A few headlines from across Iowa are popping up and beginning to tell the untold story of the COVID-19 pandemic – victims are in trouble.
We know that victims who were already in shaky situations prior to the start of the COVID crisis are likely in worse situations now – spending more time with their abuser with increasingly stressful situations. Additionally, children who might have access to a trusted teacher or support person at school or after-school programs are also isolated.
Between these headlines and recent reports of inmate releases, now is an especially troubling time to be a crime victim in Iowa. As the pandemic has moved through the country, it’s shone a bright light on the serious gaps in the system in certain states, and in particular, Iowa. Currently, Iowa crime victims are not provided enforceable rights in the state’s constitution and the rapid spread of COVID-19 in our state has further illustrated why statutory rights are no longer good enough for crime victims.
Victims need to know that if they are in a situation where they must escape, the justice system is set up to treat them fairly. As it stands now, Iowa crime victims are not provided enforceable rights in the state’s constitution and many domestic violence victims feel like the system favors their abuser. Victims are not required to be notified of trial or release of the criminal; they’re not always allowed to speak at trial; they are not given the right to reasonable protection from the accused. As we can see by this COVID situation hitting our state, constitutional rights for victims is more than just the right thing to do – it’s about life and death.
If you are a victim of abuse and need assistance during social distancing or quarantine, you are not alone. Please call the Iowa Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-942-0333. We know violence doesn’t stop for viruses and we’re here to help.
This week, the Marsy's Law for All national organization hosted a very insightful event with National Crime Victims Law Institute Executive Director Meg Garvin. Garvin was joined by Marsy’s Law Senior Advisor Peter Flaherty to discuss how crime victims’ rights are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms. Garvin is recognized as a leading expert on victims’ rights. She has testified before Congress, state legislatures, and the Judicial Proceedings Panel on Sexual Assault in the Military. In her expert capacity, she serves on the Defense Advisory Committee on Investigation, Prosecution, and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces and on the Victims Advisory Group of the United States Sentencing Commission.
If you were unable to watch the live event, you can catch the recap here online here.
While you're watching, check out this informational video as well.
Please feel free to share these video to help educate others on the importance of crime victims' rights. Together, we can pass Marsy's Law in Iowa and achieve the mission of enshrining enforceable constitutional rights for victims and survivors throughout our nation.
Recently, voters in Wisconsin took to the polls and overwhelmingly supported Marsy’s Law. The measure was approved by an overwhelming margin, with 75 percent of Wisconsin residents casting votes in favor of the amendment.
Over 1.1 million Wisconsin residents cast votes in favor of the crime victims’ constitutional amendment in the spring election, approving the measure with a vast margin of more than 700,000 votes. The amendment was approved in 2019 for placement on the April 2020 ballot after passing the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly with broad bipartisan support in two consecutive legislative sessions. The overwhelming ratification vote marked the final procedural step for the now approved constitutional amendment.
This week, the voter-approved crime victims' rights amendment became the law of the land in Wisconsin.
This means, victims in Wisconsin will have stronger, more enforceable rights than their neighbors just over the river. Why should crime victims in Marquette have less rights than those in Prairie Du Chien? Iowa victims deserve the same constitutional rights as those in Wisconsin. Constitutionally protected rights for crime victims are important no matter what state you live in.
Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin advocate Teri Jendusa-Nicolai, who became one of the state’s most prominent victims’ rights advocates after surviving a brutal attack by her ex-husband, recently stated:
“It’s so exciting to see Marsy’s Law go into effect in Wisconsin after years of working towards this goal. The passage and certification of Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin means that victims of crime in our state will have the ability to draw upon clear, enforceable rights as they navigate the difficult legal process—and will be able to invoke Wisconsin’s Constitution to secure all of these rights.
“On behalf of Wisconsin crime victims past and future, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of the Wisconsin residents who cast votes of support for victims’ rights. Because of you, crime victims in our state now have equal rights in the criminal justice process.”
One day, we hope Iowa victims will have the same equal rights as our neighbors to the north.
