Early voting is in session. I've been on social media a lot, per usual, and I saw people whom I trust and work with in my advocacy organizations saying they're voting against Marsy's Law, more widely known as the Victims' Rights Amendment.
Wait, what? How could rights for victims be wrong? Well, they can, when implemented ambiguously and ignorantly.
"Marsy's Law prioritizes needs that don't actually exist," says Margaret Hassel, an intern at the Compass Center who supports survivors in court and helps them navigate legal processes around domestic violence. She believes if the General Assembly really wants to support survivors, they can use their money to "support survivors in finding emergency, transitional, and long term housing, mental and physical healthcare, childcare, and other essential needs that often hold people back from leaving abusive situations."
Many survivors don't feel safe and supported by the justice system anyways, and no wonder why. Survivors have reported their assaults and been arrested themselves, as only one example of the problem, for "reasons" such as defending themselves or being immigrants. To make matters worse, prison is not a safe place for women; they can be harassed, assaulted and left untreated for the violence they've experienced.
Hassel, along with many others, also doesn't believe the incarceration of more people is helpful. We took a class together called Leadership in Violence Prevention, where I wrote a paper about types of treatment that are most helpful for perpetrators of sexual violence, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and a medicine named Lupron that can decrease sex drive and pedophilac behavior. In addition, when discussing survivors and allies of survivors, Hassel says that "most people who support survivors also avidly support due process and intensely oppose laws that contribute to mass incarceration," despite what people on the other side seem to think.
Further, the Victims' Rights Amendment is simply not what it's presented as or would be assumed to be. For example, people who fall into the category of "victim" here are all survivors under a wide umbrella of crimes, not just survivors of gender-based violence.
In addition, the way this amendment is advertised includes dog whistles, which insinuates violence is perpetrated primarily against white women and by strangers in the dark, which simply isn't true. 90 percent of survivors know their perpetrator. "White women are among the least likely to experience violent crime," Hassel says, "and campaigns that imply otherwise are typically those that aim to further the mass incarceration of people of color."
Unfortunately, problematic aspects of this amendment don't end there, however. Many of the supposed added rights for survivors already exist or could add time to investigations that are unnecessary. "I have never heard a survivor of DV [Domestic Violence] say they wish the criminal court process had dragged out for longer," Hassel says. These processes can take years.
Maya Weinstein, a law school student with a plethora of sexual violence advocacy involvement and who has worked with both the accuser and accused, has similar things to say.
"In North Carolina, the constitution already enumerates and protects victims' rights," she says. In addition, she worries about the financial impact, as around $11 to $30 million is estimated for state costs, and the source for this funding hasn't been discussed.
Weinstein says this isn't the only problem. "There are also due process concerns," she says. Since survivors of more than gender-based violence may fall under the category of "victims" under this law, more cases could clog up the courthouse and could cause the cases to take longer. The elongation of these cases is "actually hurting crime victims and compromising perpetrator due process rights," Weinstein says. Overall, she believes this amendment leaves too much uncertainty, and knows that many groups are opposing this amendment.
I trust and agree with both Hassel and Weinstein. The "Victims' Rights" Amendment is ambiguous and comes across as very ignorant of the real issue and where support is truly needed.
I'm an advocate for survivors of any kind of violence and their rights, and I'm voting against the Victims' Rights Amendment.