Too often, crime victims in Iowa fall through the cracks. They aren’t notified of what’s going on in the judicial process and are left without a voice.
As a parent, it sometimes feels like the worry is endless, especially when you send a child off to college for the first time. That’s how I felt when I sent my son Treye off to Cedar Falls when he was 18. Treye was always a good kid, but like any parent, I still worried about alcohol, his studies, and how he would adjust to college. Never in a million years did I think I would need to worry about my son being murdered. But that’s what any person thinks before they’re a victim of a crime - that stuff would never happen to me or my family.
In 2006, Treye was at a party in Cedar Falls when a fight broke out. Treye was not involved in the fight, but when coming to the aid of someone he barely knew, he was tragically stabbed in the heart.
Burying a child is a burden no parent should ever have to bear. Navigating a court system that is built to favor the person who murdered your child is nearly as difficult. In our situation, the breakdown came with notification. In two cases, I was not notified of hearings in Treye’s case. In fact, one of them I became aware about from a friend who texted me.
A crime victims’ rights amendment would bring balance back to the judicial system as far as victims are concerned. We should have as many rights as the perpetrators of crime. These would be very reasonable things like the right to be notified of hearings, the right to be heard in all proceedings and the right to reasonable protection from the accused, among others.
Families and victims who are suffering the loss of a loved one should not feel revictimized by Iowa’s court system, yet that’s what is happening. People who are committing crimes already have their rights enshrined in our state constitution. It's long past time for those who become victims of crime and their families to have reasonable rights as well.
“The worst day of my life wasn’t the day I was sexually assaulted, it was the day I had to be deposed.”
Leigh and Audrey weren’t informed that the man who raped and tried to murder them was out of prison. They were told that “his rights matter more than yours.”
I recently directed a documentary about sex trafficking called Grid Shock which provided me the opportunity to meet with many crime victims and survivors in our state. Ever since meeting with these people, listening to the way they have not only been abused by a criminal but then are treated poorly by our criminal justice system, it has lit a fire in me to speak out about crime victims’ rights.
For a person who becomes the victim of a crime, their life is marked as a before and after. Everything in your life is measured before the incident and after - it changes everything. Who you are, how you see the world, who you trust is all turned upside down. No matter how many good or bad choices a person has made in their life, they never ask to be a victim.
The current law in Iowa may seem adequate. That is until a person is directly impacted, then they realize how broken it really is. Victims going through the criminal justice process are revictimized. The current law in Iowa is not enough. Each and every day victims are falling through the cracks of a system that is set up to fail them. There must be more enforcement and protections for survivors of crime. The answer is an amendment to our state constitution outlining victims’ rights.
These rights would include the right to be heard at trial, the right to be notified of the status of their offender, the right to restitution, among others. Putting these rights in our constitution should not be controversial. It hurts no one. It only brings justice.
Having constitutional rights for victims is imperative in Iowa. Victims and survivors need to know they’re important, they need to know their stories matter and that they’re being listened to. It means everything to these survivors to have a say in their lives when so much has been taken away from them.
Nothing is more common sense than passing a constitutional amendment for crime victims’ rights.
Vanessa McNeal MSW is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of Story Maven Media, a nonprofit media company elevating social issues through documentary filmmaking.