Seek Justice. Ensure Victims’ Rights. Inspire Hope. That was the powerful theme of this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights week. A week that, since its inaugural commemoration nearly 40 years ago, has become a week dedicated to the remembrance of victims and the celebration of survivors of violent crime across the country. This year no different and the Marsy’s Law for Iowa team was happy to be a part of the celebration.
We started our week by sending over 100 thank you notes to the brave men and women of law enforcement who work to keep victims safe every day in Iowa. Our law enforcement coalition is such an important resource for our team as we consider what Marsy’s Law for Iowa would mean for the criminal justice system in our state and we are so proud be able to work with officers to ensure victims have the most comprehensive, enforceable and effective constitutional rights. They deserve our gratitude and what better week than NCVRW to honor those who Seek Justice for a living.
Throughout the week, we also worked with our champions to reach out to legislators about the need for constitutional rights. Though the pandemic has temporarily shut down the in-person legislative efforts at the capitol, our ML for Iowa champions met the challenge and used the next best thing – Facebook! We were able to connect with legislators with their constituents from all over the state to remind them that we must Ensure Victims’ Rights in Iowa. The only way to ensure victims are continually protected is by enumerating rights in the state constitution. Anything less sends the appalling message that victims of crime are not worth the same constitutional rights that those who commit the crime against them are afforded. We also challenged supporters to wear #PurpleforaPurpose and post their purple outfits on social media encouraging folks to join the effort and sign our petition! It was a great experience and brought together Iowans from across the state in this unprecedented time to fight for an effort that has no political party. We are excited to connect with all of our new petition signers in the coming weeks!
One of my absolute favorite parts of the week was connecting (virtually) for our monthly survivor coalition meeting. This month, we heard from experts on our national team about how Marsy’s Law fits into the larger victims’ rights movement and what successes have happened recently across the country. We got an update on the big win that happened just across Iowa’s NE border in Wisconsin and also heard of the amazing work happening in Kentucky to move toward the ballot in November.
We discussed ideas for forward movement in Iowa and heard stories about personal struggles and triumphs with the criminal justice system. It was an inspiring evening and one I look forward to continuing each month. The survivors of violent crime who bravely come forward to share their often horrific stories with complete strangers, in an effort to ensure that no future Iowan should endure the added trauma of a broken criminal justice system is my motivation to continue this fight. They Inspire Hope in me, in our team and in the rest of the state daily and the commemoration of this week is about them, for them and only possible because of their strength. I am forever indebted to their courage and we truly could not move this movement forward without their ongoing support and commitment to this cause.
Thank you will never be enough.
Marsy's Law for Iowa Political Director
The old saying is true, "all roads lead home." Levi learned this one in our most recent Tales From the Road.
Our friend and supporter, Dr. Kit Ford, Director and Founder of Argrow’s House of Healing and Hope in Davenport, penned an opinion piece in the Quad City Times for National Crime Victims' Rights Week. We're so thankful for her support and her powerful voice that she shares for Iowa crime victims.
As a child I witnessed my grandmother as a victim of violence. As an adult, I became a victim myself. I know the struggles, hurts and hardships that victims deal with on a daily basis which led me to create a safe place where women of violence and abuse can heal and grow. With support from the community, Argrow’s House has been serving women in Iowa for the past two years.
Each and every day I work with the women that we serve who are fighting to be survivors, rather than victims. I see the struggles these women deal with and how a court system that should be giving them a voice is actually retraumatizing them, over and over again.
Across the country, April 19 thru 25 has been designated National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This is a week where we can turn our attention to the fact that we can do more for crime victims.
In particular, we must do more for Iowa victims. It’s true that there is currently a law in Iowa that is supposed to give crime victims a say in the process. In reality, the current law is not enough and victims are falling through the cracks. Women I have worked with have been kept out of important decisions in their case, many times not even informed of when the hearings will be held. Many women are not given protection from their abusers, several have not been given the opportunity to be heard in court and all of them feel like the justice system that was meant to protect them instead failed them.
When someone becomes the victim of a crime and enters the court process in our state, they are thrown into a system that is tilted to favor the rights of the accused, based upon the elevated rights outlined for them in our state constitution. The system is automatically set up to fail the victim because their rights are not enshrined in the constitution, alongside the rights of the accused.
