As the anxious young woman waited to board the airplane that would take her to testify as a witness in an out-of-state court across the country, an unknown caller rang her cellphone.
“Listen,” the caller threatened, “are you going to cooperate and do what we told you? You’d better! If not, we’ll get your little brother, your parents, your grandma, your neighbors. We’ll find your prom date, your best friend from junior high –we’ll go all the way back to the first boy you kissed in kindergarten, if we have to!”
Victim-witness intimidation? You bet. Threats from a gang or organized crime? Not exactly.
“You heard me,” the caller said, “We’ll subpoena them all if you don’t show up in court.”
That was the prosecutor’s office telephoning the witness for the prosecution.
How do I explain to victims and witnesses that not all investigators and prosecutors will live up to the empathetic but tough characters we’ve come to love on Law and Order? And how do I continue to explain to the victim-blaming judgmental general public just what it takes for crime victims and witnesses to come forward to report crime, knowing that control over some part of their lives will not be restored for a long, long time? Every part of their past and present lives is apt to be under the microscope, up for examination in the courtroom, and even up for public debate.
Crime victimization is a violation that takes control away from people who are victimized. Regaining that sense of control over one’s life is essential to restoring our lives after crime. While victims rights have been established in the criminal justice system, consistent implementation and enforcement of those rights are additional issues.
Not to mention decency and humanity.