-crime criminal justice reform across America is stark. How can one report an abusive husband or boyfriend if he will not be arrested, but instead is merely cited or immediately released and allowed to continue tormenting his victim … or maybe even worse? If abusers are being-re-cast as the “new victims,” while true victims are no longer recognized as such, then as a society we are telling them, their children and families that they have been written-off.
We are at a point where we are no longer trying to get abusers the help they need. Nor are we seeking to find the causes of problems and attempting to rebuild families. Now it is only about survival. Today, filing criminal charges are nothing more than an afterthought.
My organization launched our “Be Their Voice” campaign and website in an effort to put the focus where it belongs — the survivors of violent crime. We also hope to honor the memories of the ever-growing number of crime victims who are no longer with us. They are unable to stand up to their elected district attorneys and insist they do the right thing. Nor can they vote to make changes to the status quo. But we still can and we must.
Our website’s Voice Box is similar to a meme generator, in which anyone can highlight the survivors and victims of crime. They can also create cards, which can be downloaded or shared to social media. The cards can even honor those whose names cannot be disclosed because of personal safety concerns with an anonymous option. Each card is shared to Facebook and Twitter, and ends with the statement, “I will be their voice. Law and Order Matters.”
Throughout our country, at this very moment, there are individuals and families connecting with groups like mine to plan their escape from violence and abuse. They pray for survival and hope to disappear suddenly, never to see their abuser ever again. They face a potentially uncertain and bleak future, but desperate people do desperate things.
Our criminal justice system should be an integral part in addressing domestic abuse. But bad bail reforms and the push for decriminalization has had a devastating effect. In many urban areas, individuals trapped in abusive relationships can no longer rely on the system to provide them with assistance and time to hide. Instead, defendants are essentially free to continue their abusive behavior, only now with frighteningly heightened intent.
It is time we as a society finally stand up for the growing number of survivors and victims of violent crime. They are real human beings, not statistics, and their faces connect us directly to the failed policies of our criminal justice system. We must rededicate ourselves to protecting these individuals and demand that the judicial system do what we entrust them to do. Stand with Crime Survivors and make a promise to “Be Their Voice.”
About Patricia Wenskunas
Patricia Wenskunas — Founder/CEO of Crime Survivors — nearly died after being brutally assaulted by someone she knew and trusted. Following the attack, Patricia dedicated her life to fighting for victims and their rights by founding Crime Survivors (www.crimesurvivors.org). The non-profit organization is dedicated to ensuring that victims and survivors of violent crime are protected and their rights supported by working closely with law enforcement, the judicial system and the community.