By Donna R. Gore, M.A.
Typical Sample [Compliments of crimevictimservicecenter.org – Kennewick, WA]
The crime committed against me by John Doe has hurt me in so many ways that I don’t know where to begin.
My friends and co-workers have mentioned to me that my demeanor and behavior has changed at work and during social activities. I am currently experiencing flashbacks of the event and suffer from nightmares and lack of sleep. I constantly replay the day of the crime over and over in my head. I had to describe the day of the crime to the detective, then to the prosecuting attorney, then to the defense attorney, and to an investigator. Having to repeat the events of the incident over and over again was stressful and tried my patience. It became harder and harder to answer their questions or even tell my story again. I had to miss work, show up to work late, and leave work early due to the stress I was experiencing. I am in counseling because I am stressed, anxious, hypersensitive, and have suicidal thoughts. I wish this had never happened and I want it over as soon as possible, but I know my paranoia will never go away.
This crime has hurt my family too. My mother also suffers from insomnia and anxiety due to the crime. We live in a small town and everyone has heard about the crime. My father almost lost his job because he has had to attend court with me. I can’t escape the questions from friends of the family. Naturally, everyone is concerned for my family and me, but not being able to escape the incident kills me. It is just another constant reminder that John Doe committed a crime against my family and me.
I have friends telling me that they ran into John Doe and that she/he says they’re sorry. I wish she/he would stop communicating to me through our mutual friends. When I hear that people have run into her/him my heart races, I have shortness of breath, and start to feel dizzy.
I’m constantly asking God why? Why me, why my family? What did I do to deserve this?
I’m worried what John Doe might do after she/he gets out. I want her/him to get help because this isn’t the first time this crime has been committed and that she/he’d been sorry. I don’t want John Doe to hurt me or anyone else. I want to be protected from John Doe forever.
In 1987, Ladyjustice’s victim impact statement would not have won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism….But, it was from the heart. Looking back now, LJ could have crafted something different…if the emotions hadn’t gotten in the way. And that is the point. Having emotions interjected into the narrative and/or verbal presentation is a double-edged sword… On the one hand, the judge, the attorneys, the defendant and the families need to hear the emotion to understand and to validate the tremendously negative changes in their quality of life and the realities of the situation in terms of the human toll.
On the other hand, emotion can overtake the speaker, especially when in very close proximity to the defendant. As a survivor, you want your day in court. It’s your special time to relate just how devastating the entire experience has been.
Currently in Connecticut, Victim Services open approximately 13,000 new cases annually, assist 14,000 with victim impact statements and accompany over 15,000 victims to court.
In 1987, six years after the murder, Ladyjustice and her mother each took turns and related individual impact statements directly to the presiding judge. Some people choose to “challenge” the defendant to make eye contact in an attempt to “show immediate respect.” Fat chance! This blogger didn’t even bother with that request!
Rather, LJ was mentally focused on how not to relinquish power to this serial murderer; not to give in to fear of retaliation; not to feel that you must look over your shoulder the rest of your life if you say this or that for fear of triggering a response… One cannot live life in fear, no matter what has been taken away! For if you do, the perpetrator has won.
He has the power!
Internet research revealed minimal information or samples of victim impact statements for general public consumption. There are no standard templates. However, the most basic of guidelines furnished by the Crime Victim Services Center in Washington State recommend discussion of the following general topics: ‘With a couple of LJ’s suggestions thrown in…
1) How the perpetrator’s criminal behavior has effected the victim(s) physically, emotionally and financially;
2) Discuss any concerns regarding personal safety and security;
3) “Provide suggestions for a resolution that is fair, that will give the offender the opportunity to take responsibility for actions that caused loss or harm.”
[LJ- Surely you jest if you are talking about felony charges. Taking responsibility – What’s that? And…. how do you spell pre-determined plea bargain?? ]
More specifically, other factors to contemplate when composing your impact statement –
1) How have your feelings changed about life in general, your lifestyle; your ability to relate to others, your ability to cope and need for support or counseling?
