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