Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Unintended Consequences of Victim Impact Statements

Karen-Lee Miller (Toronto, School of Public Health) has posted Relational Caring, Harm Peddling, and Penitential Receipt: Unique Uses and Consequences of the Victim Impact Statement in the Context of Sexual Assault Victimization. 

 The victim impact statement (VIS) informs a sentencing judge of crime-related physical, psychological and financial harms. While often advocated by justice personnel and feminist counselors, rarely examined are its specific uses by, and effects on, sexually assaulted women. 


The results of her qualitative interviews revealed that VISs were often written, used, and experienced in ways not envisioned by legislators or proponents. At sentencing, victims often used the VIS to express “relational caring” which prioritized others through privileging others’ harms, protecting future victims, and promoting intimate partner offenders. After sentencing, several VISs were “harm peddled” by victims and offenders in non-sentencing arenas such as provincial human rights boards, civil court, and family court. In contrast to advocates and staff’s experiences with male offenders, sexual assault victims who later committed crimes were reported as experiencing severe distress upon hearing the VISs written by those they had harmed. This “penitential receipt” of the VIS was believed associated with victims’ self-blame for the sexual assaults committed against them, and resulted in their failure to pursue all legal remedies available to them once they became in conflict with the law. 


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