National Crime Victims’ Rights Week: ‘I never thought this would happen to me’ (opinion)
How can I be here, sitting in court, starring at the back of the head of the man who killed my husband? How dare he say he doesn’t remember shooting my husband in a fit of rage? I was there and I saw everything.
All we were trying to do was sell our car so we could buy a new one. This guy was crazy drunk when he showed up and became enraged when we wouldn’t let him take it for a test drive. Next thing you know he pulls out his gun and shoots him. I don’t understand how someone cannot remember shooting another human being!
My victim advocate leans over and reminds me to breathe. Once we leave the courtroom, she explains that due to the level of intoxication, the defendant might not remember, but he is still accountable for his actions that fateful day.
Thank goodness for my victim advocate. She was able to calm me down and explain things to me so I could understand them. She was patient, reassuring and understanding of my anger toward the defendant and life in general.
My name is Loralee Rae, and I am an advocate with the Nevada County Victim/Witness Assistance Center. The above anecdote is an example of a situation involving a victim benefiting from having a victim advocate.
I work with victims whose lives are forever changed by the effects of crime that they thought would never happen to them.
What types of crimes? Elder abuse, homicide, DUI with bodily injury, attempted murder, sexual assault, child sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, vehicle manslaughter — the list goes on.
Crime does not discriminate, and it happens on a daily basis. Anyone can be a victim of a crime. Sometimes people are targeted, i.e., hate crimes due to religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc., whereas, others might just be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
What many people don’t realize is the effect of the crime goes beyond the victim. It often includes medical personnel, law enforcement, first responders, family, friends, even co-workers and employers, many of whom may also receive services from us as well.
As an advocate, I have worked with friends and employers of the victim, who have been effected vicariously, to help them navigate through the criminal justice system.
The criminal justice process is complicated and frustrating to all involved. As advocates, one of our most important roles is to educate victims of their rights un Marsy’s Law. Once they understand that they do have rights, I then educate them in regard to how the criminal justice process works.
It is slow, and I explain this to them —we don’t want the prosecutor to rush through the process and not have time to put together a good case, and/or to give the defense a reason to appeal.
I explain to the victim what arraignment, preliminary hearing and felony conferences are, and why there are so many felony conferences. If and when the case goes to trial, I am with the victim throughout, while helping the victim to understand what a victim impact statement is and the importance of writing one, so their voice will be heard.
It is important that the victim’s voice be heard. They didn’t ask to be a victim of a crime and it is not their fault. By writing their Victim Impact Statement, they are putting forth that they have been a victim and they are ready to move on.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is April 10-16, 2016. Visit ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw to learn more.
Loralee Rae is an advocate with the Nevada County Victim/Witness Assistance Center. Email her at email@example.com.