2) If you have sustained physical injuries, what were they and how long did they last? Are they continuing? How have your injuries impacted your ability to perform everyday tasks and recreational activities?
The “Aftermath” Questions
What about your ability to:
1) Maintain your general health;
2) Eat, sleep, concentrate;
3) Have other ailments “appeared out of the blue?”
4) Have your relationships with family members, co-workers and “society in general” changed?
5) Are you unable to trust others now?
6) Do you feel a sense of intimacy with your significant other?
7) What changes have occurred with your employer? Are they flexible in allowing you to attend court appearances, counseling and medical appointments?
8) What is your financial status currently?
9) Are you able to be productive?
10) Do you have hope for the future?
The above list is certainly not all inclusive…but rather covers the general landscape.
A Word of Two from …..The National Center for Victims of Crime
In addition, results of the National Center for Victims of Crime’s public opinion poll also revealed that 55% of Americans feel that sentences handed down to criminals by the court are too lenient.
Perhaps this is why seven out of 10 Americans believe that it is very important for the judicial system to provide victims and their families with “…an opportunity to make a statement prior to the sentencing of the offender about how the crime has affected them.”
In essence, for the court to impose fair and just sentences, it is critical that information be provided to the sentencing and paroling authorities on the emotional, financial and physical impact of crime – information that only victims can accurately define and provide through the use of victim impact statements.
Clearly the criminal justice system is ready, as is the American public, for the permanent infusion of victim impact statements into the justice process. We must now make the use of victim impact statements functional and consistent within the criminal justice system.
Comprehensive guidelines, protocol and model victim impact statement instruments must be drafted that address the needs of both the justice system and the victim. Victims must be systematically and consistently made aware of their right to submit victim impact statements and the statement’s application within the system. To accomplish this goal, each criminal justice agency that has contact with crime victims must have comprehensive agency guidelines and protocol that outline the roles and responsibilities of each staff member in the notification, distribution, collection and application of the victim impact statements.
Making a Case for Specialized Victim Impact Statements
Approximately a year ago, this author had a “brainstorming” idea to offer a service to future victims of crime regarding the creation of individually tailored victim impact statements for the following reasons:
1) Not everyone is a wordsmith nor are they able to express their thoughts and feelings in writing (even before the crime occurred);
2) The emotional impact of the experience including recounting the events, facing the defendant and his supporters, the finality of the process; the outcome of the verdict; the absence of their loved one. can incapacitate a victim and not allow him or her to complete their presentation. [LJ- Of course there are options such as mailing letters to the judge, allowing another relative or the prosecutor to read etc…. However, it is sometimes a poor substitute and the impact may not be experienced in the same way]
3) If the victim is capable of sharing his/her private thoughts and feelings with an Advocate who is also a skilled writer, the burden is lessened. If such a writer were to create a series of questions specifically designed to elicit information to portray the deceased person in a way that honors them and is meaningful to the family… How Wonderful!
4) The possibility of a videotaped presentation or a video memorial tribute could go a long way in helping the judge to understand the enormity of their loss.
Currently no specific companies specializing in videotaped victim impact statements could be located via internet search. What a shame….
The problem.. and the beauty of this idea is that people are not “one size fits all” and therefore victim impact statements should not be mass produced as in a “sausage factory.” They are too personal…too important.
The words potentially have the power to alter sentencing!
But, who would provide the service? Who would fund it? Who would keep track of the data comparing customized statements to those that are essentially “fill in the blank essays”? Could this idea come to fruition? Why not?
Heed the advice of the National Center for Victims of Crime. Do not let victim impact statements become an afterthought!
Ladyjustice welcomes other blogger’s input concerning this idea. Until then, Thorence Brey features a series of videotaped Victim Impact Statements for your viewing interest at:
Ladyjustice – Your “Wordsmith at Work” on behalf of Crime Victims and their Survivors. www.donnagore.com