Victims of crime do not have the choice to opt into the criminal justice process. They are forced to participate in the process by someone who broke the law.
In 1994, the Idaho Legislature took the first big step toward securing critical rights for crime victims — making it easier for them to receive notifications and make their voices heard. In the 23 years since that legislation passed, countless victims have been helped or even saved by the law. We honor that hallmark legislation.
But, as is often the case with laws, updates are needed to ensure that they keep up with the times. Additional work remains to ensure crime victims in Idaho have rights equal to the accused. This session, I and others partnered with Marsy’s Law for Idaho — the local chapter of a national organization dedicated to protecting the rights of victims — to do just that. Unfortunately, the Idaho House of Representatives State Affairs Committee struck down the proposed measure that would have added language to the Idaho Constitution to further protect victims’ rights. In contrast, this same proposed amendment passed swiftly through the Senate.
Our current system sometimes affords the offender more rights than the victim. It is time that Idaho remove the barriers that keep many victims from having an effective voice in the criminal justice process or that silence victims altogether.
For victims, one of the initial barriers may be finding someone who will believe their stories. When they are met with skepticism or disbelief, many who report a crime undergo further traumatization when they tell friends and family, report to law enforcement, or participate in the investigation or trial. The criminal justice system is not always a welcoming place for victims, causing many to question whether it is even worth reporting, particularly when their claims are questioned or sentencing is not commensurate with the crime.
In April 2015, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office launched the “Start By Believing” campaign, an effort to improve the public response to sexual assault. CCSO was the first law enforcement agency in Idaho to launch the campaign, which includes partnerships with other local law enforcement agencies. As part of the campaign, we remodeled an old interview room and opened the “Start By Believing” room, a warm, safe place where detectives, victim witness coordinators, prosecutors and victims can meet for interviews and prepare for court. The goal is to ensure victims feel supported during each stage of the investigation and prosecution.
As a society, we must provide the opportunity and environment for all victims to be heard and believed throughout the entire criminal justice system, including postconviction hearings. Victims have a right to attend, have their testimony heard and be treated with same respect extended to the offender. While we cannot overcome every barrier overnight, simply supporting and hearing a victim can lead to healing and recovery.
Today through Saturday is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week — an opportunity to support programs that provide services and sanctuary to crime victims, honor those that treat victims with dignity and respect, and work toward permanently securing rights for victims in Idahoans. I stand in solidarity with crime victims in Idaho and look forward to a day when their rights are on equal footing with their offender. It is simply the right thing to do.
Kieran Donahue is serving his second term as sheriff of Canyon County. Donahue is also the founder and chairman of the Man Up Crusade, a public awareness campaign on the issue of domestic violence, and is currently the 1st vice president of the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association.