For nearly four months, courthouses across Iowa have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent news reports indicate a plan for some courts to resume hearing cases beginning in July, but continuing to restrict in-person hearings.
We know the COVID pandemic has certainly changed the way we live our lives, but the courts ABSOLUTELY MUST include victims in proceedings, even if the circumstances make it difficult.
As the law stands now, Iowans who become the victim of a crime have no constitutional right to be notified of hearings or proceedings. Certainly, an amendment to our state’s constitution would remedy this problem in the future, and give victims equal access to justice in our courts.
Currently, Iowa crime victims are not provided enforceable rights in the state’s constitution. Marsy’s Law for Iowa is pushing for rights to be added, including things like:
The right to be informed;
The right to be notified, present and heard at court proceedings;
The right to restitution;
The right to reasonable protection from the accused;
And the right to enforce these rights in the criminal justice process.
My name is Sydney Fox and I am the new Advocacy Coordinator with Marsy’s Law for Iowa. I am not new to our organization - I've been working as a Field Director, mobilizing our law enforcement and grassroots coalitions. In my new role, I am looking forward to working with victims and survivors from across the state who are supportive of Marsy’s Law and are seeking an avenue of advocating for victims to have equal access to justice.
In working with survivors, I can provide information for victim service agencies that can provide direct services. Additionally, I meet with victim service organizations to cultivate a clear understanding of how the implementation of Marsy’s Law would be beneficial for crime victims in our state.
Prior to my work for Marsy’s Law, I was a student at Iowa State University where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies, along with a minor in Sociology. I am passionate about understanding why and how people do what they do coupled with being driven to continue learning more about inequalities such as gender, race, and social class. Additionally, I held various positions where I advised, advocated for, and empowered students.
I spent a great deal of time interning at Polk County Crisis and Advocacy Services. My work here consisted of assisting advocates whose services focused on aiding survivors of sexual assault and violent crimes through the criminal justice system. My educational background accompanied with previous roles and opportunities has aided me in my time with Marsy’s Law.
I understand that healing is not linear.For those who have experienced trauma, simply having the comfort of enforceable rights can be extremely powerful. When victims have rights that are equally as important as the offenders’, it sends a clear message: they are important, they matter, and they are heard. With Iowa being one of a handful of states that does not have constitutional rights, it is imperative now more than ever that we need to elevate crime victims’ rights to the state constitution.
If you are interested in getting more involved with advocating for victims’ rights, want to get to know each other more, or have any questions or concerns I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 712-541-2718. Thank you!
We recently presented another “Guardian of Victims’ Rights” award, this time to to Rep. Jon Jacobsen (R-Council Bluffs) for his legislative efforts in helping advance crime victims’ rights.
Iowa crime victims’ know they have a strong advocate in Rep. Jacobsen. He has been a trustworthy, compassionate listener, always stopping to really understand a victims’ story. Iowa victims have found him to be a consistent and vocal legislator who has been dedicated to strengthening their rights.
“Giving Iowa crime victims a voice in the process is not a partisan issue. Giving crime victims a voice in the process is common sense and the right thing to do,” said Jacobsen. “No victim should be made to feel that their rights are less than the person who perpetrated the crime against them. I will continue working to move this legislation forward.”
Thank you Rep. Jacobsen to your commitment to victims' rights in Iowa.
June 12 - June 19 is recognized as Elder Abuse Awareness Week in Iowa. Studies show that 1 in 10 seniors in America experience mistreatment or abuse. We know that seniors can be susceptible to becoming victims of crime and that it even oftentimes goes unreported.
ALL crime victims deserve to have their rights protected in our state’s Constitution. This will ensure that victims have rights that are equal to the constitutional rights of the defendant. These constitutional protections for crime victims would include the following rights:
- the right to be informed of their rights
- the right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect;
- the right to reasonable protection from the accused;
- the right to be notified, be present and be heard at court proceedings;
- the right to notification of the status of the offender
- the right to restitution;
- and the right to enforce these rights in the criminal justice process.
Several organizations across the state posted videos discussing the most common forms of Elder Abuse. Click to watch the informational videos:
Elderbridge Agency on Aging - Financial Exploitation
Heritage Area Agency on Aging - Physical Abuse
Milestones Area Agency on Aging - Self-Neglect
Seniors who become victims of crime deserve equal constitutional protections. You can find more info here: https://www.agingresources.com/
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the lives of Iowans and Americans across the country, it's been evident that the situation is dire for those in domestic violence situations.
Staying at home with abusers, the state of the economy and financial struggles have created new and increasingly tense situations. At the same time, shelters have been concerned about outbreaks of the virus.
What can be done?
Well first of all, if you are in a bad situation there are places to turn - please seek help immediately.
Additional resources are also locally available to help Iowans recover from this pandemic. COVID Recovery Iowa is providing free services to all Iowans - confidential counseling at no cost, activities for children, groups, stress management activities and skills to name a few. Call their 24/7 toll free hotline at 1-800-447-1985 or visit covidrecoveryiowa.org
And finally, information on how to support older survivors during COVD-19. They state, "As victim advocates and programs navigate supporting older survivors through the COVID-19 pandemic, collaboration, creativity, and compassion will be key. Socially isolated older adults are at a higher risk for abuse, but social distancing is not the same as isolation. Here are some tips for programs to consider when providing supports for older victims of crime and abuse in a time of social distancing."
We will get through this... together.
We know the recent COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled a lot of things for students, not only classes but previously scheduled internships. Our team is small, but mighty. We have consistently offered valuable learning opportunities through internships over the past two summers.
You can read more about some of our past interns' experiences here.
We are always looking for interns who are passionate, hardworking and driven. We will provide hands-on experiences in a variety of areas, exposing students to tasks and efforts that are new to them while also giving them an opportunity to grow skills they already have.
Please let us know if you may be interested in more information.
The Marsy's Law for All national organization recently hosted another very insightful event with victims' rights advocate Marianne Dunavant.
It has been 13 years since the tragic murder of Marianne Dunavant's fiancée. Turning her pain into purpose, she has poured herself into the effort to make her community stronger and safer. She has served on the boards of prestigious child advocacy and domestic violence organizations as well as numerous community groups and charitable organizations. Marianne has been named one of the Top Twenty Most Influential Women of West Tennessee and was named one of the Best of the Best community activists by the readers of the Covington Leader newspaper.
In the second installment of our ongoing Facebook Live series, "Why We Do What We Do," the national team sat down with Marianne to discuss her path to becoming an advocate for victims' rights after enduring tragedy.
If you missed the discussion, you can watch the full clip here. Be sure to sign up for our emails to be alerted to future webcasts.
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.