I never expected that being a victim of a crime (or in our case, advocating on behalf of a juvenile victim, my daughter) would be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure in my lifetime.
To that point in time, I had survived my own painful divorce as well as the highly traumatic divorce of my parents. I had dealt with an unexpected pregnancy and a job interview that seemed like it would never end (until they offered the position to someone else after wasting two years of my time). I’d suffered heartbreak and disappointment. I said goodbye to friends far too soon. I transitioned from one hard thing to the next, but the day I had to show up for court to advocate for justice in my daughter’s child abuse case, I began a journey I was completely unprepared for.
From the outside, the criminal justice system makes sense. Whether you learn about the process from your government class in high school or from watching Law & Order, the process seems fairly straightforward: crime is committed, charges are filed, the trial process begins, and conclusion is reached (either by plea or verdict). As the victim of a crime, you hope that justice will prevail, a conviction will be made, and you can move on with your life.
The reality is, it’s not that simple. The worst part is, as the victim, you are the one person in the room with the least amount of control. It’s almost as if you’re a child watching your parents make decisions in front of you with no care as to how those choices affect you and allowing limited input.
I wish I had known this before I stepped into the courtroom for the first time. I expected that as her advocate, I would be a meaningful part of the prosecutorial team. I walked into that courthouse full of confidence with full mama bear attitude. I was ready to see the man who abused my daughter made to pay for his actions.
Our case seemed fairly straightforward, so I expected that we would issue the charges, offer a plea deal, he would take it and we would be done and could move on with our lives.
The prosecutor met with me privately to discuss the charges and what she was thinking. Of the five months we ended up spending in court, that was the only time that I felt I had any influence over the decisions that were being made.
It was all for naught, as she came back shortly after we had talked to let me know that the defense was going to ask for a continuation—a request that essentially put everything on hold and a new hearing date was set.
It was a stall tactic and we both knew it. I still remember the way she rolled her eyes as she delivered the news. I asked her what the options were and she told me I had a right to object, for the record, but she was going to go ahead and accept the motion.
“For the record,” was what my voice was limited to for the next five months. It was incredibly frustrating not to have a voice in the most important thing I would ever give my attention to. We would show up in court, some nonsense would ensue, a motion to continue would be made, I would object, my objection would go on the record and “The People” would accept.
If only “The People” knew my daughter, the pain she had endured and how traumatic it was for me to return home and tell her that nothing had happened.
At the beginning of the process, I had to write a victim impact statement, which became part of the court record. At the conclusion of the process, I had to revise it to include all of the ways that the process itself had contributed to lasting trauma for both my daughter and me.
Even that statement was barely heard. Although we walked away with a conviction by plea deal, I didn’t feel like justice had been served at all.