A crime victims’ rights amendment would balance the scales of justice. Not only would this give crime victims the enforceable right to be heard at trial, to be informed of hearings, to be reasonably protected - this measure would empower victims and allow them to reclaim a sense of self-worth, a sense of dignity and respect, knowing the court system values them and makes them a priority.
This is not just a law, it’s a person’s life, their safety and well-being. During this National Crime Victims’ Rights Week we must recognize that passing a crime victims’ rights amendment is a good start for Iowa victim survivors.
Our friend and supporter, Reuben Neff, Wapello County Attorney, penned this opinion piece for National Crime Victims' Rights Week. Thanks to Attorney Neff for his unwavering support.
In states across the country, April 19 – 25 has been designated as National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This is a time to draw attention to those who have been the victim of a crime, help support them in their recovery process and shine a light on legislative policies that can help strengthen a victims’ standing.
As a prosecutor who has lived in another state, it quickly became evident to me when I moved to Iowa how poorly the criminal justice system here treats victims of crime. In fact, I ran for county attorney because I saw victims who were constantly left out of the process - not being told what was happening in their cases, finding out after the case was done that the defendant received a plea agreement.
The moment a person is victimized by a defendant, they have their life instantly upended. And even though a person may be beaten, sexually abused, or violated somehow, it doesn’t just end there. Our court system is slow moving - this process lasts months, sometimes years and as it currently stands, the system is not in any way designed to take into account a victims’ feelings whatsoever. Iowa crime victims are dragged from court date to court date, a lot of times without knowing when they are happening or what will take place. Our court system is guilty of causing trauma that emotionally abuses these victims who were already suffering.
While there are currently statutes on the books for victims, all these do is pay lip service. Judges can and are ignoring these statutes that are put in place to protect victims.
We must do better for Iowa crime victims. Putting victims’ rights in our state constitution will ensure Iowans who become victims of crime are on a level playing field. Judges cannot ignore a constitutional right.
These rights are incredibly reasonable and honestly very minimal requests - the right to be notified of court proceedings, the right to be heard at trial, the right to reasonable protection from the accused, the right to restitution. To the system these aren’t huge things but to the victim they are everything.
In no way will this change the defendant's right to an attorney, to due process, to have their rights in court, or confront their witnesses. It simply forces the courts to just pay attention to victims and give them their say. After all, it’s their life that’s being discussed too, not just the defendant’s.
Whether lawmakers want to admit it or not, victims are being traumatized by the system every day. When the court fails to notify them, when we fail to take their perspective into account, we are failing Iowans. I hope this National Crime Victims’ Rights Week those lawmakers will realize that kicking this can down the road or not providing for a strong, detailed victims’ rights amendment is also failing Iowa victims. There is no excuse to not support giving Iowans more rights, especially to of all people, crime victims.
One of our strong survivor victims, Shal continues to bravely share her story with anyone will listen. This NCVRW she penned an opinion piece to help empower other victims and be their voice for change. Thanks for never backing down, Shal.
The day that I left my husband he became very angry. In front of my children, he punched me, full-force in the head. One would think the situation and all that followed - hospital visits, traumatic brain injury, living in a shelter - was the most terrifying part of my situation. The way our criminal justice system failed me and let me fall through the cracks was nearly as traumatizing as the assault itself.
Through the entire criminal justice process, I was never notified of any of the court dates concerning my case. Not once was I told that I could be at the hearings. I was never informed on what was happening with the case. Why would it be incumbent upon me, as the victim, to somehow find out the details that affect my life, my well-being, my safety?
Every day I was involved in the criminal justice process I felt like I did not matter, that I had no value. The system was designed to protect and value the person who brutally beat me and left me with a brain injury. My story is not unique. This is happening to crime victims all across Iowa. Our state can do better than this.
As it stands now, our system is out of balance. Crime victims in Iowa deserve to have constitutionally protected rights. Rights that would ensure they are informed of any and all hearings, that they are allowed to make their voice heard, that they are guaranteed reasonable protection from the person who hurt them.
If legislators in Iowa go through one more session and fail to pass a crime victims’ rights amendment, they are failing all Iowans - the ones like me who have suffered this terrible process and those who will unknowingly become victims someday in the future.
We must give victims a voice in our state constitution.