An Army of Survivors Show the Power of Victim Impact Statements
Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 marks the seventh day in the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and, as the world has watched, the final day of powerful victim impact statements from his many victims.
Over 160 victims or family members of victims will have spoken by the time Nassar receives his sentencing; a number that has nearly doubled since the initial number of statements to be given was announced, as more of his victims have been empowered to come forward. In the words of Nassar victim and Olympian Aly Raisman, they are an “army of survivors.” Said Raisman:
“We are here. We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere.” – Aly Raisman
Beyond those directly victimized by Nassar are countless others – family members and friends of his victims who’ve, without doubt, been deeply impacted by his actions. There may also be other victims who’ve not yet found their voices, this is something we may never know. What we do know, however, is that victim impact statements can make an important difference in a case.
The voices of Nassar’s victims have helped those responsible for his sentencing understand the great depth of hurt his actions have caused. Their voices will inform the critical decision that will be made regarding how the court will deal with his criminal actions. The system is working as it should be and one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say otherwise. Yet, every day in courts around our country, such is not the case.
Victims of crime are not uniformly given the opportunity to be heard in our justice system. What’s worse is that there are, in fact, those who fight against crime victims’ rights in criminal proceedings. What should be a basic right for crime victims, a victim impact statement, is often denied as victims are sidelined unless this right is specifically spelled out in state constitutions. Lesser laws which do protect victims, known as statutory rights, are routinely ignored as victims have no recourse when these laws are violated. It happens every day. However, much like the army of survivors currently speaking out, victims of crime across the country are raising their voices to say, “No more.”
Marsy’s Law provides the constitutional rights needed for crime victims to be heard – and with the backing of state constitutions – victims can no longer be ignored by those who benefit from silencing them. The importance of this right, as the Nassar case has highlighted, cannot be overstated.
Larry Nassar is not the first criminal who does not want to face his victims, although he may be the first to write a letter asking to be excused from doing so. And while, unfortunately, not all in the justice system currently grasp the importance of this step, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina unequivocally has shown her understanding.
“You may find it harsh that you are here listening but nothing is as harsh as what your victims endured for thousands of hours at your hands. Collectively you spent thousands of hours perpetrating criminal sexual conduct of minors. Spending four or five days listening to them is significantly minor considering the hours of pleasure you had at their expense and ruining their lives.” – Judge Rosemarie Aquilina
The victims involved in this case have been an inspiration and, hopefully, this process will contribute to the healing that each of them greatly deserves. In facing their abuser, these victims have not only had a meaningful effect on their case but also on the many to come in which victims’ voices will be heard.