Friday, January 11, 2013

Giving a voice to victims

Guest column: Giving a voice to victims

For The Daily Astorian | Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 10:26

You’ve probably heard about the 23-year-old medical student who was gang-raped on a city bus in New Delhi, assaulted so badly that she died.

It turns out that New Delhi has one of the highest rates of sex crimes in India, yet most victims remain anonymous and silent.

We know about this one young woman because thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest.

The woman on the New Delhi bus has put a face on a brutal act, even though we don’t know her.

Laws provide legal definitions of a crime. A victim makes it personal.

If you know, for example, the victim of a home-invasion kidnapping and assault, the crime becomes vivid. The injuries are real. You know what the victim went through, how her life has changed forever.

What do you do, then, when a group of people who should know better, shrug it off as if it were a minor incident? When you’re state Sen. Betsy Johnson you call them out on it.

That is what Johnson did when she rejected an attempt to label the men who kidnapped and terrorized Gert Boyle at gunpoint as “low-risk” offenders.

Gert Boyle
“Gert is a friend of mine,” Johnson said.

Were it not for the fact that Boyle is the founder of Columbia Sportswear, the crime against her might not have made front-page news. It may have quietly faded away.

That’s how some members of the Commission on Public Safety would like it, just so the state can save money.

An editorial Dec. 20 in The Daily Astorian chastised Johnson for having a “reflexive” response to the commission because a friend of hers was a crime victim. Reflexive? Johnson has closely studied this commission for almost two years.

She knows that most commission members meekly followed along when policy analysts from the Pew Center on States suggested that Oregon had too many “low-risk” offenders in prison.

Who, exactly, were these “low-risk” offenders? Were it not for Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote, these offenders would have remained anonymous. By extension, so would their victims.

Through Foote’s persistence, many of these roughly 850 “low-risk” offenders were found to be violent felons.

On the list were the men who plotted and schemed and tracked Gert Boyle. Other notable “low-risk” offenders were Bruce Turnidge, who planted a bomb at a Woodburn bank that killed two police officers, and Chris Fitzhugh, who pleaded guilty to murder in the brutal torture death of his long-time girlfriend here in Astoria.

Fitzhugh and Turnidge were among at least 23 other convicted murderers on this list, along with 34 others convicted of homicide or attempted murder. (The list can be accessed at http://www.clackamas. us/da/documents/response.pdf)

You will find convicted felons who have assaulted, robbed, habitually driven drunk and sold drugs near schools on this list. Many of them will serve less than two years, but even that is too much in Pew’s world.

The commission would have readily swallowed Pew’s ideology were it not for Foote. That is why, by design, this commission originally had no district attorney on it when it was established by Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2011.

Only after the commission ran into opposition from victims’ rights groups and the state’s prosecutors, did Kitzhaber appoint a DA to the 2012 commission – and he made it clear to the Oregon District Attorneys Association that he did not want Foote.

To its credit, the ODAA kept its allegiance to the people they represent – not the governor.

The Daily Astorian editorial ended with a claim that I will be a predictable “hard-liner.”

After I read that, I thought about a rape victim I saw in court in the early 1980s when I was a young prosecutor in Eugene. The man who had raped her was being sentenced, and the judge asked him if he wished to say anything first.

The man had his say.

The victim, who was a college student at the University of Oregon, had been sitting quietly in the front row. She stood up and politely said she would like to speak.

The judge told her to sit down and be quiet.

“You have no right to speak here,” he said.

The judge was not being heartless. He was simply following the law at the time.

Oregon voters in 1986, and again in 1999, gave victims like this young woman a voice.

But it doesn’t end there. We, as citizens – and legislators – give victims a voice every time we speak out against crime, every time we remember what has happened to good people.

read the column on the Daily Astorian's website

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