A few weeks ago a man was sentenced to jail for sexually molesting a young girl. Society as a whole probably said that justice was served; and, for the offender, we are sure it was.
However, how often do we consider the ramifications of this and other offenses that are perpetrated against victims of violence? In our society, once they have testified in court and the perpetrator is sentenced, victims are usually left to their own devices, to muddle on as best they can, in hopes that they “get over it.”
Victims of violent crimes, and some not so violent, such as household robberies, are left with a sense of violation and the fear (frequently terror) that they may fall victim again, or that some form of retribution may be taken against them for having testified against their perpetrators.
In the worst cases, family members of murder victims are left not just with their grief, but often with a sense of helplessness and despair; and where the person was a breadwinner, also with the loss of income.
Surely it is time that we start to consider putting a price tag on this type of damage. Yes, the offender may have to pay restitution for goods stolen, but what is the price of innocence stolen? The violation, both physical and mental, of rape victims? The robbery victims who have to check their locks and windows repeatedly, compulsively, before they can go to bed, with the hope, but not the certainty, of sleep? And the loneliness of parents and siblings who have lost a relative near and dear to them?
These victims are frequently left with a lifelong sentence of fear, phobias, and, all too often, some degree of mental illness. So who pays for them to be healed? We might say that the offenders are suffering in jail and that they are paying the price of their crime to society in general. But, surely, the buck should not stop there.
For persons who were the victims of physical injury it should be mandatory to have their medical bills paid as part of the sentencing process. The perpetrator, by law, ought to be held financially responsible for all treatment expenses incurred by the innocent party. However for victims of rape, molestation, and sexual assault and for the families of murder victims, there really is no easy way to quantify the damage.
Two young men were recently found guilty of three murders and will be sentenced next month. Part of the judge’s instructions included psychological evaluations of the murderers prior to their sentencing. Is this to see how they might handle their punishment? To see what compelled them to commit crimes, senseless and beyond our comprehension? To see if there is a reason for leniency?
Would it, therefore, be so wrong to expect our judicial system to order psychological counselling (at the perpetrator’s expense), for as long as it is needed, to help the victims (and to assist their relatives in cases such as murder) of such crimes to overcome the damage that has been done to them?
Have we ever heard, in our Caribbean courts, of psychological evaluations for victims and families of victims? If not, then it certainly should be put on the table for consideration. In fact is should be compulsory. While it is true that we are no longer living in the Dark Ages, where the concept of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth held, we should be taking a closer look at some form of restitution for victims of violent crimes.
We are not talking about frivolous restitution, as with the woman who sued a restaurant chain because they served her coffee hot which she then spilled on herself. We are talking about victims who may need months or even years of therapy in order for them to live normal productive lives again. Victims should be entitled to such help, and surely the criminal justice system needs to put something in place whereby perpetrators not only do their time but literally pay for their crime.
Why should they be allowed to become, in effect, “wards of the State,” fed, housed and cared for by the taxpayers’ dollar? If the death sentence has become out of date, then let the alternative life sentence be one truly served. Let us find something constructive and, hopefully, rehabilitative for them to do – and, the Lord knows there is so much to be done. That is the very least that victims and the society deserve… .
Persons are reminded that applications are still being accepted for POWA’s Keva J Margetson Scholarship, valued at $5,000. Forms are available on our website, www.powa-anu.org, and should be submitted by Friday, August 19.