"Victim impact statements are written or oral information from crime victims, in their own words, about how a crime has affected them. All 50 states allow victim impact statements at some phase of the sentencing process." ~The Center for National Crime Victims
The Power of Victim Impact Statements
In my psychology victimology class last week, we were given the assignment to write a "mock" victim impact statement. Part of our research was to study victim impact statements; we were asked to watch a video in which a father read his powerful statement to the judge following the kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of his daughter, Channon Christian. It was utterly the most heartbreaking thing I have seen; I could truly feel this father's pain and seeing it will remain with me for the rest of my life. It was a powerful look into the life of his daughter, a father's relationship with her, and the impact of his loss. This father and his family were also victims of crime, and watching this video was a prime example for the need of impact statements in the courtroom. It's hard to put feelings into words, but this is the best opportunity for victims and families to share the impact the crime has had on them.
Allowing the person victimized, the ability to be involved in the judicial process is a very powerful tool for judges and prosecutors. When people say " justice is served" can be unclear, as what may be justice to a judge, may not be justice for a victim. It is up to the judge to apply the law, but it is also the job of the victim to provide the court with all the things that can not be learned.. but felt.
You can find Gary Christian's victim impact statement [Online video] here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5La2QrFrz1s
"Everyone deserves to be heard, in order for changes to be made in law enforcement, courts, and corrections, it is going to take someone that is willing to listen."
Bracing for Impact
As a victim of crime, this assignment was not difficult for me since I have written and read one in the courtroom before. However, pulling this letter out again brought back the anxiety and nervousness I felt on the day of my former boyfriends sentencing. Wednesday, September 16, 2015, is a day that is just as memorable as the day that led me to it. It took virtually two years to get to the sentencing day; the journey in-between being victimized and being vindicated...was a long road.
Victim vs. Survivor
The word victim and survivor are often used interchangeably. Depending on where the person that was victimized is at in their healing process, they are considered a victim or a survivor. Only God knows the journey that it took me (and all other victim's) to get from “victim to survivor”. The only thing I can share with you is that it was an unbearable and extremely painful process that I would not even wish on my worst enemy. Even though I am now considered a survivor, it is an ongoing process and you never truly “cross the finish line”, it’s an ongoing process.
"Once you have been victimized by any form of violence, you are and never will be the same."
Small Voice: Big Impact
The impact that violence has on our families, especially our children, is just as painful. Often, it's difficult for the voices of our children to be heard in the midst of all the chaos, partly because it is hard for them to identify and articulate their feelings. Whether they were directly or indirectly harmed, recognizing their pain is just as important. My three children were not physically harmed, but they walked away just as wounded as I did. Their entire lives and routines changed; they looked out windows, lost sleep and felt unsafe in their own home. I am certain their experiences will always stay with them in ways that only time will show. They had the opportunity to write their impact statements and have them given to the judge; I admire their transparency and vulnerability to bear their pain in words, to someone they had never met. My 8-year old daughter Amaya wanted to have her voice heard, therefore, she stood up and read her statement that she (proudly) wrote all by herself. Her voice never shook and she stood proudly and courageously, making her mama proud!
8-year-old girl reads victim impact statement in court after her mother was beaten.
On September 16, 2015, at 9 AM, I walked into the courtroom a survivor, with a supportive group of family and friends by my side. Yet, I mentally and emotional had to go back to the days I had worked so hard to forget- the days that I was afraid, broken, feeling alone and ashamed; the days I struggled to find my voice and confidence. It was the day I had waited for, the day I could stand before the judge (and my abuser) and describe the dark place that the victimization had taken me and my family. I needed the judge to look into my eyes, see my pain, hear my voice and see I was a person, a mother, and a daughter...not just a docket and case number.
Following the reading of my statement on my way back to my seat, I felt the release- I could breathe, I felt the burden lift off my shoulders and the shackles fall from my ankles. It was a feeling I can only describe in one word “free”. Regardless of the sentence that would later be imposed (6 years) - I was free and nothing else would have helped me to break free, but feeling like my voice was heard. After reading the statement, I had several prosecutors come up and share with me that they had never heard a statement quite like mine, and it left them with a lasting impression of the impact of a victim; it was in that moment that I felt the power that all voices, big and small could have.
Domestic Violence Survivor, Marica Phipps reading her victim impact statement during the sentencing of her ex-boyfriend.