June 30, 2014

Testifying in court can help crime victims heal

Being a crime victim carries many impacts.

Safety, security, control are gone. They are taken away by the criminal.

In addition to what shows on the surface, like physical injury or stolen property, the victim of crime suffers emotional damage, experiencing wounds to the very soul.

Being victimized changes one’s life. Nothing is ever again taken for granted.


Often the criminal is someone the victim knew and trusted, maybe even loved, and that can be worse than if it were a stranger. That betrayal, that violation of trust can strip the victim of the ability to trust anyone ever again.

Even when the criminal and victim are strangers, the circumstances often lead victims to question their own judgment about people. Whether friend or stranger, victims blame themselves. Everyday situations take on dangerous meanings.

Going through the criminal-justice system can help the victim recover. Really, it can. Reporting to the police and pursuing a prosecution can empower victims in ways they never imagined. 


Facing the defendant, confronting him in court or in an arranged meeting as part of a plea agreement, can change the balance of power and restore control to the victim.

Defendants can be intimidating, and court can be frightening. To family, friends, even advocates and counselors, testifying seems like a terrifying experience. Prosecutors may feel, or be persuaded, that an unsatisfactory plea agreement or dismissal is better than “putting the victim through” a trial. But, is it?

The victim does not have good choices. Everything has been taken away - all sense of self, of security, of control. To not report, not prosecute, not testify continues to give all of the power to the criminal.

The family, friends and helpers do not really know what that is like. They see the choice of whether to testify from the safety of their intact lives. That is not the position the victim is in.

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